Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Japan's High Tea Etiquette

The largest tea party in the world was given by Hideyoshi in the pine grove of Kitano. He issued an edict in which all the tea votaries in the empire were bidden to come to this grove, bringing with them any tea curios they might possess, and the prince promised to drink tea at every booth. All who failed to present themselves were forbidden ever to take part in the cha-no-yu again. 


Japanese High Tea — Part 1
An Elaborate Affair That is Often Very Costly

A Ceremony in Japan That is Hundreds of Yeard Old —Peculiar Forms That Are Inviolable—Strict Etiquette of a Japanese Festival—How the Host Acts

To invite a few friends to "come and drink a cup of tea" is by no means a simple matter among the Japanese. Such an invitation necessitates a room built especially for these occasions, a whole paraphernalia of costly utensils and a most elaborate ceremonial. 

The famous American "high tea,” with its hot cakes, chickens, ham, pies, custards and jams, bears no comparison in point of extravagant preparation. Shoguns and nobles ruined themselves giving tea parties. Warriors and knights forgot their high vocation and princes abdicated their thrones that they might devote themselves to daily tea ceremonies, which grew more and more costly until immense sums were spent and great fortunes dissipated upon these entertainments. 

The cha-no-yu ceremonies are 600 or 700 years old, and have passed through three distinct stages. The largest tea party in the world was given by Hideyoshi in the pine grove of Kitano. He issued an edict in which all the tea votaries in the empire were bidden to come to this grove, bringing with them any tea curios they might possess, and the prince promised to drink tea at every booth. All who failed to present themselves were forbidden ever to take part in the cha-no-yu again. 


This grand entertainment at which noblemen and peasants alike were welcome, lasted ten days and was a great success. The edict itself is still in existence. But dissensions arose among the members of the tea cult, and one party thought the ceremonies should be performed in such a manner, and another party considered their own particular method the proper one, so Hideyoshi called all the various schools to his castle of Iruchini, and under him Sen-uo-Rykyn gathered together,simplified and arranged the rules, and it is these rules which govern the cha-no-yu today. 


Its principal characteristic is a must elaborate and affected simplicity. The various utensils are frequently of plain Corean ware, but of enormous value, for their antiquity is great. Tbe room is as plain as possible, though often of very expensive and valuable woods. The invitations are usually either for noon or 6 o'clock p.m. 


There are two distinct modes, one for summer and the other for winter. In the cold season, the garden is thickly strewed with pine needles, which give forth a pleasant aromatic perfume. The visitors retain their geta, or outside footgear, and the tea is made over a square fireplace built in the floor. In summer the garden is gay with flowers and curiously twisted little dwarf trees. In this mode the visitors remove their geta and a portable brazier is used.


The guests do not come directly to the house —there would be an abruptness about such a proceeding, not at all consistent with the solemnity of the occasion — but go to a pavilion, machia-ai, in the midst of the garden, and wait till all are assembled. Then the principal guest strikes the wooden tablet or bell to announce their arrival. Generally the host has been awaiting this summons and appears immediately, but sometimes a servant answers it instead. 


The entrance to the tearoom is curious enough—it is simply a square hole three feel each way. The guests creep in one after another, in order of precedence, and after them the host, who in the mean time has knelt beside the entrance until the last visitor has gone in. The guests then seat themselves in a semi-circle, and the host approaches the door of the side room where the utensils are kept and says “I rejoice that you have condescended to come and thank you for it I will now make up the fires.” 


All the gestures and speeches are always the same and are never left to the discretion of the participants. The folding of the hands, whether the right shall be clasped on top, or be left open, is settled by strict etiquette. The host brings in the sumitori, or charcoal basket, each piece of a certain length and of camellia wood, a mitsu-ba brush of three feathers, a pair of tongs like great iron chopsticks, the kettle stand, iron handles for the kettle, a lacquer box containing incense and some little rolls of paper. 


If it is summer the incense box should be of earthenware. He next brings a vessel for ashes and a little spoon shaped shovel to remove them. The charcoal is lighted and incense burned to destroy tbe smell of the fumes. In stereotyped phrases the guests ask permission to examine the incense box, which is always a curio, or at least has some historical interest attached to it. Each visitor receives it in turn, and the last one returns it to the host, who meanwhile dilates upon its antiquity or its historic origin. 
The first part of the ceremony is now over and the visitors and the host retire to the garden. —The Red Bluff Daily News, 1892

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