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There are several schools of Sado, or Japanese tea ceremony, also known as Chanoyu. Tea, in this case O-cha (green tea), is as integral to culture in Japan as coffee is in the US (more so, in fact) or 'a cuppa' is in the UK. Also, its health benefits are widely touted and generally accepted worldwide. And study of the tea ceremony is still considered part of the 'proper' education of any aspiring young 'lady'. All these factors ensure that this ancient art form thrives even in modern-day Japan.

Sen no Rikyu
Sen no Rikyu

The Shokintei teahouse
The Shokintei teahouse

The earliest rituals involving tea came to Japan as a part of Buddhist meditation in the 6th century. Later, in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), a Japanese priest named Eisai introduced tea seeds which became the source of much of the tea grown in Japan today. A century later the priest Eizon and the monk Ikkyu further promoted the tea ceremony. Shuko, a pupil of Ikkyu, became tea master to the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa at whose villa (now known as Ginkakuji or the 'Temple of the Siver Pavillion' in Kyoto) the first purpose made tea room in Japan was built.

The roots of today's major schools can be traced to tea master Sen No Rikyu (1522-1591). Over the course of later generations, the tea ceremony was refined and acquired a more Japanese rather than Chinese aesthetic. The sons of Rikyu's grandson Sotan founded their own schools: Ura Senke for commoners, Omote Senke for aristocrats and Mushanokoji Senke, which highly values the principle of wabi. (Wabi can be described as a moral and aesthetic principle which emphasises a quiet life free of worldly concerns). The Ura Senke school continues to thrive today and encourages cultural exchange abroad through the tea ceremony.

The chaji, or tea ceremony is usually held in a cha-shitsu (tea-room). In grander times, this would have consisted of a seperate, small building set in a picturesque and tranquil corner of a traditional garden. These structures can most often be seen today in parks or castle and temple gardens. The Shokintei teahouse at the Katsura Detached Palace in Kyoto is a good example.

Guests enter the tea-room through the nijiriguchi, a tiny door which forces them to crouch, thereby foregoing their worldly status. In a formal chaji many factors are considered to celebrate the uniqueness of the moment: the guests invited, the season, the calligraphy scroll hanging on the wall, the flowers on display, the utensils, the food served before the tea and so on. The chaji itself has several stages, each with a depth of meaning difficult for the outsider to grasp but ultimately based on a reverance for nature and the creation of a perfect moment in time.

The following is a message from Sen Soshitsu, Ura Senke Grand Tea Master XV:

"Chado, the Way Of Tea, is based upon the simple act of boiling water, making tea, offering it to others, and drinking of it ourselves. Served with a respectful heart and received with gratitude, a bowl of tea satisfies both physical and spiritual thirst.

The frenzied world and our myriad dilemmas leave our bodies and minds exhausted. It is then that we seek out a place where we can have a moment of peace and tranquillity. In the discipline of Chado such a place can be found. The four principles of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility, codified almost four hundred years ago, are timeless guides to the practice of Chado. Incorporating them into daily life helps one to find that unassailable place of tranquility that is within each of us.

As a representative of this unbroken Japanese tradition of four hundred years, I am pleased to see that many non-Japanese are welcoming the chance to pursue its study. This growing interest in Chado among peoples of all nations leads me to strive even harder to make it possible for more people to enter the Way of Tea."

A chasen A celebrant of the tea ceremony holds a chasen (bamboo brush) used to stir and mix the tea.

Other utensils used during the ceremony include: the cha-ire, a ceramic container used for the powdered tea; the kama (kettle) used for boiling water over a charcoal fire; hashi (chopsticks) made of cedar wood used for eating the simple food; the cha-wan (tea bowls) and many others.

Koicha (thick tea) is served first and later usucha (thin tea). During the course of the ceremony, a kaiseki light meal, sake and higashi (dry sweets) are also served.

On another note, one of the key indicators of Japan's progress (or lack thereof) in the field of gender relations is whether office ladies (OL's) are required by a given employer to make and do the rounds with the tea during the working day. It is the cause of probably the most often voiced grievance among the long list of sexist behavior engrained into Japanese corporate society.

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