Chado: The Art of Japanese Tea with Zen Spirit

Chado or Chano-yu is a Japanese tea ritual which is an iconic representation of their culture and beliefs. This has been ingrained in their tradition for more 900 years now.

Chado or “The Way of Tea” involves ritual preparation and staging of matcha, distinct powdered green tea that was originated in China. The art of tea is similar to the Zen since both have originated in China and arrived in Japan at the same time.

Is Chado all about the Japanese tea ritual? How is it connected to the Zen Spirit? All these answers will be covered here!

What is the Japanese Tea Ceremony?

The meaning of the phrase Chado is “The Tea Way” and not exactly the tea ceremony. It is also referred to as Chano-yu which translates to “Tea Hot Water”. Thus, it not a simple tea ritual or ceremony.

What is the Japanese Tea Ceremony
What is the Japanese Tea Ceremony

This is just a tea that has a lot of history and experience to appreciate its origin. It is prepared with careful attention to detail.

The drinkers of tea share a common intimate experience of enjoying the tea experience.

The Ch’an monks in China have been using tea for 900 years especially to keep them awake during rumination.

The ancient folklore says when Bodhi Dharma, the founder of Ch’an (Zen), struggled to meditate, he ripped off his eyelids, and the tea leaves leapt from the castoff eyelids.

The Art of Tea or The Way of Tea

The Art of Tea
The Art of Tea

The Japanese Art of Tea is a very unique method of serving tea to the guests and therefore all the guidelines must be properly followed.

  • The guests will first take off their shoes.
  • They will then wash their hands and mouth.
  • Food will be served before the tea.

Then a fire is lit with charcoal inside and a hot water kettle filled with water is heated on it.

With the help of a bamboo whisk, the host mixes the water and the tea powder inside the kettle.

All these steps have very high spiritual and religious importance and therefore the host and the guests should pay attention to the details of performing the Japanese Tea Ritual or Ceremony.

The guests need to follow the religious norms of when to speak, how to handle the tea bowl and when to bow down properly.

The guests sip the tea inside a traditional bowl that must be passed by the hosts according to the ceremonial.

When members are fully involved, the customary induces great amity and great lucidity, a non-dualistic awareness and deep affection with everyone attending the Japanese art of tea ritual.

History and Origin of Chado

Beginning in the early 9th century, 2 Japanese Buddhist priests Kukai and Saicho brought with them tea seeds from the Tang Dynasty of China.

History and Origin of Chado
History and Origin of Chado

Since the tea was very precious and expensive, it was only consumed by the higher officials.

The Tang Dynasty of China spread the custom of drinking the tea not only for its high medicinal benefits but also for satisfaction purposes. 

Later in the 12th century, another Japanese Buddhist priest Eisai (1141-1215), the first Zen master in Japan, returned from the Song Dynasty in China and bought a new way to make tea Rinzai Zen, that is still being used in Chado.

This new way of tea preparation was called Tencha which involved the following steps in tea preparation;

  1. Place the powdered matcha in a bowl.
  2. Add hot water to it.
  3. Mix the powdered green tea and the hot water with a whisk.

Various Buddhist monasteries used powdered green tea in different religious rituals and ceremonies.

When Minamoto no Yoritomo founded Kamakura Shogunate, the Japanese tea became the symbol among the Bushi Samurai warriors.

This, later on, leads to the popularity of Chado and huge tea fights were organized wherein the contestants would win awesome prizes for guessing the best variant of tea i.e. hon-cha that only grown in Togano-o, Kyoto.

Later tea became the official symbol of various gatherings and military celebrations in different parts of China and Japan.

Due to the rise in the Bushi Samurai Warrior Class, tea gatherings became an integral part of all the gatherings especially in the Muromachi period (1336-1573) when the Shoin style architecture became very popular.

Later a Buddhist priests Murata Juko and a merchant Sen no Rikyu integrated the ideas of Zen to create what in today’s world is popularly known as “The Way of Tea”.

The two figures are considered to be the pioneers of the tea ceremony and Chado in various parts of the world.

The Folklore of Rikyu and Raku

The Folklore of Rikyu and Raku
The Folklore of Rikyu and Raku

If among the tea masters anyone apart from the Buddhist monk Murata Shuko is remembered, then it would be Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591), the merchant.

Rikyu followed the steps of Shuko and became the tea master for a very powerful man, the warlord Oda Nobunaga.

After the demise of Oda Nobunaga, Rikyu started working for his next successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi who was the ruler of all Japan.

He was a great supporter of the tea ceremony and Rikyu was the best tea master at that time.

It was through Rikyu, Wabi-cha became the art form in today’s world incorporating a series of items like;

  1. Textiles
  2. Architecture
  3. Flower Arrangements
  4. Utensils
  5. Other common crafts associated with the Chado.

Raku was the innovation of tea master Rikyu where he devised a new style of the tea bowl.

He believed that the irregularities in the tea bowl depict the true expressions of the tea master. 

Each Raku bowl is unique in its shape, structure, design and surface texture. They are usually red or black with handmade designs.

Later these Roku bowls became of the higher-priced items and a great piece of art.

It was in the year 1591 when Rikyu was ordered to commit the ceremonial suicide however, the reason for this is still a mystery unsolved.

Before his death execution, Tea Master Rikyu compose a poem which is:

“I raise the sword, this sword of mine, Long in my possession, the time comes at last. Skyward I throw it up!”

The Wabi-cha Tea Ritual

The Chado or the tea ceremony that is very popular nowadays was originally developed by a former Zen monk Murata Shuko (c. 1422–1502) who was an advisor to the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa.

The Wabi-cha Tea Ritual
The Wabi-cha Tea Ritual

Murata Shuko’s form of the tea ritual was called Wabi-cha, where he focused on preparing tea as a spiritual practice and presented the artistic thought of Wabi i.e. simple, ascetic beauty.

He also changed the lavishly ornate porcelain with earthen bowls to give it a more spiritual and realistic appeal. Murata Shuko began the ritual, still practised, of dangling a scroll of Zen print in a tea room.

He is believed to be the 1st tea master who portioned a large room a small and intimate four-and-a-half tatami mat area which later became the customary size of a tea ritual room.

He postulated that the door should be kept low so that all who enter the sacred room must bow in practice.

Chado and the Zen practice have one thing in common i.e. Mindfulness.

Most of the arts and ritual practices of the Zen tradition always involved attention to detail and a high level of precision.

Some of them are:

  • The placement of chopsticks and oryoki bowls.
  • The composition of flower arrangements.
  • The folds of the priests bowing cloth.

Murata Shuko focused on the 4 values in his tea ritual i.e.

  1. Kin: A form of humble reverence
  2. Kei: A respect for the food and drink
  3. Sei: Purity of both body and spirit
  4. Ji: A Buddhist concept denoting calmness and freedom from desire

It was later incorporated in Chado as the Art of Tea also known as the Way of tea where the Zen monks integrated the practice of precision and attention to detail to master the art of tea making.

What is a Chado Spirit?

What is a Chado Spirit
What is a Chado Spirit

The 1st thing that one learns with the practice of Chado is following conducts i.e. protocols come first. It teaches us that one must be polite and respectful to others and should help those who are in need.

Sen no Rikyu worked to develop the principles of Wa-Kei-Sei-Jaku who later became the tea master for Oda Nobunaga, the influential daimyo and then Nobunaga’s retainer Hideyoshi Toyotomi in the late 16th century.

Wa  HarmonyThe spirit of treasuring the moment together.
Kei  RespectThe spirit of respecting the others.
SeiPurityThe spirit of keeping one’s self pure.
JakuTranquillityThe spirit of no mind.
Principles of Wa-Kei-Sei-Jaku

What is the Chado practice of Ichigo Ichie?

Chado is the best way to appreciate the opportunities one gets in his lifespan and thus people are invited in gatherings to enjoy such moments.

What is the Chado practice of Ichigo Ichie
What is the Chado practice of Ichigo Ichie

The basic idea behind the meeting is that what has happened will not be reproduced again and therefore, such meetings can also not be reproduced, which was given the name of Ichi-go Ichi-e.

The same theory was adopted by Sen no Rikyu which he learned from his tea master Takeno Joo.

He believed that several elements could make us treasure the moments of life such as a simple meal or a clothing arrangement or a hanging scroll.

Meaning of Ikebana: Styles of Japanese Flower Arrangement “Kado”

Thus these variable components are important for the art of tea and these make the ceremony experience worthy and enriching.

Who were the female inheritors of Chado?

Who were the female inheritors of Chado
Who were the female inheritors of Chado

Dating back to the 11th century the Chado art of tea was limited to only the elite members of the society. Yet somewhere back in history, several female inheritors took control of Chado.

It is believed that the practice of Chado by women began at the end of Edo period and the government introduced the Chado art of tea making after the Meiji restoration (1863) when the art of tea was introduced for girl’s education in schools.

These women were later inheritors of Sen no Rikyu who were not only great tea masters but over the period acquired great political and business acumen.

This was one of the prime reasons that the Chado ritual spread across the region of Japan and got imbibed in the Japanese art of Tea making easily over time.

The Chado industry has significantly developed over the eras due to the expansion and widespread awareness via books, tools and instruments across the world.

In the 21st century, a large number of women practice the art of tea, Chado for wisdom.

Thus, Chado has attracted a large number of people across the globe to learn the art of tea by creating authentic Japanese culture and cultivating the teachings of humanity over the tea ritual or ceremony.

Video: The Japanese Tea Ceremony


The Japanese Tea Ceremony also is known as Chado or Chano-yu is the Japanese Art of Tea or the Way of Tea which involves traditional display and presentation of Matcha i.e. a special powdered green tea.

Let us know about your experience with the Chado art of tea making in the comments below!

People Also Ask (FAQs)

What do you mean by Chado?

Chado or Chano-yu is a Japanese tea ritual which is an iconic representation of their culture and beliefs. “The Way of Tea” involves ritual preparation and staging of matcha, distinct powdered green tea that was originated in China.

What is Zen?

Zen is a religion and not a philosophy that aims to free the human mind from the slavery of disputes and logic. It is the art of seeing into nature, one’s self-image and it points the way from slavery to liberty.

Is Japanese tea still practiced today?

The Japanese Art of Tea is a very unique method of serving tea to the guests which are still practiced today in large tea gatherings and tea rituals.