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JAPANESE TEA CULTURE

No other country has elevated tea drinking to such a high level as Japan. The land of smiles is full of purist tea houses, made from bamboo and wood, which usually consist of just two rooms. The first is used for preparing the tea, while the guests enjoy the beautiful gardens outside. The second is where the tea ceremony itself is held - and this is always a very special event. Drawing on all his skills, the tea master accompanies the chajin (tea person) on the chado (path of tea) in a process that is closely related to Zen Buddhism. Drinking tea with Japanese tea sets in Japan is thus not merely a ritual act; it is a path to enlightenment that lasts a whole lifetime.

Japanese tea ceremonies last several hours and follow very strict rules concerning the use of certain utensils. These include a bamboo ladle and a bamboo whisk, a tea caddy and tea bowls, a container of fresh water, an iron kettle and a silk tea cloth that the tea master wears on the belt of his kimono. Japanese tea culture is interwoven with many Japanese arts including poetry, architecture, painting, calligraphy and garden art. It therefore accords a significant role to the geisha - the so-called 'person of the arts', who has an excellent all-round education and serves as a charming and graceful entertainer.

Geishas are a cultural treasure of Japan, but there are no longer as many as in the past. Experiencing a geisha celebration is therefore something that sticks in the mind for many years. Of course, not every cup of tea consumed in Japan is surrounded by a lengthy ritual practice. Green tea is a part of everyday life in the country and is drunk in much the same way that the average cuppa is consumed in the UK - i.e., as an almost unnoticed part of the daily grind.