The Chinese Tea Ceremony, the Japanese Tea Ceremony

Ichi-go Ichi-e





While the Japanese tea is trending in the Western world, the Chinese and Taiwanese tea have gained growing popularity in Japan. The exchange of culture is like a musical chair — once the music starts playing, you just quickly swap seat with others — the dynamics itself is very exciting to see.

I have attended a few Chinese tea ceremonies in Japan. The Japanese tea ceremonies are usually held in chashitsu (tea rooms) that are small and dim, but the Chinese tea ceremonies in Japan are usually held outdoors. Among the Chinese tea ceremonies I have attended in Japan, two of them were held in the woods, including one time in Mori no Tenjishitsu (“the exhibition hall in the woods”). The other ceremonies were hosted by some galleries as part of the Chinese teaware exhibitions. Having a tea ceremony in the garden of a gallery during autumn time under the shade of trees, listening to the beautiful sound from the birds and insects singing, smelling the fragrance of flowers and tasting the tea, every of my senses was embraced by nature.

There is a saying that when comparing to the tea itself, gathering together is the core reason to host a Japanese tea ceremony; rather contradictorily, drinking tea is the primary motive of people gathering in a Chinese tea ceremony. Therefore, it is a common sight that many types of tea are served in one single Chinese tea ceremony. Each type of tea would also be tasted multiple times so as to feel the subtle difference in every brew. Guests are welcome to chat during the ceremony, they are as well not required to take turn to admire the utensils used by the host — it is, in general, less reserved and cautious when compared to the Japanese tea ceremony.

Although the Japanese tea ceremony originates from China, it has evolved to form its unique practice and philosophy. Regardless of how distinctive the two schools of tea ceremony are, the notion of ichi-go ichi-e (“once in a lifetime”) is still shared by the Japanese and the Chinese. Both schools hold high the spirit of connecting with people through the tea ceremony.