Apr 20, 2010

The taste of tea shines through

In 1872 the Urasenke 11th generation Grand Tea Master, Gengensai, submitted a formal letter of protest to the Meiji government, the Chado no Gen’i (the  basic idea of the way of tea), objecting to the government’s move to classify chanoyu as a mere “pastime” or “entertainment.”

The original intent of the Way of Tea is to instill loyalty, filial piety, and the Five Constant Virtues (benevolence, sincerity, righteousness, wisdom and trust),  to uphold modesty, propriety and frugality; to encourage the unflagging fulfillment of one’s allotted role in family affairs; to promote service toward peace and well-being of the realm; to have people treat one another with no distinctions of closeness or distance, wealth or poverty; and revere divine providence for the sake of the health and longevity of generations to come.  Because tea is a path with these tenets, strictly and formally regulated, tea gatherings must be recognized as the sincerest form of activity that can be performed without harming the five parts of the body.  The import of all these ideas is present within even the humblest thin-tea service.

Not in clothing, food, or shelter,
Nor in utensils or gardens –
No excess of any kind,
So that by sincere practice
The taste of tea shines through.

This statement won chanoyu official recognition as a true discipline and paved the way for Chado in the modern era.


  1. I'm currently reading The Tea Ceremony and Women's Empowerment in Modern Japan: Bodies Re-Presenting the Past by Etsuko Kato, and she has a slightly different take on this story.

    In the context of the Meiji Restoration, after which old systems were banned and there was wholesale importation of systems from the West, "traditional Japanese culture, including the tea ceremony, came to be despised as obsolete and useless, and suffered a great loss of practitioners."

    Here she quotes Kamakura (1980):

    "In 1872, Gengensai . . . submitted a written protest to the local government of Kyoto, which attempted to brand all the iemoto of traditional cultural activities as 'money makers out of amusement' (yuugei kaseginin) and to levy a tax on them. In the protest [he] championed the tea ceremony as a means of nurturing numerous virtues valued at that time: Confucian morals, thrift, conformity to one's position, diligence in family business, gratitude to the Emperor for his peaceful ruling and so on."

    Kato points out that the Sen family made efforts to "re-dignify" the tea ceremony by emphasizing its relationship with the Emperor and religious institutions. She continues:

    "The efforts the iemoto made were rewarded at the turn of the twentieth century, when Japan's successive victories in the Sino-Japanese War . . . and Russo-Japanese War . . . enshrined nationalism. This trend led the general public to reevaluate 'traditional' culture, and the tea ceremony came to be valued as part of it."

    It's a very interesting book that challenges some of the myths of tea ceremony and examines its different meanings for men (as art) and women (as sahou).

  2. Nick,
    Very interesting. Thank you for posting this. I will have to get this book and read it also. I always want to find out more about Chado.