The tea ceremony, or Chado, is one of the most famous and deeply rooted activities in the Japanese culture. With its roots in zen Buddhism, the ceremony has been refined and perfected over hundreds of years. When I was in Kyoto for a cultural exchange, the university had organised for us to experience the ceremony at Urasenke Chado research centre, one of the main schools of the tea ceremony.
Before the ceremony, we were given a mini lecture on the cultural significance of the tea ceremony and its importance in Japanese culture. They also explained the set up, where you are first supposed to gaze and reflect upon the meaning of the scroll before looking at the flower vase, which is meant to remind you of the season at the time. The emptiness of the room also add to its peacefulness.
After the lecture one of the members of the research centre held a demonstration of the ceremony for us. It was really fascinating to see her carry out the ceremony with grace and care, with each step full of meaning.
She then showed us the proper way of stirring the matcha in order to obtain a rich, thick and creamy consistency. Apparently there’s a certain trick to doing it. Then it was our turn! We were handed traditional Japanese sweets called wagashi to eat along with the bitter tea.
We were then handed the matcha along with the whisk. Although it looks pretty, matcha is not for everyone. If you’re not used to it, you won’t like it as it is really, really bitter. The wagashi help mask the bitterness though, and I thought it was really nice eaten together.
This was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. I strongly recommend going for a tea ceremony to experience Japanese hospitality at its best for yourself! There are many tea houses and even some shrines that offer the experience.