10 Unexpected Etiquette Rules in Japanese Tea Ceremonies

Delve into the refined world of Japanese tea ceremonies with this insightful guide, uncovering ten surprising etiquette rules that will enhance your cultural understanding and appreciation for this ancient tradition.

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Illustrate a serene scene of Japanese tea ceremony rituals. Focus on the various elements that constitute the ceremony - the carefully prepared matcha tea, the beautifully designed teaware on a finely polished wooden chabudai. In the corner of the frame, depict the soft glow of a hanging scroll painting and the harmonious arrangement of the display alcove known as the tokonoma. Let the presence of the intricate tea whisk, the delicate tea scoop and the silent ticking of an iron kettle be felt within the tranquility. Note that no human figures should be included.

Introduction to the Japanese Tea Ceremony

The Japanese tea ceremony, also known as Chanoyu, Sado, or Chado, is a choreographed ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea, called Matcha, together with traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea. This guide will take you through ten lesser-known etiquette rules that play a crucial role in this ceremonial practice, which is steeped in history, and aesthetics, and is a reflection of Japanese philosophy and way of life.

Rule 1: Purity Before Participation

Before partaking in a tea ceremony, participants are expected to cleanse their hands and mouth at a stone basin called Tsukubai, signifying the purification of the body and spirit. The water used is not only for physical cleansing but also to signify the removal of the dust of the world to enter a state of tranquillity.

Rule 2: Admire with Restraint

In the tea room, you will notice a scroll or a flower arrangement set for appreciation. While it’s encouraged to admire these items, guests should avoid touching or smelling the flowers directly, showing respect for the host’s choice of decorations and the impermanence they symbolize.

Rule 3: Accept the Bowl with Gratitude

When the tea is served, accept the bowl with your right hand and place it in your left palm. Before drinking, it is customary to raise the bowl slightly and nod towards the host as a sign of gratitude for the tea prepared.

Rule 4: Rotate the Bowl

Before you sip the tea, it is polite to rotate the bowl so that the front (the most aesthetically pleasing part of the bowl) is turned away from you. This act of humility shows respect and avoids drinking from the front, which is considered rude.

Rule 5: Consume the Tea in Sips

The tea should be drunk in three and a half sips. The first two sips are moderate in size, and the last sip should be small, with the half sip being the audible slurp that signifies the enjoyment and completion of the tea. This practice underscores the appreciation of the tea and the effort put into its preparation.

Rule 6: Handling the Sweets

Traditional sweets, or Wagashi, are typically served before the Matcha tea. They are to be eaten with a special wooden pick called a Kaishi, which the guest carries. Eating sweets before the tea balances the flavors and is a harmonious accompaniment to the Matcha.

Rule 7: Observe Silence

Conversation during the tea ceremony is minimal and often subdued. This is a time for reflection and absorption in the moment. When words are exchanged, they are typically poetic and related to the ceremony or the tools used therein.

Rule 8: Handling the Tea Utensils

After drinking, guests are invited to inspect the utensils. It is important to handle these items with utmost care, using the cloth provided to avoid direct hand contact, and to pass them respectfully to the next guest.

Rule 9: Final Bow of Respect

Once the ceremony concludes, guests perform a final bow to the host as a sign of appreciation for the tea and the experience. This bow is symbolic of closure and gratitude for the shared cultural moment.

Rule 10: Embrace the Imperfections

Wabi-sabi is a core aesthetic of the tea ceremony which celebrates the beauty in imperfection and transience. Participants are encouraged to embrace the unintentional asymmetry of the tea bowls and irregularities, seeing them as unique characteristics rather than flaws.


Understanding and following these ten rules will lead to a deeper appreciation of the Japanese tea ceremony, allowing participants to fully immerse themselves in this meticulous and serene cultural practice. With its blend of art, spirituality, and hospitality, the tea ceremony offers a unique perspective into the heart of Japanese culture.

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Avery Ingram

Avery Ingram


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