What is a Japanese tea ceremony?





Please introduce yourself and tell me a bit about your work as a tea master

(How did you become a tea master(How long)? Tell me a bit about the challenges etc.)


My name is Ako, in Chinese character it means Asian Lake.


In English I can say “I am a teacher of tea ceremony”, but, in Japanese we say cha-do. DO means way or how to live a life, so I am a just a walker or living in tea way, or tea life.


So in tea ceremony school, we donnot say teachers will teach, but teaches just try to show how we live our life full, and students not be passive, but they see what teachers are doing as much as they can.


In that meaning, I am living in tea life, after graduate my university, so almost 30 years I am in Tea.


First I was studying tea and Zen philosophy in a Zen temple and then I was a student in a tea master's shcool in Kyoto, living with his family and tried to master his tea life.


Now I am teaching in my own school  in Tokyo ,Kanagawa, Shizuoka,

and some universities. Aoso my school has online classes for foreigners.


What is a Japanese tea ceremony? (Practically, historically, etc.)


It is  simple.

Just the way of drinking tea.


One of the purpose of the tea ceremony is try to be honest with ourselves and free from prejudice, to find the real ourselves. Through drinking and making tea.


Through practice, we try to enlighten ourselves, in other words, cultivate our minds.


It is based on  Zen philosophy every act of daily life can lead to enlightenment. Each movement in tea ceremony is simplified to harmonize with our nature.


we concentrate on each movement and moment, trying to harmonize with tea utensils and guests, that cultivate our peaceful mind. I hope you can feel that in this tea room.


for example, the host is wiping the tea utensils. That is not only for practical purposes. It is also for purifying our minds.


don’t you think it is very interesting we can get Zen mental state just by drinking tea, 500 years ago the Japanese find this way.



What are the key points of the ceremony? (tea, serving, sitting, clothes etc.) Important rules.


I would like to ask the same question to you after you drink a cup of tea in this tea room. Later.


Maybe you’ve heard about the word “ omotenashi”, which shows Japanese hospitality or the Japanese way of hosting and serving guests.

In tea ceremony, the guest is also tea disciple , because they are practicing tea way. Not only the host but The guest also do Omotenashi to the host.


For example, when you drink tea, first raise the tea bowl higher than yourself and bow for lowering yourself.  that shows your respect and appreciation to the tea, we think tea is nature itself. The blessings of Nature higher , humans lower, because we are just a part of nature.

But next, we drink and accepting the tea in our body, to unite with mother nature and ourselves.


everything surrounding you.  To your tea master who makes the tea for you, to the blessing from the sky, to the blessings from the earth, to the fate that you are given  birth and sitting here among us.


And if you considering that the tea bowl is prepared by the host for you for today for this moment. You would naturally be modest and avoid drinking from the front. so you will turn the tea bowl front.


But which direction or how much?


It is easy, After the guests drink tea, the host will rinse the tea bowl with hot water, and discard it. If you turn it 90degrees clockwise, you can drink tea where the host will discard it, cooperating with the host. That is Omotenashi.


If you want to this way, we have to improve ourselves each other.


First step is open our mind completely and talk very honestly with true words.

Then we can face our true ourselves and harmonize with each other, or unite with each other, and respect truly each other.


 We call this Wa Kei. Wa harmony, Kei respect.


I would say the key points of the ceremony is Be trying to be Wa Kei itself,  when you are choosing tea, drinking tea, siting in the tea room, even if you cannot be completely,  that is OK, Just trying is important in tea way.


What is the role of the Japanese tea-ceremony? “Why” do we do it?

(Does it impact the tea itself you believe? Taste, sensation etc.)


In my case I do this , because I cannot do this.

I cannot live like tea. That is why I do. I try to continue to reach the goal.

As I said, Tea is symbol of mother nature for Japanese, so as a part of nature we humans learn how to live from tea.


I think Time to have a cup of tea together opens up our minds to talk. Sitting and drinking tea makes your mind calm and clear. A cup of tea has power to recognize humanity. So Okakura says “tea is a cup of humanity” in The book of Tea, it is written almost 100years ago.


In what way is the Japanese tea ceremony connected to Japanese culture?

(Do you believe the Japanese culture somehow is conveyed through the tea ceremony? How?)



it says All, all have been subject to its influence. Our home and habits, costume and cuisine, porcelain, lacquer, painting, and literature. No student of Japanese culture could ever ignore its presence.


In tea ceremony, We try to simplify everything to see the truth. For example we usually choose the tea bowl without color and decoration for tea. Because tea is the most important thing in tea ceremony. So we do not need any decoration for tea bowls to see tea clearly.

And try to see what we cannot see , I mean invisible things, like atmosphere or sound or aroma or people’s mind. So we try to see the space too. We love the picture which has much space, we love the simple flower arrangement which we can feel the breeze too. Because we know people can imagine, you say, people are thinking reeds.  So we love to leave the space in paintings or follower arrangements.


But now I think different, All of them are not inference of tea ceremony, but

we should say that everything has same denominators, Japan-ness.


You know the word Wabi, Sabi,or Shibumi

it is the attitude of seeking beauty and inner contentment in simplicity and imperfection,


These aesthetics did not only come from tea ceremony but All Japanese has this sense in common before tea ceremony. So I would say the tea ceremony is the essence of Japanese culture itself.


What role does Japanese tea have in Japan today would you say?


I think you can realize  A cup of tea in your busy life can refresh and focus yourself. Even if you are not in a tea room, it is same as you are in tea ceremony and You can cultivate yourselves.


Or if you think about the guest and which tea cup should you use for the guest, you can share tea ceremony thoughts with the guest even if you do not serve tea in the tea ceremony style.


I believe through Japanese tea we can feel the nature and Japanese-ness too,


I am also a Japanese tea history teacher in my university, always saying to young Japanese students and students from foreign countries, if you would like to know Japan, Japanese Tea tells you lots of things.


In modern era, Japanese tea industry introduced Japanese tea as


Miracle plant grows in Japan, Japanese tea heals your mind and body, inspire your imagination, and even connects circle of people. Its manufacturing method is to respect nature. It is a summary of unique Japanese culture. Tea is elevated as a way of life in Japanese culture for more than a thousand years.


Have the ceremonial elements changed throughout the years in any way? Why and how?


We should change,

Some people believe the tea ceremony is keeping  the old way, but it is not true.

We always improving and students must go beyond the teachers.

However it has over the 500-year historiy and we have lots of great pioneers and wise masters before us. So it is very hard to change what they have done. We practice and practice everyday and talk with the predecessors even if they are not alive we can talk with them through the utensils or writings and so on.


Like one of the great pioneers Sen Rikyu create the Black Raku tea bowl, and his student Oribe create his own design, and next students make the different bowl.


Also the time changes,

first the tea ceremony was  only for upper class society, Especially samurai class.

After modern era, females learn tea ceremony for their hobbies.


Would you say the popularity of Japanese tea ceremonies are increasing or declining? What do you believe the reason for that is? Why is it important to maintain, perform even today?


Interesting question, Great Tea master Sen Rikyu said , After my death, the popularity of tea ceremonies are increasing, in that case the tea ceremony is dying.


So declining and maintaining are  no worries.


Actually now declining the population of tea ceremony.

Because few tea ceremony teachers can teach the true purpose.

Many of them teaches the manual of making tea and manners to drink tea.


This is the book I translated  The Book of Zen Tea,

was written 200years ago by a zen monk.

After Sen Rikyu died, the many people enjoyed tea ceremony for fun and forget the true purpose of tea ceremony, this book criticizes  these people and explains  the true purpose of tea ceremony.

History tells what has been done will be done again.


The people doing true tea ceremony never think about maintaining, but just doing tea ceremony,

T ceremony has developed over 500years.

Some people like me, say it is s necessary to live.  We can learn how to live from tea. If no one says so, it will be disappear.


吉野亜湖 (茶道家・茶文化研究者)