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Learning Japanese Tea Ceremony as a Foreigner

Have you ever wanted to learn Japanese tea ceremony? Here’s how I came to study it and my advice for other aspiring tea masters.

By 4 min read

Since moving to Japan, I have studied the Urasenke style of sado, or chado (Japanese tea ceremony) in Shimane Prefecture. My original goal was simply to learn about the matcha culture of Matsue (Shimane’s capital). Still, the fun of this traditional art and encouragement from my teacher and fellow students have inspired me to learn the Japanese tea ceremony and aim for instructor qualifications.

If you are considering practicing sado while living, working or studying in Japan, here are some insights from my journey to help you get started.

Tea Ceremony at a Glance

Sado is a great way to learn more about Japanese culture.

Sado embodies key parts of Japanese culture such as hospitality, appreciating the seasons and treasuring the present moment. In addition to memorizing sets of temae (traditional preparation procedures), sado students learn how to coordinate items such as teaware, flowers and wagashi (Japanese sweets) to create a tea ceremony that evokes the essence of a season’s or occasion’s beauty.

There are dozens of sado styles, including:

  • Urasenke: One of the most renowned styles, Urasenke boasts certified teachers worldwide and a prestigious tea college in Kyoto. Urasenke is known for preserving tradition while also embracing innovation.
  • Fumai-ryu: This lesser-known style originated in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture. Matsudaira Fumai, the seventh feudal lord of Matsue, developed it.
  • Omotesenke: Another prominent sado style, Omotesenke strives to preserve tea traditions and emphasizes the aesthetics of simplicity. It is a graceful and refined tea ceremony.
  • Mushanokojisenke: One of the most famous sado styles, alongside Urasenke and Omotesenke, Mushakojisenke embraces rusticity and understated beauty. Its temae are more streamlined than those of other styles.

Other tea traditions—not technically considered sado—exist in Japan, such as sencha green tea temae and black tea temae.

To me, sado is like a moving meditation that allows me to step away from a busy day and focus on making matcha. I believe anyone interested in Japan’s traditional culture searching for a way to relax can benefit from sado lessons.

Your Journey to Japanese Tea Ceremony

Find a class, rent or buy a kimono and get started!

Before you enter the world of sado, there are a few things to know and consider:

Finding a Class

A teacher is your best guide. Here are some tips for finding one:

  • Local Resources: Some Japanese language schools, such as the Kudan Institute of Japanese Language & Culture, Human Academy Japanese Language School or JSL Nippon Academy, provide basic sado lessons. If you are a university student in Japan, check if your school has a sado club or class that you can join. Community centers may also offer sado classes to local residents.
  • Online Resources: Widely known sado schools such as Urasenke offer online resources for learning, locating classes and finding tea-related events. Some Urasenke practitioners also maintain YouTube channels to learn and practice temae (Search terms like Urasenke temae).
  • Word of Mouth: Ask friends or colleagues if they know reputable sado teachers. This is how I found my teacher!
  • Choosing a Style: Consider the availability of the style you want to learn. Widely known styles like Urasenke have teachers worldwide, which can be advantageous if you plan to move. Lesser-known styles may be more localized, so consider the availability of teachers if you anticipate relocating.

Embracing Kimono

Learning to wear a kimono is its own journey.

Kimonos are standard attire for formal tea ceremonies, so you may want to learn kitsuke (kimono-wearing) in addition to sado. I was initially nervous about this as a non-Japanese person, but my teacher and friends encouraged me by recommending kitsuke teachers and giving me kimonos. Here’s how to begin:

  • Start Simple: If you’re not ready for a full kimono, begin with a tea ceremony training vest or apron. You can buy these online or at tea ceremony supply stores.
  • Learn Kitsuke: Take lessons from a kitsuke teacher or watch tutorials on YouTube for personalized guidance.
  • Borrow or Buy: You can find affordable kimonos at second-hand stores or online auctions. It’s advisable to try them on before buying. You might also borrow one from a friend or teacher.

Overcoming Seiza

For many, the hardest part of sado lessons is adapting to seiza (kneeling). Keep these tips in mind:

  • Communicate: If seiza is uncomfortable, talk to your teacher. They can provide advice and support.
  • Use a “Chair”: Consider using a seiza chair during lessons to ease into the position.
  • Exercise: Stretching and strengthening exercises can help you get used to seiza over time.

Additional Tips

A cool and cultured hobby to learn in Japan.

Other things to consider before learning sado include:

  • Learn Basic Japanese: Learning Japanese expressions related to sado can deepen your understanding of the culture.
  • Find Resources: Use books and online resources to practice outside of class.
  • Stay Open-Minded: Explore different schools of sado to find what suits you best.
  • Be Prepared: Becoming a sado instructor takes dedication and practice. Talk to your teacher about certification procedures.

Sado is more accessible than you might think. If this traditional practice calls to you, there is a way to learn. Whether you aim to become an instructor or simply want to experience some lessons to understand what sado is, the Way of Tea awaits you.

What is your experience with tea culture in Japan? Have you studied sado before? Let us know in the comments!

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