The roots of Chadō (the Japanese Way of Tea) can be traced back several centuries. Tea was consumed for pleasure in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The first introduction of tea plants into Japan is believed to have occurred in the early 800s when Japanese scholar-monks studying in China returned to Japan bringing tea seeds with them. It is reported that in 815, during a journey to Karasaki, the Japanese Emperor Saga was served tea by the Buddhist Abbott Eichu (742-816) at Bonshakuji Temple. The Emperor later promoted the cultivation of tea plants including in the capital.
The most well-known figure in the history of the Japanese Chadō, however, is Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) who perfected the tea practice we currently enjoy. Although many tea practitioners in the 1500s valued expensive, imported tea utensils, Rikyū is said to have been the first to use common Japanese and/or “found objects” as simple utensils for tea. He taught that it was important to concentrate on the processes of boiling water and preparations to make delicious tea. Sen no Rikyu introduced the four principles of the Way of Tea: wa, kei, sei, and jaku, or harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. He also promoted the idea of ichi-go ichi-e, a philosophy that each meeting happens only once in a lifetime and so should be treasured.
Sen no Rikyu’s grandson, Genpaku Sotan (1578-1658), split the family estate among his three sons, forming three houses (or schools). These are the Urasenke, Omotesenke, and Mushakojisenke traditions of tea. Over the centuries the Urasenke tradition has spread worldwide largely due to the efforts of the 15th Grand Master, Dr. Soshitsu Sen XV (since retirement called Hounsai Daisosho) who travels prolifically advocating “Peacefulness through a Bowl of Tea”.
Unveiling the Artistry and Serenity of Tea Ceremony
Exploring the Essence of Chadō: The Spiritual Path of Tea
So, what is Chadō today? In Japanese Chadō is written 茶道. The characters are “tea” and “way” or “path”. Chadō is a spiritual and aesthetic discipline for the refinement of oneself through the study and preparation of matcha tea. The knowledge and wisdom accumulated since the time of Sen no Rikyu is embodied in the preparations, movements, utensils, and the surroundings of tea preparation. Chadō is an oral tradition. Students learn the procedures for preparation of tea, how to use the utensils and much more directly from an accomplished teacher. Through practice and study, students gain understanding and appreciation for the Way of Tea, a celebration of everyday life activities like boiling water and making tea. More detailed information can be found at the Urasenke Headquarters website.