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The cult of the tea ceremony had spread from China to Japan as early as in the eight century. It became popular in the late sixteenth century, when during the Momoyama period a refined way of manners and customs developed among the aristocratic and samurai classes.
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The Japanese tea ceremony is called chanoyu or sado in Japanese and the bitter tea served is called matcha. It is basically a choreographic ritual of preparing and serving tea together with some sweets. Each movement is predefined. The whole process is not about drinking tea, it is about aesthetics.
The proper performance requires a long training and the use of certain tools like Chasen, a bamboo brush.
Being regarded as an art form of its own, the Japan tea ceremony had a solid impact on other forms of arts and crafts. It promoted the development of Japanese porcelain manufacturing.
The great master of the Japan tea ceremony was Sen no Rikyu who lived from 1522 to 1591. Since then the art of sado was handed down from generation to generation and is cherished in different schools, which exist up to our times. Each school has slightly different choreographic forms. The main schools are Ura, Omote, and Mushakoji.
In today's modern Japan the opinions about the tea ceremony are different. Most Japanese regard it as part of their cultural heritage. The interest to learn chanoyu as a hobby, is large. But there are also many young Japanese who regard chanoyu as simply boring.
Author: Dieter Wanczura
(April 2002, updated October 2009)
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