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The Japanese Tea Ceremony

Tea ceremony is also known as chanoyu , or the A Way of Tea, in Japan. It is a very prevalent and popular practice in Japan. It has its roots in Chinese traditional Buddhist culture and tea drinking techniques. Since the Tang dynasty and until the Yuan dynasty, Japan regularly sent envoys and monks to China. They returned with more than Buddhist doctrines. They brought the knowledge of planting tea trees, the techniques of infusing tea, and, the most important of all,the Chinese tea drinking philosophy back to Japan. Combined with the traditional Japanese domestic culture, a unique art of Japanese tea ceremony emerged.

The Southern Song dynasty, which spanned the 12th and 13th Centuries, was a key period in the dissemination of Chinese tea culture abroad. The Japanese monk Eisai twice travelled to China. When he returned from his first trip, he brought back more than 60 volumes of scripture and tea seeds. He went to China again in 1187. He then went to China again in 1187. He then returned to Nagasaki four years later. Later he founded two monasteries in Kyoto and Kamakura and started the Rinzai school of Buddhism, He planted tea trees inside the monasteries and advocated the study of Zen and promoted tea drinking for the rest of his life.

Meanwhile, the exquisite Chinese tea wares, particularly the tenmoku and celadon tea bowls, were also introduced to Japan from Zhejiang, China. In the Japanese tea ceremony, tenmoku tea bowls are of the highest importance. When the Japanese tea ceremony was first developed, the tea wares used were exclusively tenmoku. Later as the tea ceremony became prevalent, common tea bowls were also used. As Japanese and Korean imitations became widely used, Tenmoku tea bowls became even rarer and more valuable. They are now only used at important and grand occasions and in some specific schools of tea ceremony.

The most direct founder of Japanese tea ceremony was a monk in the 15th Century by the name of Murata Juko. He combined different aspects of tea drinking practice by the common people and the grand tea parties of the nobilities, and added elements of Buddhism. Later Sen Rikyu made new modifications, and created the four basic rules of the Way of Tea: harmony, respect, clarity, and peace. For his major influence in the shaping of Japanese tea ceremony, Sen Rikyu is revered as the "Tea Master." Now, although there are a number of different styles of tea ceremony, they all follow the four fundamental principles. The art of Japanese tea ceremony is closely linked to Buddhist philosophy, and still exhibits hints of Chinese influence of the Tang and Song periods,

The Japanese tea ceremony is normally performed indoors in a tea room. Some richer families have separate tea rooms in their houses. These tea rooms are often decorated with antiques and tea-related books and paintings. In the middle of the room is a stove and a kettle. In front of the stove are many specialized utensils for the tea ceremony.

The entrance of the tea room is a sliding door that is only about a meter tall. One must kneel and bow when entering the room, as a show of humility and modesty. When guests arrive, the host normally sits at the door on his heels, respectfully waiting for all the guests to enter. As the guests go through the door, they take off their shoes and wash their hands at the door. The host enters last and bows to everyone. After everyone is seated, the host first serves dessert. Then, following a strict procedure, the host prepares tea. In the meantime, all the guests silently watch, waiting for the host to hand each of them a cup of tea. The guests express thanks by touching their heads on the floor, and then accept the tea. The host needs return the respect by doing the same. After the host pours the last cup of tea for himself, everyone raises the Japanese tea cups, smell the tea, and then take a sip. Then they can start chatting casually. They try to avoid topics of current affairs.

The Japanese tea ceremony emphasizes the selection of Japanese tea sets. Many Japanese families collect tea wares. So when sampling tea, the guests should admire and praise the tea wares, as a show of respect to the host. When everything is done, the host goes outside, kneels, and thanks the guests as they leave.

During daily life, the Japanese usually drink steamed green tea and bottled oolong tea. The method is roughly the same as the traditional Chinese method. A pinch of tea is put in a cast iron teapot and boiled water is added. Besides treating guests with tea, almost all Japanese families have tea after meals. If they are out, to avoid the inconvenience of infusing tea, they would bring tea beverages in cans o bottles.

Furthermore, the Japanese believe black tea symbolizes hospitality. Therefore, many families in Japan also collect high grade black tea, as well as tea wares. The most representative of Japanese black tea drinks are milk black tea and lemon black tea. Now there are also black teas in many other fruity flavours, including strawberry, apple, pineapple, and orange.