Chaji Tea Gatherings

Formal Tea

The early tea masters had a lasting impact on the tea gathering. Several schools preserve the tradition today: Omote Senke, Ura Senke, and Mushanokōji Senke, each founded by descendants of Rikyū, as well as the Yabunouchi school established by Oribe's brother-in-law Kenchū. All practice the formal tea gathering, chaji, with minor technical differences in the procedures for preparing and serving the tea. The complete chaji can last three to four hours and includes the serving of thick tea, thin tea, and a formal meal.

Preparations by the Host

The host first decides the theme of the gathering, which can be as simple as the passing of the seasons. Mindful of the occasion, he then selects the tea utensils appropriate to his guests. The principal guests might be honored with a tea bowl having an illustrious pedigree such as the white Seto bowl formerly owned by the sixteenth-century tea master Takeno Jōō, and later by the warrior ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the daimyo Hosokawa Sansai (1563-1646). The host also chooses the scroll to hang in the alcove of the tearoom, providing its principal decoration and establishing the mood of the gathering. Favorite subjects were landscapes such as that by Murata Shukō, which captures the sense of being drawn deep into the mountains, away from worldly pressures. Calligraphic verses could convey a similar sense of detachment, as in the Zen abbot Seigan Sōi's "White clouds come and go by themselves." With the scroll, the host might also display precious ceramics or other works of art. The carefully considered ensemble in the tokonoma is vital to the aesthetics of the tea ceremony, in which every detail is calculated to please and soothe the eye.

Arrival of Guests

The guests proceed down the tea garden path, pausing to cleanse their hands at the water basin before stooping to crawl into the tearoom. Once inside, each guest in turn proceeds to the alcove to admire the scroll chosen for that day and view the works of art exhibited in the tokonoma. The last guest to enter shuts the small sliding door with an audible click to signal the unseen host that all have arrived.

Charcoal Ceremony

After exchanging greetings, the host begins the ritual of building the fire for the tea kettle and brings forth the charcoal container. This utensil contains the equipment necessary for the charcoal ceremony: carefully arranged pieces of charcoal, metal lifters for removing the tea kettle, a kettle mat, metal chopsticks for handling the charcoal, a feather to brush away ashes, and a container for the pieces of incense that are placed in the fire to permeate the room with fragrance. The host also uses a special bowl and spoon to prepare the carefully laid bed of ash in the sunken hearth or the brazier. While the fire is being prepared the guests admire the utensils and works of art, commenting on their aesthetic qualities and provenance. The lacquered charcoal container formerly owned by the daimyo tea master Kobori Enshū (1579-1647) was made in Thailand, reflecting the eclecticism of tea utensil collections, which could include objects from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, China, Korea, and even Europe. The host contributes to the conversation, recounting such stories as that associated with the hammer-style iron tea kettle. According to legend, Rikyū, who saw beauty in the imperfect, deliberately gave this kettle a few taps with a hammer to enhance its charm.

Kaiseki and Sweets

Following the placing of the charcoal, the guests are served kaiseki, a formal meal developed specifically for the tea gathering. Influenced by the meal served in Zen temples, kaiseki usually avoids meat and consists of fish, rice, and vegetables aesthetically arranged against a background of ceramic and lacquered dishes. Large plates, such as the one with a design of peonies by Kenzan (1663-1743), might be used to pass around a large grilled fish, while morsels of raw fish could be served in the small individual dishes called mukōzuke. Sake, a rice liqueur, is served throughout the meal. At the end, sweets are eaten to prepare the palate for the bitter tea that will follow. By this time, a few hours have passed and the guests retire to the garden while the host begins preparations for the thick tea ceremony.

Thick Tea Ceremony

The drinking of thick tea and thin tea represent two distinct stages of the ceremony. Although powdered green tea (matcha) is used for both, the tea for the thick tea ceremony is made only from the tips of the newest leaves from a mature tea plant. Using a bamboo whisk, thick tea is prepared by mixing tea with just enough water to produce the proper consistency. The tea is prepared in a single bowl shared by all the guests, each of whom carefully wipes the rim before passing it on. After drinking the tea, the guests again discuss the utensils, with the principal guest asking first to examine the tea container and the bamboo tea scoop. Other necessary utensils include cold-water jars for refilling the kettle, and waste-water bowls for discarding the water used to clean the teabowl and whisk at the end of the ceremony.

Thin Tea Ceremony

Thin tea is made from plants younger than those used for thick tea. Except that more water is used for thin tea, both types are prepared by whipping the mixture with a whisk rather than by steeping. The thin tea powder might be purchased from a grower other than the one who provided the thick tea powder, to offer guests a different taste as well as texture. Thin tea containers often are decorated with seasonal designs, and the tea is served in individual bowls. The thin tea ceremony concludes the chaji.
Welcome to the webpage for Washington and Lee University's new Japanese Tea Room. This architectural treasure was built in the Watson Pavilion on campus, where it serves as a classroom laboratory for the study of Chadō, or the Way of Tea, and a center for cultural activity relating to the arts of Japan.