Handing Down Traditional Culture in Kyoto

January 21, 2016

by Hikari Isaka and Maya Ito

The tea ceremony (chanoyu) is one of many traditional Japanese arts and is often praised for its profound meaning. This art was spread throughout Japan by Sen-no-Rikyu in the middle of the 15th century and continues to be practiced by the Japanese to this day. Kyoto has many of the headquarters of the main schools of the tea ceremony. Today, we can learn how to do tea ceremony by taking lessons or by taking part in tea ceremonies that are held in many places. Kyoto has many places to experience tea and many of them are at famous tourist sites. They are not only held in temples, but also in shops around these complexes. It is easy for tourists to experience here.

The tea ceremony often takes place in a formal structure known as the teahouse. Its peculiar structure and atmosphere was developed centuries ago. Most teahouses are four-and-a-half mats in size — rather small and not so spacious. What is more, this size is standard for teahouses. There are no lights or furnishings. Therefore, we can hear the characteristic sounds of the tea ceremony naturally in this special space—the boiling of water and the whistle of the tea kettle. That is why the teahouse can heighten our feelings and we can enjoy the tea ceremony by appreciating its aural and visual effects.

The tea ceremony

The tea ceremony

Candies which served in the usucha ceremony

Candies served in the usucha ceremony

The tea ceremony is based on the brewing of powdered green (koicha) and a lighter tea (usucha) in a tea-ceremony room. Koicha and usucha are different not only in taste but also in the manner of preparation. At tea ceremonies in a traditional teahouse, visitors always enter the tea-ceremony room through a small door. There are three different points between koicha and usucha. At first, at the powdered green tea ceremony, guests eat a confection before drinking the thick and slightly bitter koicha. However, when drinking usucha, guests eat dry confections in the middle of the tea ceremony. Sweet confections are eaten to balance out the bitter flavor of the teas. At the tea ceremony, the confections used are based on the seasons. This makes the visitor happier. Secondly, koicha is usually made for three or four people at a time, therefore guests share the tea from the same teacup. Moreover, the powdered green tea is muddy and dark green in color. For a guest who drinks koicha for the first time, it may taste so bitter, but the more one drinks the more one learns to appreciate the taste of this thick tea. On the other hand, in the usucha ceremony, guests can drink tea by themselves. Thirdly, the implements used in the tea ceremony for these two teas are different. For koicha, people use a tea caddy. On the other hand, for usucha people use a jujube. When people make usucha they do not measure exactly but for koicha, people make exact measurements.

The yea ceremony

The tea ceremony

A Japanese cake in the  koicha ceremony

A Japanese cake in the koicha ceremony

On the 28th day of every month in Kyoto, many tea ceremonies are held throughout Kyoto as it is the memorial day for Sen-no-Rikyu. You can attend many tea ceremonies at subtemples on this day at Daitokuji Temple where Sen-no-Rikyu was a priest. Everybody should try the tea ceremony and enjoy it!

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