How Tea in a garden changed Japan

The Japanese Tea Ceremony is one of the most elegant and exacting traditions of Japan.  It is no wonder that a style of Japanese gardens has been devoted to this cherished ritual.

zen © marilyn barbone

The Chianwa style of garden is specifically built for holding tea ceremonies.  Pathways and stepping stones lead guests to the garden’s focal point, a simply constructed tea house surrounded by subtle placements of rock, plant life and water features. Stone basins, known as tsukubai, are conveniently placed so guests can purify themselves before the ceremony.

Tea was introduced to the Japanese people in the 9th century by a Buddhist monk by the name of Eichu upon his return from China.  Though briefly embraced by the then Emperor Saga, the Japanese love affair with the green leaves did not really take off until late in the 12th century, where the tradition of drinking tea became a status symbol of the samurai warrior class.

By the 16th century, tea drinking was no longer governed by the rich and famous, but rather was enjoyed by the majority of the Japanese people.  It was about this time that Sen no Rikyu developed the subtly formal, exacting tea ceremony that is still practiced today.

It is no surprise that Japanese gardens were created in which to practice this tradition. The miniature landscapes are inherently relaxing and put one in a meditative frame of mind so needed to do the Japanese tea ceremony justice. Upon entering the tea house, the trappings of the modern world are shed along with the guest’s shoes.  Seating is on woven tatami mats.

From the lighting of the charcoal fire to heat the water, to the ritualistic cleaning of the tea bowls, whisk and tea scoop to the combining of green tea powder with steaming water, this ceremony is an art form in motion.  Delicate hands whisk the tea to a frothy mixture, bows are exchanged and the bowl is offered and then shared in a precise manner handed down over centuries.

Being surrounded by an aged structure of bamboo and wood and gazing out upon the miniature landscape of a meticulously planned Japanese garden, it’s easy to let the mind wander to earlier times.  Perhaps you will find yourself wondering who sat in this same teahouse, looking out at that same tranquil pond all those many years ago.  Isn’t the imagination a wonderful delight?

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