Chanoyu: Zen Essence of Japanese Tea Ceremony

What is Chanoyu?

Chanoyu is a culture in which the host serves tea to the guests and receives tea in the traditional Japanese style. It is also known as sadou or chadou, which are basically recognized as meaning the same thing. In chanoyu, various rules are set for movements such as how to serve tea (temae), how to drink, sit, bow, and walk, and these rules are called Saho. These rules are established in order to entertain guests and enjoy the tea ceremony.

In chanoyu, through the act of inviting guests to a tearoom to enjoy tea, the host and guests enjoy spiritual exchange, appreciation of the tearoom and tea utensils, and harmony with nature. It is not only about drinking tea, but is also a comprehensive art form with spirituality. To truly enjoy chanoyu, it is important for both host and guests to enjoy it with a spirit of hospitality in accordance with the etiquette.

A Brief History of Chanoyu

Chanoyu is one of the unique traditional cultures of Japan that is enjoyed around the world. Such tea culture is recorded in Japanese history books as Saicho and Kukai, who were sent as envoys to the Tang Dynasty in 804 during the Heian period, brought back tea from China as a medicine. However, it is not true that tea spread quickly after its arrival in Japan. Due to the war-torn Heian period, tea did not spread, and it was not until the Kamakura period (1185-1333) that it really began to spread.

Zen monk Eisai reintroduced tea from China, and in the Muromachi period (1336-1573), Murata Juko introduced spirituality into the world of tea and the "wabicha" style of tea was established. The values that had previously praised the world of luxury and splendor were replaced by values that emphasized the spiritual wabi-sabi, with simple tea rooms and tea utensils. Later, his disciple Takeno Jouou inherited this spirituality, and his disciple Sen no Rikyu developed wabicha, thus establishing the foundation of modern chanoyu.

Three Schools of Chanoyu

In the world of Chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony established by Sen no Rikyū, there are currently three main schools. These were created by the children of Sen no Sōtan, Rikyū's grandson, and each school has its own distinct characteristics regarding tea utensils, sitting posture, bowing etiquette, and more.


Omote-senke was founded by "Sosa",Sen no Sōtan’s third son . The tea ceremony room is the "Fushin-an" built by Sen no Rikyu, which was inherited by Omote-senke. Matcha is not very frothy. The "fukusa," a cloth used to clean tea utensils and used for viewing tea bowls, is purple for men and vermilion for women. Dress and tea utensils are more modest than in other schools. When sitting on the floor, men sit with their knees spread wide enough to be stable, while women sit with their knees about one fist in the air.


Ura-senke was founded by “Soshitsu”, the fourth son of Sen no Sōtan, and was named after the tea house "Fushin-an", which is located on the back street(In Japanese, ura means back). The tea house is called "Konnichi-an". And ura-senke is said to have the largest tea ceremony population among the three schools. Matcha is made by whisking it thoroughly and finely, and men wear purple and women wear red for the fukusa. The dress and utensils are said to be the most flamboyant of the San-senke. When sitting in seiza, men sit with their knees two fists apart and women sit with their knees one fist apart, and there are three types of bowing, depending on the depth of the bow.


The Mushanokoji Senke was founded by Soshu, the second son of Sen no Sōtan, and is a more traditional school than Omote-senke and Uras-enke. The decoration of the tea room "Kankyu-an" is relatively simple and concise. The main characteristic of this school is that its manners are rational and lean. Matcha is not whisked very much like Omote-senke. Hakuza is purple for men and vermilion for women, as in Omote-senke. The colors are mainly less gaudy. When sitting on the floor, men should sit with their fist in front of their knees, and women should sit with their knees spread apart. When bowing, both hands should be in front of the knees with the left hand in front of the knees, and the fingertips should be lightly touching the tatami mat and the back straight.

Chanoyu utensils

The utensils used for chanoyu vary slightly from school to school, but the following are the basic tools used in chanoyu.

Tea bowl (Chawan)


This is the bowl used to serve matcha. The bowl itself, with or without patterns, or its shape, can be appreciated and enjoyed. In summer, a flat tea bowl with a large cup is used so that the tea can easily cool down, and in winter, a thick and deep cylindrical tea bowl is used to prevent the tea from cooling down.



A bamboo whisk is made of split bamboo bark and shaped like a brush, and is used for making tea. White bamboo Chasen is the most common type of Chasen, but black Chasen is also used depending on the school or the content of the tea ceremony. The tip of the whisk is very delicate and easily broken, so it must be handled with care. When washing, pick up the tip from the inside and outside and stroke it toward the tip to remove powdered tea.



A chashaku is a spoon made of bamboo or wood used to scoop matcha powder. When caring for it, do not wash it with water even if it gets dirty, as soaking it in water will cause the bamboo to straighten back up. Wipe it off with a dry tissue or the like.



A cloth made of hemp used to wipe water droplets from a tea bowl. There are various types of chakin, and the type differs according to the style and the preference of the tea master.

Natsume (tea caddy)


A vessel used to hold powdered green tea. There are various types of jujube, including shapes and sizes, such as those decorated with makie or spirals.



A tea kettle is used to boil water for making powdered green tea. Basically made of iron, there are various types of chagama of different sizes and designs. You can not only boil water, but also enjoy the design, color, and sound when the water boils.

Mizusashi(water container)


This is a container that holds water for use in otemae. It is used to adjust the temperature of the water in the kettle, wash the tea bowl, and rinse the tea whisk. The container itself is often made of pottery, but there are two types of lids: one is made of pottery and the other is made of wood coated with lacquer.

Hishaku (ladle)


A hishaku is a tool used to draw hot or cold water for making tea. The hishaku is made of bamboo and is used for the furnace from November to April and for the wind furnace from May to October. The difference can be distinguished by the handle of the hishaku. The one cut diagonally from the front side of the bamboo is for furnace use. The one cut diagonally from the back side of the bamboo is for a fireplace. The curve of the handle is also designed to look beautiful when handling the handle, giving the tea ceremony utensil a beautiful appearance.

Futaoki (lid rest)


This is a tool for placing the lid of the kettle or hishaku. Some tea utensils are used in combination with other utensils, while others are used according to the type of tea ceremony. Bamboo, pottery, metal, and other materials are used, but bamboo is the basic material.


Kensui by Etsy

This container is used to dispose of the hot water used to rinse the tea bowl. Metal kensui is often used, but care should be taken when carrying it, as the vessel itself may be hot by the end of the tea ceremony.

What are the four principles of chanoyu?

Did you know that Sen no Rikyu left behind four principles of chanoyu, but he also left behind seven attitudes that are necessary when entertaining guests? Although these attitudes are important in the tea ceremony, please take a look at them because you can learn important ideas not only in the tea ceremony but also in life.

Wa Kei Sei Jaku 和敬清寂

The four mental attitudes are as follows.

和 wa (harmony): to be open-minded and friendly
敬 kei (respect): to respect each other
清 sei (purity): to be pure from the bottom of heart
寂 jaku (tranquility): to have an unperturbed mind

People cannot think exactly the same way. 10 people have 10 different ways of thinking. We should respect each other and have a pure and unmoved heart so that we can have a wonderful time and live together. This is a way of thinking that we should adopt every day, not only to enjoy the tea ceremony, but also to lead a wonderful life.

The 7 Rikyu Rules

In addition to the four rules of the tea ceremony, there are seven other rules of mind for entertaining guests.

  1. Tea should be brewed to just the right degree for the drinker: Think of the person you are serving and serve tea with all your heart and soul.
  2. Place the charcoal so that the water boils: Prepare the charcoal well and place it so that the fire is at the optimum state.
  3. Keep cool in summer and warm in winter: Be considerate of others and try to keep cool when it is hot and warm when it is cold.
  4. Keep flowers as they are in the field: keep them in their natural state and eliminate superfluous things.
  5. Be on time: Have enough time to relax and be at ease.
  6. Prepare for rain even if it doesn't fall: Be fully prepared for anything to happen at any time.
  7. Be mindful of your guests: Be honest and concerned about the guests in your presence.

Sen no Rikyu's disciple asked him, "What is the tea ceremony like?” Upon hearing the above answer, his disciple said, "I know that much," to which Sen no Rikyu replied, "If you can do this completely, I will become your disciple.
In other words, the above is one thing if you know it in your head, but it is another thing if you can put it into practice in the true sense of the word. I think Rikyu understood well how difficult it is to put it into practice and how important it is. Let us pay attention to whether we are really practicing it, rather than just feeling like we are doing it.

4 sayings left by Sen no Rikyu

Sen no Rikyu, who brought the tea ceremony to a great success, left not only important sayings about tea, but also important sayings for living. These sayings are also applicable to Zen, and we would like to introduce five of them to you.

Ichi go ichi e 一期一会

The meaning of this saying is that one should do one's best with sincerity and sincerity in what is before one's eyes, knowing that it comes only once in a lifetime. It also means to cherish this moment when traveling or meeting someone at work, as you may never see them again.

Shu ha ri 守破離

Shu ha ri suggests that amateurs who suddenly start doing things in their own way will not do well, and that it is important to learn the fundamentals faithfully. Shu-ha-ri is divided into three words, "shu ha ri," each with the following meaning

守 shu: Practicing what the master or teacher tells you to do and learning the basic style.
破 ha: Breaking: mastering the master's style and then creating one's own one, changing from the existing style.
離 ri: Aiming to be the best in one's own style, and developing in one's original one.

The world of chanoyu and the world of business are the same. In an environment where there are already pioneers, the best way to improve is to first learn the basics based on the teachings of those who came before you. After mastering the basics, it is good to add your own originality and create new value.

Practice is the first step in learning from the first and learning from the tenth

This is the first part of the "practice is to start with the basics, learn 10 things, and then go back to the basics" principle. When you practice everything from the basics, and when you have mastered everything, you can understand and learn more deeply by going back to the basics again. This is also true of the aforementioned "shu-ha-ri," but it conveys the attitude that one should have when trying to learn something, not limited to the tea ceremony.

It is enough to have a house that does not leak and food that does not starve

The meaning of this phrase is that a house should be leak-proof and food should be enough so that one does not starve. This is in line with the Zen philosophy that it is not good to ask for too much in life. Sen no Rikyu is said to have favored simple things, such as a house that did not need to be luxurious and a meal that was just enough to keep him from starving. In Japan, there is a saying, "Too much of something is the same as not enough of it”. We should try to be satisfied with an appropriate degree of everything.

Recommended tea set

Japan Objects STORE

The world of chanoyu is very deep and there is much to learn in life. Please take a look at our recommended tea set for enjoying Japanese tea, if you would like to know more. This set includes two tea bowls and a teapot. Please enjoy the tea leaves and hot water in the teapot.