The Japanese tea ceremony has a long and interesting history. Throughout the decades it has evolved from an expensive and lavish gathering, to a tea ritual that focusses on simplicity and nature. With it, the tea utensils have also evolved. When entering a Japanese tea house we may find a variety of tea ceremony utensils, each holding their own history and purpose. Not a step goes unnoticed.
Brief History of Tea in Japan
Tea in Japan dates back to the 7th century when it was brought over by Japanese Buddhist monks from China. However, it wasn’t until the year 1191 that tea really started growing as a culture. This happened when tea was reintroduced by Eisai, a Zen Buddhist priest who brought the seeds to Kyoto — Japan's capital and cultural center of the time.
The Japanese tea ceremony that we know today wasn’t invented until the late 16th century by Sen no Rikyu and was known as wabicha, which emphasizes simplicity.
The Japanese tea ceremony went through many stages of development, leaning away from lavishness and turning to simplicity, or wabi-sabi. The utensils use also convey this. Nowadays, utensils that portray the flow of time are especially prized by tea masters.
Utensils that are used for the Japanese tea ceremony are called chadogu.
There are 5 categories of chadogu:
- soshoku dogu: decorative items
- temae dogu: items for making tea
- kaiseki dogu: items for the chakaiseki meal
- mizuya dogu: items used in the preparation room
- machiai/roji dogu: items used in the waiting room or the garden
Similarly to gong fu cha, or the Chinese tea ceremony, the utensils used for chanoyu (the Japanese tea ceremony) are an integral part of the ceremony itself.
Not only does the tea master have a wide array of tools used, but the ceremony guests also bring their own utensils to the ceremony. People who frequent Japanese tea ceremonies always have these utensils prepared.
Traditionally, however, the term chadogu only refers to the tea utensils prepared and used by the host himself.
Utensils Used To Brew Matcha
Having these items alone, we can easily make Japanese matcha green tea for ourselves at home, or anywhere we go.
Chawan — a chawan is a bowl that is used to make and drink matcha from. Compared to the traditional gong fu teacups, a chawan is quite large and wide. This way, we can ensure there is enough space to whisk the matcha properly.
Chashaku — a narrow, long bamboo scoop used to transfer matcha powder into the chawan. Although they are most often made from bamboo, some are also made from wood and ivory, like in the Chinese tea ceremony traditions. Many tea masters make their own chashaku and name them.
Chasen — a bamboo whisk used for whisking the matcha. It is always carved from a single piece of bamboo and commonly has 80, 100, or 120 tines. Different styles of chasen are used depending on the matcha being made and the occasion of the tea ceremony. (Read more)
- Kusenaoshi — a ceramic holder used to hold the wet chasen after use.
Other Utensils One Might Find At A Chanoyu
Unlike gong fu style tea, which only has about 12 different utensils used, during chanoyu, there are dozens of utensils and props, each following the season and occasion of the tea ceremony.
While gong fu cha can easily be learned and mastered and performed in one’s own home, chanoyu is performed in a specially designed Japanese tea house where every square inch is carefully thought through. Although a Japanese tea ceremony usually lasts several hours, drinking the tea is a concise part of it. The performance of the tea ritual takes up most of the time, as well as quiet admiration and contemplation.
The following are just some of the items one might see at a traditional Japanese tea ceremony:
Kama — a heavy Japanese cast iron tea kettle used to heat water for tea preparation. The kama usually sits in a fire pit on top of the charcoal. For matcha, the water is not boiled but gently heated.
Various boxes — it is not uncommon to see many wooden boxes of different sizes. Sometimes a single item may be stored within layers of multiple wooden boxes. The boxes are essential, as they speak of the history and importance of the tea utensils. Opening the box is on its own a valuable part of the tea ritual.
Ash, charcoal, and incense — during a traditional Japanese tea ceremony the water for brewing tea is slowly heated over burning charcoal. The charcoal used is, of course, specially prepared for the purpose. Almost always, it comes from a specific variety of oak.
The charcoal is placed in a portable brazier which already has some unique ash inside of it. There are five different types of ash used for the tea ceremony, each has its unique place according to the occasion of the ceremony. Furthermore, special chopsticks are used to handle the hot charcoal.
Cloth rags — these are not any old pieces of cloth. Each has a particular style and purpose:
Chakin — a small white cloth that's used for wiping the tea bowl.
Fukusa — a double-layered silk cloth which is used to clean certain utensils symbolically. These cloths vary in color based on the tea master, occasion, tea school, age, etc. In general, men will use a purple one while women use orange.
Fukusabasami — a wallet of sorts used to carry certain utensils for the tea ceremony. Most often it will include kaishi paper, a wagashi pick (for eating Japanese sweets), a fukusa, and sensu. Every ceremony guest bring their own fukusabasami.
Sensu — a small paper fan used during Japanese tea ceremonies to show respect. Although the fan has beautiful artwork on it, it is never opened or used. It is placed in front of us when we wish to express respect and gratitude. When we drink the tea, the fan is put behind us. The direction the fan is facing depends on the person’s status during the specific tea gathering.
Kakemono — a paper wall hanging with a short calligraphic quote. This is the center masterpiece of the tea room. When entering, guests must take time to admire and contemplate the meaning of the kakemono. The tea master will always choose a kakemono based on the occasion of the gathering.
Hanaire — a vase used for the flowers presented during the tea gathering. The flowers are always seasonal and often hand-picked. The hanaire will either be placed next to the kakemono or hung up on the wall.
- Hishaku — a long bamboo ladle used to pour water from the kama into the chawan. While smaller hishaku are used for pouring water for tea, larger ones are used to cleanse our hands and mouth before entering the tea hut. Similar ones are put at the entrance of temples in Japan.
How To Make Japanese Matcha Green Tea