Chanoyu, Japanese tea ceremony, which is also called sadou, embraces the simple idea that both a host and his/her guests should enjoy each other’s company over a bowl of tea.The sophisticated Japanese culture developed and refined the simple act of drinking tea over a long period of time. It is fascinating, because the performers can become tranquil by escaping the trials and tribulations of their daily lives, and enjoy their host’s warm hospitality. Chanoyu encompasses ceramic art, lacquer ware, dyeing and weaving, textile, metal and iron work, bamboo and wood work, calligraphy, flower arrangement, architecture, landscape design, kimono style and Japanese cuisine. These connections enable you to deeply understand the beauty of Japanese tradition and mind.

The Origin of Chanoyu

Tea was originally brought to Japan in the 9th century by Buddhist monks sent to China to learn Chinese culture, but the interest in tea in Japan did not catch on at this time. At the end of the 12th century, Eisai, a Japanese monk returning from China, introduced powdered green tea as medicine. In the 14th century, the custom of drinking tea became popular among ordinary people as well as Buddhist monks and samurai. Tea-tasting (tocha) parties where contestants could win extravagant prizes for guessing the best quality tea became fashionable at this time. From the end of the 15th century to the end of the 16th century, the culture of drinking tea dramatically changed, and began to develop its own style. Murata Juko integrated the idea of wabi, which means quiet or sober refinement, to chanoyu. He is generally considered as the founder of chanoyu, since he linked the culture of drinking tea with the philosophical ideals of Zen-Buddhism. Japanese original chanoyu style was preferred by using not only luxurious Chinese utensils (karamono) but also simple Japanese ones. Takeno Joo established the use of simple everyday Japanese utensils or his original equipments made of wood or bamboo instead of Chinese ones. In the late 16th century, Sen no Rikyu followed his master, Takeno Joo’s concept, by stripping everything non-essential from tea rooms and chanoyu, and expanded on the idea of wabi. He also invented many gadgets for chanoyu, including flower containers and tea scoops. Rikyu’s chanoyu is inherited by three houses of families of his grandchild Sotan.The three, Omotesenke, Urasenke, and Mushanokoujisenke, are referred to as the san-Senke (the three ways).


Chashitsu (tea rooms) are the venue for chanoyu. Chashitsu are located in Japanese style gardens (roji), and are usually small, typically from 2 to 4.5 mats (from 36 to 80 square foot) and sometimes larger, because Chashitsu are designed as austere and humble places. Building materials and decorations are deliberately simple and rustic in wabi style tea rooms. Chanoyu starts with guests’ entering the Chashitsu and observing tea equipment, seasonal flowers, and calligraphy in the form of a hanging scroll. Greeting each other helps to create a warm environment between the host and his/her guests.

Tea Gatherings

The simplest form of tea gatherings is to entertain guests with a bowl of thin tea and Japanese sweets. In a formal tea gathering called chaji or chakai, thin tea, thick tea and chanoyu cuisine (kaiseki) are served as well. The host entertains his/ her guests with events so they can enjoy the changes of seasons and the time of day. In tea gatherings with a larger number of guests, guests are served a bowl of thin tea or thick tea and Japanese sweets.


Temae, the technique of preparing a bowl of tea, is simple and rational. It is generally performed in the quickest way with only the most necessary actions. For a host to be able to serve the most delicious tea to his/her guests, each procedure at chanoyu has been invented and developed throughout a long history.


Elegant actions accompanied by host’s hospitality are essential for the beautiful temae. Every action in chanoyu, which is called shosa, has a meaning. For instance, the act of a host purifying his/her utensils with a silk cloth called fukusa implies the host’s respect for his/her guests as well as purifying the host’s mind before serving tea.


Training in chanoyu (keiko) is designed to attain basic actions (kata), temae, as well as entertain his/her guests while enjoying oneself at tea gatherings. Continuing practice and experience is necessary to master temae, polish your skills and understand the spirit behind

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chanoyu. Chanoyu is not considered to have an ultimate objective, since one is expected to train and control one’s mind. The mind is cultivated through repeating practice, experiencing temae offered by others, and enjoying the tea rooms’ decorations and seasonal tea equipment. The most important part of chanoyu is that a host puts all his/her energy and heart into serving delicious tea to his/her guests, and they enjoy his/her hospitality through drinking tea. It is wonderful that we can enjoy our ancestors’ spirits and Japanese tradition which have been handed down over the centuries.


Text: Rena Suno Information from Souki Usui (Omotesenke instructor) The Omotesenke Domonkai is an association of people who are learning chanoyu. Here in the United States, Omotesenke Domonkai has Hawaiian region, North California region, South California region, and Eastern region, which was founded in June 2010. It is very happy to have more opportunities to enjoy chanoyu by the establishment of the Eastern region. Assistant: Senna Abe