Japan began using tea around the eighth century. It came from China, and at first was for medicinal purposes. In the sixteenth century, a man named Sen no Rikyu changed the Japanese way of thinking about tea ceremonies. Sen no Rikyu believed that each meeting between people was unique and could never occur again in exactly the same way. Therefore, it should be treasured. His four principles were: harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility.
Rikyu simplified everything. Though the utensils of the tea ceremony are simple, the practice of the ceremony is a very complex art form. Tea masters study for years to perfect their technique. They must know about kimono and flowers and different kinds of tea and ceramics.
The tea ceremony (known as chado) begins with guests washing their hands and rinsing their mouths from a basin in the garden, then walking up a roji (dewy path), entering the tea house through a low doorway. They remove their shoes before entering.
The tea house is rustic in style to evoke a setting in nature. The ceremony is meant to be in a tranquil setting, an escape from busy everyday life to a place of beauty and serenity. The guests are quiet when inside the tea room, admiring the decorations which may be one vase of flowers, or a scroll on the wall. They enjoy the sound of the water and the fire, and the smells of the incense and tea.
The host makes the tea very formally with a special scoop and whisk. A meal may be served, or sweets, and then the tea itself. There are very exact rules that must be followed: how the cups can be held, or the way the tea is stirred. The host offers the first bowl of tea to the most important guest, and they bow to each other. That guest then bows to the guest who is second in importance, and so on. After the guests have finished their tea, the host washes the utensils and offers them to the guests who admire them and return them to the host. As the guests leave, the host bows to them from the door, and the ceremony is over. Tea ceremonies can take up to four or five hours, a true escape from the busy outside world.