How Japanese Traditions Work

Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony

No discussion of Japanese tradition would be complete without the tea ceremony, known as the chanoyu or chado. This carefully choreographed preparation and presentation ritual is designed to provide an experience for guests that is aesthetically pleasing and spiritually satisfying. The techniques and procedures used during the ceremony, which include everything from how a fire is laid to how the guests sip the tea, are called temae.

The host must consider a number of variables, including the season, occasion and the guests who will be present. Different tea and food preparations, decorations (including flower arrangements and hanging scrolls), attire, utensils and room arrangements may come into play. Tea ceremonies might be chakai, simpler gatherings with light tea and sweets, or chaji, gatherings lasting for several hours that include full-course meals and thicker, heavier tea. A fine, powdered green tea called matcha is always served.


Tea ceremonies may be conducted in garden tea houses, tea rooms or in multi-purpose rooms. Tatami mats are placed for guests to sit upon, arranged around a center mat used to showcase the utensils, tea and foods. The host will chose his or her kimono with not only the season in mind, but also the utensils (some of which are designed to be kept in the obi) and actions used to prepare the tea. The list of traditional equipment for in a tea ceremony, known as chadogu, is extensive. A few basic pieces include:

  • chawan, ceramic bowls for drinking tea
  • natsume, the caddy used for tea preparation
  • chashaku, a bamboo scoop
  • chasen, a bamboo whisk for mixing the powdered tea with hot water.

The actual ceremony differs, but there are some basic steps. At the beginning of a chado, guests examine the decor (usually placed in an alcove, or tokonoma, used for the purpose). After seating themselves, they will be served a meal (in the case of chaji) or a small sweet and then will observe the host or hostess laying the fire to heat the water for tea. Next, the host executes choreographed movements to clean each implement and prepare the tea itself. After exchanging bows with the most honored guest, he or she hands that person the bowl of tea. The tea is passed down through the guests by order of status, each of whom rotates the bowl to avoid sipping from the same spot. The ceremony becomes more relaxed after the initial tasting, and guests are then given individual bowls of tea and additional sweets. At specific times during the ceremony, guests examine the utensils and implements (which may be very expensive antiques or heirloom pieces) carefully, often using special cloths to avoid damaging them.

The Japanese enjoy the delicacy of traditions like tea ceremonies, but sports is one area where things can be less-than-delicate. To round out our whirlwind tour of Japanese traditions, let's close with a look at Japanese sports.