The Architecture of the Japanese Tea Ceremony

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In the quintessential aesthetic ritual of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, every subtle detail has purpose. At the Yume Japanese Gardens earlier this month, landscaper Takuhiro Yamada, principal of Hanatoyo Landscape in Kyoto and a fifth generation master of the Urasenke tea ceremony, demonstrated the precision, beauty and structure of the ceremony, leading guests in celebrating “the way of the tea.”

Tea ceremony at the Yume Japanese Gardens

Objects for tea ceremony at the Yume Japanese Gardens; photo credit: Leigh Spigelman


The tea ceremony ritual was formalized in the 1500s, and is a traditional practice that involves everyday life activities. Yet to master these requires great cultivation, as Mr. Yamada explained. Everything — from the tea selected and the space in which it is served, to the season and the time of day — impacts the ceremony, intended to capture the perfect moment of the bowl of tea, and the appreciation of the experience. The process is a complex interaction of all the elements and requires years to master. The procedures involve basic movements for the guests, as well as for making the tea, using the kettle and serving the guests.

Tea ceremony

Mr. Yamada follows the Urasenke tradition of tea; photo credit: Leigh Spigelman


On March 28, Japanese schools of tea honored Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591), who developed and taught the aesthetics of the Japanese tea ceremony style called wabi-cha, which emphasizes simplicity and encourages guests to observe and appreciate nature in small gatherings.

Matcha tea

Matcha used during the Yume ceremony; photo credit: Leigh Spigelman


Mr. Yamada follows the Urasenke tradition of tea, nurtured since the early 1600s. Urasenke has become the largest tradition of Chado (the way of the tea) both in Japan and around the world.  He explained some of the objects integral to this traditional practice:

  • Wagashi — the bowl or dish with sweets.
  • Chasen — the tea-whisk carved from a single piece of bamboo.
  • Chakin — the cloth used to ritually cleanse the tea bowl after a guest has finished drinking the tea.
  • Chashaku — the tea-scoop usually carved from a single piece of bamboo.
  • Chawan — the tea bowl or essential implement, with a variety of bowl designs and sizes used, depending on the occasion or the season.
  • Furo — the portable brazier or range used to make the tea, particularly in the spring and summer seasons.
  • Natsume — is the tea caddy, lacquered and usually flat lid with rounded bottom, to hold the tea.
  • Kobukusa or Dashibukusa — the silk cloth, used by the host as a “fukusa for serving.”

Matcha — the jewel-green powdered tea made from top quality tea leaves, considered the most healthful of teas — was used during the Yume ceremony. The event, set in the Yume Strolling Pond Garden with its koi pond, trees and stone lanterns, was a beautifully unique experience flavored with the elegance of a rich, meditative and enjoyable tradition.

Diagraming the tea room

Diagraming the tea room, a detail from “Tea Cult of Japan” by Yasunosuke Fukukita, 1935, Japan Travel Bureau, page 39


Mr. Yamada’s company, Hanatoyo Landscape, is more than 150 years old, and has designed and installed gardens in Paris, London, the United States and Japan. Mr. Yamada was involved in consulting with Yume Japanese Gardens of Tucson, which opened in 2013 and has five traditional landscapes on three-quarters of an acre nearby the Tucson Botanical Garden. Yume, which means “dream” in Japanese, closes for the summer May 4.


  • Learn more about Yume Japanese Gardens here and the North American Japanese Garden Association here.
  • Learn more about the Urasenke tea tradition here.
  • The Chicago Ethnic Arts Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, documented the tea ceremony in Chicago, and the collection will be online this year. The Finding Aid for the Chicago Ethnic Arts project is here.

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