Japan has a very interesting duality in its culture. They are known for creating some of the world’s most cutting edge technology while perfectly maintaining traditions, like the tea ceremony. You may think a tea ceremony is about drinking tea. But at the heart of it, the ceremony is really about the host humbling themselves and honoring their guests. Creating an environment that is apart from the rest of the world where every item has significance.
While there are some very specific protocols involved, most of them are performed by the host. As a foreigner, there are a few points of tea ceremony etiquette to keep in mind.
Dress appropriately – While a kimono is the traditional wardrobe, as a foreigner it is only expected that you dress conservatively and respectfully, nothing formal is required.
Remove your shoes – In any traditional Japanese room, removing your shoes before stepping on the tatami mats is an important rule. Failing to do so is a massive sign of disrespect to your host.
Let your host guide you – Everything in a tea ceremony has importance. As visitors to Japan, you are not expected to know the exact protocol but your host will. Follow their instruction and take it as a learning experience. Eat and drink what you are served even if it’s not what you are used to.
Conduct yourself appropriately – As you have probably realized by now, the atmosphere should be calm and respectful. This is a time for you to forget the rest of the world and take in all that the tea ceremony has to offer. Everything from the room’s sparse decorations to the utensils used was carefully selected. Feel free to ask your host about these items. It should feel like a special time with your host in this specific environment they have created for you.
Participating in a traditional tea ceremony is an amazing window into Japan’s past. One that has been meticulously maintained and will be for years to come.