The Japanese Tea Ceremony was created by Sen no Rikyu, and is renowned as a uniquely Japanese ceremony.
The Japanese Tea Ceremony is one of the more famous cultural gems that Japan has shown to the world. Though tea had come to Japan in the 6th century via China, it did not take its true cultural roots until the 10th century, when the Zen monk Eisai, founder of the Rinzai Sect of Buddhism, brought powdered tea back with him from his overseas travels. It was not until the 14th century that the most vital component to the Japanese tea ceremony, wabicha, was developed by Sen no Rikyu, a monk who, in his later years, became a tea master for Toyotomi Hideyoshi (a daimyo in the Sengoku period who unified the political factions of Japan and ordered the construction of Osaka Castle). He loved Raku teaware for its unordinary shapes, and switched from white ware to black. He is the father of Japan’s modern Japanese tea ceremony. Sen no Rikyu also played a pivotal role in Hideyoshi’s more famous tea ceremony gathering at Kitano Tenman-Gu (the temple near our house).
Unfortunately, over reasons that still are not quite known for certain, Hideyoshi ordered Sen no Rikyu to commit seppuku (ritual Japanese suicide) in 1591. Sen no Rikyu completed this order in a villa at Nishi-Honganji, a temple in the south of Kyoto. I’ve had an opportunity to see the villa where the ritual happened, but pictures were not allowed. You can see an official picture of the house to the right. The house is typically closed off to the public, but through my school, I was able to visit it.
Since I had taken a class about the history of tea in East Asia at the University of California, Berkeley, I definitely wanted to try to participate in a tea ceremony while in Japan. Through KPIC (Kyoto Prefectural International Center), Nicky and I were able to take a Tea Ceremony class with Souyu-sensei, a teacher of the Urasenke School of Tea, which is very popular in Japan right now. Classes are held every month, so Nicky and I plan to keep going back. At our first lesson, we were able to eat a chestnut sweet and make tea, but I don’t think I was very good at the specifics. The way you have to fold the handkerchief is very detailed, and I’m certain I will forget it by the time the next class rolls around... I need to find a red handkerchief so that I can practice outside of class! ...I also need to find some cheap matcha... you’d be surprised how hard it is to find Japan!