Quick Intro to Japanese Tea Ceremony Utensils

The Tea Ceremony, or Chanoyu, is a Japanese cultural art as well as a philosophy and spiritual discipline. Chanoyu, literally translated, means “hot water for tea”. Today, tea ceremony is often referred to as chado or sado, meaning “the way of tea”.

At first glance the tea ceremony may seem to be an overly formal ritual for serving and drinking tea. However, it is a unique demonstration of how one can appreciate the beauty of a moment in time through a simple act of relating to another person. Chado emphasizes the following four principles: harmony, purity, respect, and serenity. Every aspect of the Way of Tea is important in achieving these key principles, including the utensils that are used during the ceremony.

Japanese tea ceremony utensils have developed over the centuries, each with a specific purpose within the ceremony. Just as in the ceremony itself, each utensil is made with the notion of muda ga nai (no waste) and embodies the spirit of minimalist design. The most basic set of utensils includes the tea bowl, tea whisk, and tea scoop.

Tea Bowl- Originally, the tea bowl, or matcha chawan, was made in China. Then during the 16th century, tea master Sen no Rikyu designed the first bowl specifically made for the Japanese tea ceremony. These bowls, now known as raku bowls, are most commonly associated with the ritual. Today there are a variety of bowls and shapes, some shallow and others deeper for keeping tea warm during the colder months. Size and shape are determined so that the bowls may be held comfortably with two hands.

There is a wide range of tea ceremony bowls and some of the most unique and beautiful ones are prized possessions, created by famous potters. Such special bowls are often named after their beauty, the occasion, or even after the owner. Often recognized in Japan as works of art, prized matcha chawan may easily run into thousands of dollars. Many such historical bowls are often passed down from teacher to apprentice and are used only for special occasions.

Tea Whisk- The tea whisk, or chasen, is made from a single piece of bamboo that is approximately four and a half inches in height. Two-thirds of the bamboo is then split into around 80-120 strips or strands. Next, the strands are alternately pushed into an inner and outer circle composing a double whisk, creating the unique shape of the chasen. This amazing simplicity in design requires no attachments, screws, or glue – just natural bamboo. This was not only a great example of minimalist design, but insured that no other materials would come in contact with the tea and affect its unique flavor.

The number of strands in a chasen can vary greatly. When preparing usucha, or thin tea, a higher number of strands in a chasen allows for creating a desirable froth when mixing powdered matcha with hot water. On the other hand, for preparing koicha, or thick tea which has a much more paste like consistency, a chasen with fewer strands is preferred.

More about the chasen and its making process here.

Tea Scoop- The tea scoop or chashaku is made from a single strip of bamboo. It is used to place the powdered matcha into the chawan. The spooned tip is thinly carved and heat is used to achieve the gentle curve of the scoop. Most have a little nodule on the handle portion that makes it easier to hold on to.

Each basic tea ceremony utensil, the chawan, chasen, and chashaku plays a key role in the Way of Tea. Each tool is unique in their design and simplicity, which is a true testament to their timeless beauty and quality.

Jenny Hones

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