Cultures & Traditions

Tea Ceremony Utensils and Ceramics

Tea was a popular beverage in the Momoyama period. Freshly whisked tea (served in simple ceramic bowls) was sold as a refreshment at tea stalls in front of shrines and temples and by itinerant tea vendors at famous scenic spots, such as Mount Takao. No ceremony was involved and the utensils were ordinary and inexpensive. Formal rules first began to influence the preparation and presentation of tea in the mid-14th century, and tea's long association with the Zen establishment aided the spread of these practices among the warrior class. The tea ceremony arose when principles of aesthetic discrimination and refined behavior came to dominate the partaking of tea, especially when it took place in a special setting, the tearoom, deliberately set apart from the routines of daily life.

The tea ceremony involves much more than just making and drinking tea. It incorporates other practices that enrich the interpersonal relationship of the host with his guests, including the preparation of the charcoal fire to heat the water, cooking and serving food, and arranging the tokonoma (an alcove in the tea room where calligraphy, art, and flowers may be displayed). All these acts, done with care and attention, are links that help to bind the host and guests together for that moment.

In a complete formal tea ceremony, guests normally would pass through a garden and enter an immaculately clean room suffused with the gentle sound of water boiling over a hearth. After viewing the arrangement of the tea room, paying special attention to the tokonoma, the guests may be offered a light meal (kaiseki) with sake and then some sweets. The tea is made after the sweets are consumed. Usually a thick mixture of tea (koicha) is served first, and all the guests partake in turn from the same bowl. Next a thin tea (usucha) is served, and each guest receives their own bowl. After the tea is drunk, the utensils are passed around and the guests discuss them, admiring their features and appreciating their history.

During the Momoyama period, the tearoom mood was set by a scroll of calligraphy, or sometimes a painting, hung in the tokonoma. The object next in importance was the tea caddy, and then the tea scoop and flower container, with the tea bowl and tea leaf jar following. Other items such as the kettle, the fresh water jar, lid rest, incense box, charcoal carrier, bowl for dampened ash, iron-tipped chopsticks, metal spoon, the waste-water jar, and feathers for cleaning off the ash then followed in sequence.

The tea ceremony functioned as a synthesis of many forms of Japanese art. A tea devotee was expected to have a thorough knowledge of tea, ceramics, utensils, poetry, calligraphy, painting, flower arranging, garden design, architecture, and food preparation, and to be able to express his imagination, wit and taste through the orchestration of tea gatherings as well as through his participation as a guest at tea ceremonies organized by others. No two meetings were ever alike, as no two objects in the tea ceremony were ever identical. Momoyama-period tea ceremonies stressed creativity and invention as well as the collection and connoisseurship of objects and the mutual ties among participants.

Excerpt from

  • Nicole C. Rousmaniere, "Tea Ceremony Utensils and Ceramics," in Japan's Golden Age: Momoyama, edited by Money L. Hickman. New Haven and London: Yale University Press in association with the Dallas Museum of Art, 1996: 203-235.