Japanese Tea Ceremony, 1892-- an article on the Tea Ceremony in Japan from the July 17, 1892 New York Times

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The New York Times, July 17, 1892, p. 6:

THE TEA CEREMONY IN JAPAN.

AN ELABORATE AFFAIR AND OFTEN COSTLY—
ITS GREAT ANTIQUITY.

From the San Francisco Call.

    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.
    Originally they were a combination of medical and religious, then they were luxurious, and lastly aesthetic.

    The legend concerning the origin of the tea plant is rather interesting. Between the sixth and seventh centuries there lived in in India a saint named Daruma, who spent all his days and nights in unremitting prayer and meditation. For years his religious exercises had never ceased nor his eyes closed in sleep; but, alas! one night exhausted nature succumbed, his weary eyelids closed, and he fell into a heavy slumber which lasted until dawn. The holy man, mortified and angry at thus breaking his long vigil, cut off the offending lids and threw them upon the ground, when a great miracle occurred. From the spot where the eyelids fell sprang two beautiful shrubs whose leaves had the extraordinary property, when steeped in water, of assisting saints to keep their religious watches faithfully.
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    Tea was first introduced into Japan by a Buddhist saint, Dangyo Daishi, about the beginning of the ninth century. But its cultivation made no progress until the Abbot Myoe laid out some plantations Toga-no-o, and afterward at Uji, which are yet the most celebrated in Japan.
    Though it was freely drank, and used among the upper classes, Mr. Chamberlain, who is an authority, does not think the custom was at all universal among the lower classes until the seventeenth century.

    The first tea drinking was indulged in by the Zen sect of Buddhists, simply with the intention of keeping themselves awake during their midnight devotions. The first aristocratic tea drinker of whom there is any record is Monamoto Sanetomo, a Shogun, who lived in the thirteenth century. Esai, a Buddhist Abbot, tried to reclaim him from his intemperate habits by inducing him to drink tea instead of sake. The enthusiastic Abbot drew up rules to govern the ceremony, which naturally he made religious. First came a very plain, frugal meal, then a service consisting of worshipping departed ancestors, the noisy beating of drums, and much burning of incense. Esai also published a book in which he clearly explains how tea benefits the "five viscera"--heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, and intestines--and its influence against oni, or demons.
    Owing to the Abbot's introduction of the plant and his zeal for its use, it is fashionable for real enthusiasts to join his sect (the Zens,) and it is the Abbot of Daitokuji from whom credentials of proficiency in the mysteries are obtained.

    In the fourteenth century the former simplicity had been replaced by the greatest extravagance and luxury. The nobles vied with each other in the splendor of their achievements. On the floors were spread magnificent tiger and leopard skins and troops of beautiful dancing girls added to the brilliancy of the scene.
    The simple meal taken at the beginning of the ceremony became a sumptuous dinner for which some new delicacy was constantly sought. The chair room expanded into a magnificent apartment hung with gold and silver brocades, and round the walls were suspended magnificent swords and exquisite ornaments.
    An English writer tells us that at these parties the host would often endeavor to obtain as great a variety of brands of tea as possible. Then each guest in turn tried to guess the different brands. Every correct guess entitled its maker to one of the treasures with which the room was filled, and an unwritten but never broken law required him to present it to one of the geisha, or dancing girls.

    Yoshimasa Shogun, during the latter half of the fifteenth century, abdicated in order to give himself up to these entertainments, and was joined by Shuko and Shinno, two famous Buddhist Abbots, who, it is to be feared, loved pleasure better than vigils and feasts. The Shogun and men of religion drew up a set of rules, many of which are still in vogue.
    They prescribed that the size of the room should be nine feet square, and Shinno invented teh curious little spoon of bent bamboo, slightly broadened at the bowl, which is still used, though it is quite fashionable for the devotee to design his own spoon.
    The greatest mark of esteem a man of superior rank could bestow upon an inferior whom he wished to honor was to present him with some piece of a tea service. Such great men as Nobunaga and Hideyodin, two of the greatest Generals Japan has ever produced, were tea enthusiasts.

    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 perfomed in such a manner, and another considered their own particular method the proper one, so Hideyoshi called all the various schools to his Castle of Iruchini, and under him Sen-no-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 most elaborate and affected simplicity. The various utensils are frequently of plain Corean ware, but of enormous value, for their antiquity is great. The 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 another for Winter.

    In the cold season the garden is thickly strewn 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 one corner the guests may find Heno Park in miniature, or a representation of Nikko itself, even to the waterfalls of the famous resort, the whole thickly wooded with trees eight inches or less in height and on a scale of feet to acres. 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 pavillion, machai-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 tea room is curious enough--it is simply a square hole three feet each way. The guests creep in one after another, in order of precedence, and after them the host, who, in the meantime, has knelt beside the entrance until the last visitor has gone in.

    The guests then seat themselves in a semicircle, 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 the 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 laquer 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 the 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.

    During the second part a dinner is served and the tea made. With a little square of purple cloth the host wipes each utensil; then with the bamboo spoon, cha-shaka, a little tea is taken out of the jar, cha-ore, and hot water dipped from a highly-embellished iron kettle with a dainty dipper and poured upon the tea in the bowl.

    This mixture is then whipped to a froth, and a boy carries it to the guests. It requires considerable practice to produce a froth quickly and without splashing; the instrument used is a whisk made of a piece of bamboo, split into shreds at one end until it resembles somewhat a paint brush with a hollow centre.

    The tea is light green in color and finely powdered, so that the bowl of tea looks very much like a sort of thick green cream.

    In the first part of the ceremony the tea is koicha, or very thick, and during the last part it is usu-cha, thinner. It costs from $3 to $6 a pound, and cannot be kept long. Very few Europeans an drink it without feeling very unhappy, for in the first place the taste is not agreeable, and then it is so intensely strong that it is sure to disagree with them if they do manage to swallow it.

    The utensils used in the second part of the ceremony are carried in by the host, each separately and in the following order: First, an iron kettle on a stand; second, the daisu, a table of mulberry wood, about two feet high; third, two cha-ire, or tea jars, in brocade covers; fourth, the miza-sachi, or pot for fresh water, which is stood under a little table; fifth, the cha-sen, bamboo whisk; the fukusa, or little cloth; the cha-shaku, or caddy spoon, and lastly the little wooden dipper, shaku.

    Should the host bring in the teaspoon before the whisk, it would be a terrible breach of etiquette, and he would be voted an ignorant boor who knew nothing of the refinements of life.

    If there is only one guest, the contents of the bowl should be swallowed in three gulps. After the guests have each drank, the empty bowl is passed from hand to hand to be admired. Then the host washes all the tea things and wipes them, and the ceremony is ended.

    These tea parties were often simply excuses for political meetings, or, perhaps, more innocent subjects. Philosophy or literature were discussed, or curios exhibited, and artistic productions of one sort or another examined and opinions as to the value and authenticity given by connoisseurs.

    The cha-no-yu ceremonies are taught every girl having any pretensions to family or breeding, and a woman of the high classes would hardly care to acknowledge to one of her own countrymen that she was not versed in these mysteries.

    All the older nobles understand them and have practiced them, though a few of the younger men who have been educated abroad are probably not yet capable of giving a cha-no-yu party, though they must have been present at many.
 
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