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Hot water tea: from the 14th century

The ancient Tea Ceremony is much honoured in Japan, where its name is cha-no-yu ('hot water tea'). It encapsulates the virtues characteristic of Japanese culture - respect for tradition, a liking for etiquette and appropriate humility, and an aesthetic appreciation of simplicity.

The ceremony is believed to have originated among Zen Buddhist communities in China and to have been brought to Japan by Zen priests in perhaps the 14th century. In the 15th century, at the court of the shogun Yoshimasa in Kyoto, it acquires the fixed elements which elevate it to the status of a ritual.


The ceremony takes place in a small tea room (preferably a pavilion in a Japanese garden of simple stones). After a cleansing ceremony, guests enter through a very low door. They sit while the Tea Master carries out the ritual of making the tea. The utensils, and in particular the tea bowls, are of a beautiful simplicity. Ideally they should also be interesting in themselves, perhaps because of their makers or their previous owners. Discussion of the beauties of the present ceremony leads to wider talk of aesthetic pleasures.

In keeping with its origins in Zen Buddhism, the Tea Ceremony induces a social form of meditation on the nature of the good life.


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