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Japanese Tea Ceremony

The tea ceremony had a great influence on the development of Japanese culture in its various forms. In Japan, tea has a symbolic meaning in life. Here, it is associated with a special ceremony, which merged into the contemplation of nature, art, thought, and communication. The traditions of the Japanese tea ceremony originate from the distant past. Originating from China, the initially outlandish custom of drinking overseas beverage firmly entrenched in Japan and gradually became a traditional art. Nowadays, it deeply reflects the basic moral, aesthetic and philosophical principles of consciousness of the Japanese nation.

The tea ceremony begins with the preparation of the master of the house (pic. 1). For this, he chooses the room, which is the most appropriate for the ceremony. Then he organizes the necessary comfort and prepares the tea utensils and fresh scarves for the reception. The master is the main character in the tea ceremony. However, in fact, he is only a servant, who greets the guests, takes them to a special tea room, prepares tea, and brings it to the guests. When the ceremony is finished, he takes back the tea utensils and escorts the guests (Sen S?shitsu, 1998). The master of the house sends invitations to friends. They must thank him for showing his attention two or three days before the ceremony. Moreover, he must choose the honored guest, who is usually older or has a higher social status. If a person agrees to be a “chief guest” and come to the tea ceremony, he should consider and approve the rest of the guests with the owner of the ceremony. Therefore, the organizer of the ceremony sends a list of the candidates, and the “chief guest” needs to choose five people (Pitelka, 2003). According to the traditions, a so-called “ceremonial tea” is used for the tea ceremonies. High-grade green tea hekuro, which means “an expensive drop”, is prepared with the first upper leaves of the tea bush, by adding boiling water to the tea powder and whipping it by the bamboo broom. The tea is called matcha (pic.2). The technique and method of preparing the matcha were brought to Japan at the end of the 12th century. Depending on the type of leaves and proportion of boiling water to the powder, the drink is divided into two types: thick tea with a dark green or blackish color and a bitter-sweet taste, and liquid tea that has a bright light green color and a bitter astringent taste (pic.3). The first drink is prepared in one large flagon for all guests. By tradition, the guests one by one drink from it, passing the flagon to each other. Further, the thick liquid tea is served. By the way, the pillows and trays with cakes are brought to the guests. The liquid tea is prepared in several cups. Before you sip, a cup turns three times in a clockwise direction, and when it is empty, it returns twice (Freeman, 2007).

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There are many varieties of the tea ceremony, which stand out from the six traditional ways. The night ceremony is usually carried out by moonlight. The visitors usually gather shortly before midnight. The ceremony is completed no later than four hours in the morning. The peculiarity of the night ceremony is that the tea powder is prepared directly during the ceremony (Sadler, 1962). At sunrise, the ceremony starts at three or four o’clock in the morning and continues until six o’clock. The morning ceremonies are usually carried out when the weather is hot (when the morning is the coolest time of the day) and begins at about six o’clock in the morning. The afternoon starts about an hour in the afternoon, and cakes are the only food served at this time of the day. The evening begins at about six o’clock. A special tea ceremony is held on special occasions: holiday specially organized friends meeting, celebrating an event (Pitelka, 2003). The classic tea ceremony is held in a specially equipped place. Usually, it is a fenced area, which can be entered through the massive wooden gate. Before the ceremony, when the guests are collecting, the doors are opened. Therefore, the guests are able to enter without disturbing the owner, who is busy with preparation. There is a few buildings and a garden on the territory of the “tea set” (pic.4). The details of their location are not standardized, but in each case, people try to create the most aesthetically pleasing ensemble that fits naturally into the ground and creates an impression of the “continuing nature”. The auxiliary buildings and a “hall” are outside the gates. Here, the guest can leave their things and change shoes. There is also a pavilion, where the guests gather before the ceremony. The main building, the tea house, is located deep in the tea garden. In order to get there, one has to walk through the garden on the stone-paved path. One may limit the ceremony to a pavilion, a private tea room or even a single table (Freeman, 2007).

Zen Buddhism had a significant impact on the development of the tea ceremony. From the Zen Buddhism point of view, the Japanese tea ceremony is a way to achieve satori. It is a kind of enlightenment associated with the departure from the hustle, awareness of pettiness and insignificance of the vanity (Sadler, 1962). A person who has attained satori can be compared to the Buddha. Zen Buddhism and the tea ceremony are united by a constant striving to simplification. The aesthetics of Zen Buddhism had a great influence on the aesthetics of the tea art, and this is reflected in the external form of the ceremony and in its particular elements, such as the tea sets, a tea-room interior, and planning the tea garden, etc. (Pitelka, 2003)

Ceramics plays an important role in the tea ceremony (pic.5). It is an ancient type of decorative art. It was mastered in the prehistoric times and originally connected with the concept of God’s creation and man’s connection to the land and life. At the same time, the material is associated with the concept of wealth, luxury and elegance. Raku pottery is a type of Japanese pottery, traditionally used in the Japanese tea ceremony (pic.6). Ceramic Raku is made with a typical hand molding clay instead of using a potter’s wheel. As a result, each piece is unique. It is an ancient Japanese technique of firing pottery (pic.7). The lead glaze is used as a coating. The temperature in a special oven is brought up to 1000 degrees, and then the product is cooled rapidly in a reducing environment (sawdust, flour) or in the air (Freeman, 2007). The potter never repeats the same pattern, and asymmetry is a major compositional technique. The potter, who creates “raku”, adheres to the laws of chance while flowing glaze and decorating. In fact, all this is done in order to achieve diversity and sensation. Moreover, irregular shapes and deformation during firing are an integral component, a sign of an aesthetic appeal of the products. The technique of “raku” is improvisation, surprise, and risk in itself (Pitelka, 2003). The ceramic pieces create an extraordinary beauty in the rough texture of the cup surface. The term “raku” inherits more philosophical sense and develops an ability to see the whole world in the small, a life and spiritual beauty – in the frozen mud (Sadler, 1962).

Taking everything into account, it should be mentioned that a tea ceremony is a specific form of ritualized tea sharing. It is an integral part of the Japanese culture, which is closely linked to many other cultural events. The tea ceremony is preserved almost intact and is extremely popular. The aesthetic ideals of the Way of Tea, which formed the basis for many types of Japanese art and crafts, enriched the Japanese culture. Nowadays, it defines the basic principles of Japanese etiquette and taste.

 

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