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Philosophy of Tea (J)

With tea as our subject of interest, the individual plays the central role of the hero, as if in a novel, through implementing the Way of Tea. With a profound sense that time and space slow a crawl and then stop, in this stillness, the universe is able to present itself to us. With tea, there is nothing we cannot accept, and there is no reason to refuse. It’s all about respect.

The Way of Tea continuously develops itself, pushing its boundaries and expanding the tea universe, responding and adapting to the demands of modern times. Thus, tea leads a free and peaceful existence. For flavor, for tranquility, for spirituality, therapeutic use, Fine Art, Folk Art, tradition, religion, cuisine, and so forth; the Way of Tea is deeply intertwined with numerous other elements of Japanese society. In Japanese, we find the character “茶”, usually pronounced “cha” (tea) in this expression much used 日常飯事, nichijou sahanji meaning “a common, everyday occurrence.” This is evidence of the pervasiveness of tea in the common Japanese diet and lifestyle. Through this phrase, we can better understand how tea penetrates the very existence of  Japanese life. Of course, this is not to say that all Japanese think the same way in regards to tea, as we also find the phrase “a thousand people, a thousand ways” embedded within tea culture, and the “thousand schools” of the Way of Tea itself must not be forgotten.

It is impossible to know what your relationship is with Japanese tea, or what led you to be interested in it. But if we may offer you one piece of advice, dear reader, let it be known that we would say:

“Be guided just as freely as you can imagine,
In the Way of Japanese tea.”

When people gather over a cup of tea, there is no need to differentiate the tea of the guest from the tea of host. In fact, there is no need to differentiate between one form of tea and another. What matters above all is that everyone can enjoy and appreciate a good tea together. In other words, sharing Matcha or Sencha involves the same spirit of respect. I am convinced that this is the fundamental point of the Way of Tea. Not only is the same tea shared by guest and host, but in addition, sharing the same Chawan when drinking Matcha helps develop a strong symbolic relationship between the host and the guest. It is through the Japanese Tea Ceremony that this profound sense of existential hospitality has been realized and refined. Thus, the guests and their hosts have the feeling of discovering a small universe of great depth and wisdom, contained within the single Chawan that they hold simply in their hands.

To better understand the spirit of the Tea Ceremony, I went to meet the representatives of the various schools of tea, tea-masters, usually monks practicing in Zen temples. And although I never practiced meditation in any of the temples, I was able to feel their Way of being. It was hence forth I understood how the spirit of Zen continues to inspire some aspects of the current spirit of the Way of Tea.

The delicate art of flower arraignment, ikebana, is said to be gorgeous and grand. The stone gardens of Zen Buddhist temples are said to be wabi-sabi, the art of pure nature and impermanence. A third style is created when these two aesthetic schools are combined, blending controlled beauty and naturally created simplicity. This kirei-sabi form expresses a mysterious, subtle grace found in Noh plays and many schools of the Tea Ceremony. But to put a limit on the Way of Tea itself,  to follow only a particular set of aesthetics, is unjust: there is no limit to what one can create within the Way of Tea. It knows no boundaries.

At Rishouen, we do not have so many glitzy accessories, nor do we have golden chalices with which to serve you. However, I can serve other treasures: we may talk tea, regarding the various histories and miracles that make this one of the oldest and most widely consumed beverages on earth. It is an offer without limitation, a chance to taste the best Japanese teas, and be received with respect, without artificiality or two-facedness. We devote ourselves thoroughly through putting our entire heart and mind into moments of sharing tea and respecting the nature of things… Is this not the very spirit of Japanese tea? This is how we strive to convey the Philosophy of Japanese tea around the world by offering teas at Rishouen and through our online store. We’d love to count you among our customers.

Anyway, at least come in for a cup of tea with us!

President of Rishouen Tea Company,
Kôji Kagata