Origins of Tea and Tea Ceremony in Japan
The practice of boiling herbs and tea leaves for consumption was first recorded in China around the 3rd century, but it was not introduced to other Asian countries until the 9th century. It’s hard to believe that it didn’t actually become popular in Japan until the 12th century; when “Matcha” (finely powdered green tea) started being used for buddhism ceremonies. However it was a century later that “tea tasting” parties became a status symbol for the samurai and lords of feudal Japan and gained widespread popularity.
Tea as an art form
From the buddhist ceremonies to the tea tasting parties held by the warrior class of Japan, tea became an art form. For the untrained eye, it looks like someone making tea deliberately slow, but everything from the decoration and layout of the room, to the tools used, the temperature of the water, to the movements performed have a reason or a meaning.
To be a “tea master” it takes many years of study and practice. A minimum of two years is required before performing Tea Ceremony for guests as a host. Hosts today are predominantly women, but Tea Ceremonies were first performed by men and as such, there is still a school of hosts that perform the “Samurai style” tea ceremony, in which movements are still graceful, but have roots in martial arts. Fascinating right?
Where can you experience a Tea Ceremony?
Today, Tea Ceremonies can be found throughout the world. One common place to experience it outside of Japan is through Botanical Gardens. Most gardens have a Japanese Tea house and host ceremonies. Places with large Japanese communities will also have tea ceremonies hosted by an organization.
Although you can get a pretty good introduction to Tea Ceremony around the world, there is no place to experience it like in Japan, and Kyoto is one of the best cities to do it. Kyoto was the Imperial capital of Japan for more than a thousand years and was also the birthplace of “Matcha” in Japan. Until this day, it is said to have the best green tea in the country.
There are several places in Kyoto to experience a traditional Tea Ceremony. I chose Camellia and was so happy I did. The ceremony was performed in an intimate setting with two other guests. The host explained the art and started the performance. We were then instructed on how to make our own tea and how to drink it, followed by a sweet treat and a good chat. Everyone at Camellia was incredibly welcoming and answered about a thousand of my questions. I wanted to stay there for hours. It was one of the best experiences I had in Japan.
If you are in Kyoto, check them out. Here is their website.
Have you attended a Tea Ceremony? Would you consider it in your future travels?