FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Bucket List: Japanese Tea Ceremony

by Beth Reiber

Jul 1, 2017
July 2017

TAKING PART IN A JAPANESE TEA ceremony might seem like a charming but archaic experience, with little relevance to our busy lives. But like meditation or a walk in the woods, the tea ceremony can clear the mind of the banalities of everyday life and serve as a pathway to spiritual peace. In fact, the Japanese word for the tea ceremony is chado (also cha-no-yu), the Way of Tea, which only hints at the protocols this highly choreographed ritual demands.

I learned this years ago when a fellow guest staying at the same Japanese inn asked whether she could practice her art by serving me tea. The Japanese woman apologized for her ineptitude, explaining she was only an apprentice and had much to learn. When I asked how long she’d been studying, her answer of “only seven years” stunned me. But then I watched how much attention she paid to every minute detail, from how she prepared the matcha green tea to how she served it. I realized that comparing the Japanese tea ceremony to a tea bag in hot water was like equating my haphazard bouquets to, well, ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging.

Tea found its way to Japan via China around the ninth century, when it was used mostly for medicinal and religious purposes, including as a stimulant for Buddhist monks during long sessions of meditation. It spread to the upper class, including feudal lords who embraced the ceremony’s rituals and constructed rustic huts just for the occasion, usually in the midst of a tranquil, landscaped garden. The tea ceremony, therefore, developed utilizing the principles of Zen and the spiritual discipline of the samurai, with an emphasis on simplicity, harmony, hospitality and decorum.

Tea ceremony masters © BETH REIBER

Tea ceremony masters © BETH REIBER

Today, chado follows a strictly prescribed procedure, with every step carrying a profound meaning and following principles laid out mostly by Japan’s most famous tea master, Sen no Rikyū, in the 16th century. Rules dictate the exact positioning of tea utensils; the lighting of the charcoal to warm the water; and each and every movement during the preparation, serving and drinking of tea. Similar to many other disciplines in Japan, the specifics of the ceremony change with the seasons, including the choice of tea bowl, the sweets served to counteract the bitterness of matcha and the simple flower arrangement that decorates the tearoom’s alcove. The tea ceremony even has its own vocabulary, and guests are assigned rankings, sitting order and duties. Because the rules are so intricate, tea schools are popular, not only for their disciplinary training in mental composure but also for their emphasis on etiquette and manners.

Traditionally, a teahouse is modestly small, big enough only for up to five guests. After removing shoes, guests gain access through a door that is so low, they must bow or crawl to enter, considered an expression of humility, with seating on the tatami floor. The host begins the ceremony by cleaning the tea utensils and then combines powdered green tea and hot water in a tea bowl, whisking them into a frothy blend. When the first guest receives tea, he or she says, “Osakini shitsureishimasu” to the next guest waiting in line to receive tea, essentially apologizing for drinking first. The second guest then repeats the phrase to the third guest, and so on down the line. It’s appropriate to admire the tea bowl and compliment the host on the excellent flavor of the tea.

In reality, however, the tea ceremony varies greatly depending on where it’s performed and how much time you can devote. In Tokyo, the easiest way to experience a curtailed version is in a hotel, with the Imperial, Keio Plaza and New Otani hotels offering ceremonies lasting 20 to 30 minutes in traditionally decorated tearooms to hotel guests and non-guests alike.

Matcha tea used for the tea ceremony © GRAFVISION | DREAMSTIME.COM

Matcha tea used for the tea ceremony © GRAFVISION | DREAMSTIME.COM

Nothing, however, beats a tea ceremony with a view of a gorgeous, landscaped garden.

Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo takes advantage of its beautiful garden with ceremonies available to hotel guests in one of its traditional teahouses. Japan’s famous landscaped gardens often have teahouses, set mostly overlooking ponds, where you can sit on tatami, drink the frothy matcha, nibble on a sweet and contemplate the view. There are also organizations around the country offering tea ceremonies and other traditional experiences, such as Tea Ceremony Waraku in Osaka and Joukeian in Kyoto.

Regardless of where you experience the tea ceremony, it’s easy to see why it has long enjoyed cult status as a way to cleanse the mind. Even samurai in the midst of war campaigns used the tea ceremony as spiritual therapy. My most memorable tea ceremony experience came in Kanazawa’s small Gyokusen-en garden, when my hostess, Ms. Nishida-san, an elderly woman dressed elegantly in kimono, said, “The tea ceremony is not a show but rather the chance to share our one moment together.” I knew I would probably never see her again, and for that instant, the peaceful garden and her poignant message made life stand still.

Info to Go

Narita International Airport outside Tokyo and Kansai International Airport serving Osaka and Kyoto are both readily served by limousine bus traveling directly to major hotels and by train. Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, closer and more convenient than Narita, is increasingly serving international flights, including those from the United States.


FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.


Insta Feed
United Arab Emirates
Jul 29, 2021

World’s Deepest Pool Opens in Dubai

Deep Dive Dubai, home of the deepest swimming pool for diving in the world, opened in Dubai, in the Nad Al Sheba neighborhood. Guinness World Records verified the pool as the world’s deepest swimming pool for diving at a depth of 60.02 meters, or almost 197 feet, holding 14 million liters of water, equivalent to six Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Elevate Your Travel Experience with AirPass

As more travelers return to the skies, American is here every step of the way to ensure an elevated and seamless journey. Experience flying freedom with AirPass, American’s all-inclusive, pre-paid travel membership program.

eFlyer Reviews
Jul 28, 2021

JW Marriott New Orleans Review

Family gatherings are extra special this year and we chose to celebrate a milestone birthday in New Orleans. The JW Marriott New Orleans, across the street from the historic French Quarter, is ideally situated for exploring the city. Streetcars roll in front of the property and are especially fun for first-time visitors. Within a ¾-mile radius, we could walk to the National WWII Museum, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Sazerac House, Harrah’s Casino, the Shops of Canal Place and numerous restaurants.

eFlyer News
Jul 28, 2021

Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ 2024 World Cruise Breaks Booking Record for Third Year

For the third year in a row, Regent Seven Seas Cruises broke the company’s world cruise opening day booking record. The 2024 World Cruise sold out around 11 a.m. on July 14, after going on sale that morning at 8:30 a.m. Fares started at $73,499 per guest for a deluxe veranda suite, up to $199,999 per guest for a master suite.

Sports Industry Awards returns to Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah for 8th Edition

The biggest names in the Middle East sporting community will gather for the Sports Industry Awards as the event returns for its eighth edition. SPIA recognizes the achievements of individuals, organizations, facilities and campaigns that contributed to the development of sport in the region.

eFlyer News
Jul 28, 2021

Aqua-Aston Hospitality Introduces Contactless Guest Communications Across Portfolio

Aqua-Aston Hospitality, with hotels in Hawai’i, Florida and Costa Rica, introduced an intelligent text messaging platform at its hotels and resorts, streamlining real-time communication with guests. Since the mobile technology has been implemented, the platform has been successfully used to answer guest questions, manage check-in, deliver amenities, quickly communicate updates on services, send alerts and enable contact-less check-out.

Jul 27, 2021

6 Reasons to Put Okinawa, Japan, on Your Travel List

As the vaccine rolls out and travel picks up, it’s time to start dreaming of your next trip. Here’s some destination inspiration for you. Take a visual journey through Okinawa with us.

Finest Punta Cana is Where You Should Stay Next

You probably didn’t know you needed to visit the Dominican Republic until you learned about the new, beautiful, modern, all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana.

Lifestyle / Events
Jul 27, 2021

Americans Ready to Return to Live Entertainment

After more than a year of staying home and social distancing, Americans are ready to experience live entertainment again. According to Allianz Partners USA’s Vacation Confidence Index survey, 55 percent of Americans plan on attending at least one ticketed event before the end of 2021, with 16 percent planning to attend three or more events.