How The Principles Of A Japanese Tea Ceremony Are A Metaphor For Life

The moment the host begins speaking you can sense everyone’s heart rate drop. If you have ever been to a yoga class, you know the feeling. When you are settling in on your mat and the teacher says softly “Let’s begin in a seated position with the eyes closed.”

Last month, Mami Kagami the owner of à la maison by MAnYU Flowers – a Japanese matcha and coffee shop in Honolulu – hosted a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony to honor her heritage and introduce the custom to locals in Hawai’i.

Through an engagement of mindful movement and philosophy the Japanese tea ceremony reflects a peaceful way of life that guests can cultivate in the real world.

Formal tea ceremonies, in Japan are usually private invite-only events. This way the host does not have to explain how and why the ceremony is conducted, the ceremony can simply just begin and everyone knows what to do. Aside from a more relaxed version of these ceremonies, intended for tourists, this is true. To be able to attend a ceremony like this in Hawai’i without proper training is a privilege.

To lead the ceremony, Kagami invited Budoor Steel, who owns Chawan Japanese Tea House in Manama, Bahrain. Originally from the Middle East, Steel resided in Japan for eight years teaching English and studying to become a tea master.

There are many different variations of this ancient art form. Principles and procedures are passed down from generation to generation orally. Steel practices Chadō, or Sado, which translates to “the way of tea” in the Urasenke tradition, which dates back to the Edo period in the 1500s. “It’s practiced the exact same way today,” she said.

Like yoga, Chadō is a lifetime practice. What you do in the ceremony (like what you do on your mat) you take with you out into the real world. Patience, peace, presence…this is all cultivated in this sacred space. “Leave all your worries behind and imagine that everything is OK for the next 30 minutes,” Steel said in the same way a yoga teacher tells their students to “forget what happened before you got here or what will happen after you leave and just be here for the next hour.”

On a hot and sticky day in Honolulu, wearing a sturdy, silk kimono – the traditional dress secured firmly with an obi, or belt – Steel conducts the ceremony as calm and serene as if she were laying in a hammock under a cool ocean breeze. The first thing she does is introduces the principles of Chadō.

The four principles of Chadō:

1. Wa (harmony)

In order for their guests to experience wa with nature, Steel and Kagami set the table with seasonal flowers – chrysanthemums, pampas grass, pumpkin flowers and pretty weeds from outside to denote the fall season. Steel hangs a four-foot bamboo scroll on the wall with the message “Every day is a good day” painted in kanji (Chinese characters). “Try to think of every day as a good day, or think of one good thing in your life to hang on to, in order to make your day good,” Steel said. Guests are supposed to acknowledge, and show respect for, these touches upon entering the space.

2. Kei (respect)

In order to practice mutual ke with one another, all guests are considered equal in the tea ceremony. There is no status or hierarchy. During the ceremony it is customary to say “osakini” to the person next to you before eating or drinking, which means “please excuse me as I go ahead of you.” That person will then respond “dozo,” or “go ahead.”

3. Sei (purity)

To have se in your heart and thoughts, each guest leaves his or her troubles behind upon entering the ceremony and commits to being fully present, focusing on the tea master as they move through the rituals of the ceremony in a moving meditation.

4. Jaku (tranquility)

Finally, after the ceremony is over, guests walk away with a sense of jaku – a high achieved both from the calming properties of the matcha and from the experience as a whole.

This is a ryurei style ceremony, so guests are sitting in chairs at a table instead of kneeling and sitting back on their heels in a traditional seiza posture on a tatami mat. After the explanation is over, Kagami brings over an urushi lacquerware tray of wagashi (sweets) to choose from: warabi mochi with kinako and kuromitsu (a chewy confection made with rice flour drizzled with a Japanese syrup similar to molasses), anko (sweet red bean paste) and in honor of Steel’s heritage: dates stuffed with almond butter and pecans.

As the guests enjoy their wagashi, Steel washes her tools and prepares the first bowl of matcha. She passes it to the first guest who exchanges formalities with her partner and acknowledges the most interesting part of the bowl (usually there is a focal point painted on one side of the bowl to admire). The guest then turns the bowl twice clockwise, so that the other guests can see the image while they drink out of respect for the artist who created the bowl. The guest drinks the matcha in three to four sips, slurping loudly on the final sip to inform the host they are finished drinking. The ceremony proceeds in the same way from guest to guest, serving everyone one at a time.

After everyone has eaten their wagashi and drank their matcha, Steel does the exact same ritual in reverse, cleaning and putting away her tools. “The lesson here,” she says, “is to give and take, not just take.”

What if you left the house every day admiring all of the flowers and trees you see on your way to work. You soak in the warm sun of a new day, feeling the breeze on your skin and the earth supporting you underneath your feet. Perhaps you read an inspiring quote or poem upon waking that is guiding you through your day. As you move from task to task and through interactions with various people you practice presence, respect, consideration for others and receptivity without judgment. When you leave work, you clean your space and set it up neatly for the next day, perhaps this also allows a coworker to come into an organized, welcoming space that promotes tranquility and gratitude in their day too. You do not have to attend a Japanese Tea Ceremony to find peace. With these principles you can experience it every day of your life.