Tea Ceremony’s Influence on the World

Photo by Craig T. Kojima

Japanese Tea Ceremony was held this week on the USS Arizona Memorial as an act of reconciliation and a symbol of peace. The ceremony was the idea of former Hawaii First Lady Jean Ariyoshi and was performed by 15th generation grand tea master Genshitsu Sen.  More by reporter Dan Nakaso of The Star Advertiser.

Tea Ceremony, like Victorian Afternoon Tea, was first practiced by the upper class in their respective countries. Tea and fine accoutrements were imported into Japan from China and were not available to most commoners. Feudal warlords and imperial aristocracy conducted Tea Ceremony as a symbol of power and affluence.

A central figure in the history of Tea Ceremony is grand master Sen No Rikyu. Rikyu was the first Grand Master of Urasenke Tea School which Genshitsu Sen represents.

By the mid 16th century, matcha or powdered tea was being used in Tea Ceremony. At the time, Rikyu served as tea master to Shogun Oda Nobunaga and later to his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Hideyoshi was incredibly cunning and astute having been born a peasant farmer, serving Oda as a vassal and later becoming the most powerful warlord in Japan earning the title of Regent. Hideyoshi flaunted his status building lavished castles and a portable golden tea room. This opulent mobile tea room allowed him to practice tea and project his status where ever he went.

Rikyu embraced concepts taught to him by his masters. Wabi-sabi is the concept of finding beauty in simplicity. Wabi is evident today in Japanese design, architecture and landscaping. Ichi-go, ichi-e is the belief that each meeting is treasured because it can never be replicated. Some believe he was influenced by Christianity and fashioned parts of tea ceremony after communion.

As compared to Hideyoshi’s ornate golden tea room, Rikyu-designed rooms were austere and humble yet evoked a higher sense of refinement. For example, one blossom strategically place exhibited greater purpose compare to a bouquet of flowers. Rikyu preferred a room typically the size of 2 tatami mats or 12 square feet. A small room heighten intimacy and reduce excessive movement. Entry through a low and narrow door required stooping in order to enter the room. The door was built this way to encouraged humility.

Four principles taught in tea ceremony have endured time and are evident in modern Japanese culture. These principles are harmony (和 wa), respect (敬 kei), purity (清 sei), and tranquility (寂 jaku). The world witnessed these principles in practice by the order in which the Japanese conducted themselves in the aftermath of the March 11 tsunami and nuclear disaster.


About The Leaf Lover
Aloha, my name is Byron Goo. I started our company in 1995 in my garage. Tea has taken me all over the world since then and I continue to be a student of the leaf and of life. The Leaf Lover is a way for me to share about my passion for tea and our small business. I wear many hats including CEO of the company but I think of myself simply as a tea maker.

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