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Experience Chanoyu: A Japanese Tea Gathering (lesson)

Tea master Sen Soshitsu XV

Tea master Sen Soshitsu XV in a Japanese teahouse.

Tea Preparation Area in the Asian Art Museum

The Preparation Area (mizuya) in the Asian Art Museum Tearoom (Photo by Deborah Clearwaters).

Tea master Sen Soshitsu XV
Tea Preparation Area in the Asian Art Museum

Students will: 1.) discuss the history of Chanoyu (Japanese tea gathering) and its association with Zen Buddhism; 2.) identify the utensils used in a tea gathering and determine their functions; 3.) examine the guiding principles of a tea gathering: harmony (wa), respect (kei), purity (sei), and tranquility (jaku); 4.) discuss the sentiment ichi-go ich-ie as expressed among tea pracitioners; 5.) simulate a thick tea (koicha) gathering; and demonstrate how the host and guests show respect to one another

60 minutes
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Content Standards (California):
HSS 7.5: Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the civilizations of Medieval Japan.
VPA/VA7.3.1: Research and describe how art reflects cultural values in various traditions throughout the world.

A set for each student group (5 or more students per group):
Hands-on materials: a tea bowl (chawan), tea whisk (chasen), tea scoop (chashaku), tea cloth (chakin), Optional: blue painter’s tape; laminated photocopies of the illustrations: a tea kettle (kama), thick tea container (cha-ire), and water ladle (hishaku);
Photocopies of handouts for each student: Handout A: The Tea Gathering; Handout B: Tea Utensils; Handout C: Activity: Experience Chanoyu

In this lesson students will be introduced to the Japanese tradition of Chanoyu (referred to by practitioners as “tea gathering”). Through teacher-led discussion of the accompanying materials, students will examine the historical development of Chanoyu, its early association with Zen Buddhism, and the guiding principles underlying its modern practice. Students will learn how the spirit of Chanoyu is expressed not only in a sophisticated combination of artistic elements, but also in the sentiments cultivated between host and guests. Following this discussion, students will engage in a group activity to simulate a thick tea (koicha) gathering. This activity will provide students an opportunity to experience the mechanics of serving and receiving tea, and to gain insight into the cultural and social dimensions of Chanoyu.


  1. Using the artworks and background information below discuss with your students the history and key elements of Chanoyu.
  2. Describe to your students how the essence of Chanoyu lies in the relationships formed among individuals, objects, and nature—relationships that are based on reverence and humility.
  3. Introduce the four principles of a tea gathering: harmony (wa), respect (kei), purity (sei),and tranquility (jaku); and describe the concept of ichi-go ichi-e.
  4. Distribute copies of the following handouts to each student: Handout A and Handout B. Read these out loud and review them with your students.
  5. Tell your students that they will be simulating a thick tea gathering. In preparation for this activity, describe the difference between thick and thin tea and the significance of the “front” of a tea bowl. Tell students that a thick tea gathering is a formal event during which participants’ conversation is limited to brief comments on the gathering itself.
  6. Divide your students into groups of five. Distribute to each student Handout C. Review the directions outlined in this handout with your students.
  7. Have each group select an area in the classroom to gather.  Distribute to each group the following: a set of hands-on materials (tea bowl, tea scoop, tea whisk, and tea cloth); and a set of laminated illustrations or “props” (tea kettle, tea ladle, and thick tea container). *Optional: To help students create the imagined parameters of a tearoom, they may use blue painter’s tape to outline the shape of the tatami mats on the classroom floor.
  8. Have students take off their shoes and practice how to kneel and bow. (Students may refer to the photographs and directions in Handout C, Step 1.)
  9. Direct students in each group to select their roles in the tea gathering and work together to reenact a serving of thick tea as indicated in Handout C, Steps 2–5. Please note that one of the student roles in this simulated tea gathering is the “invisible” director. This person’s responsibility is to tell their respective group members what to say and how to act, according to the script.
  10. After the student groups have practiced reenacting the tea gathering, have them memorize their roles and try conducting the tea gathering without the script or verbal aid of the “invisible” director.

Activity Tip: (If a group has more than five students, have “extra” students perform as “shadows”. Shadows sit behind or next to another student and mime their actions. Alternatively, students can repeat the reenactment and have each other take turns.)

After conducting the activity, ask students to reflect upon their experience simulating a tea gathering. Here are some suggested questions for class discussion:

  • In what ways do the host and guests show respect to one another?
  • How does the sentiment ichi-go ichi-e influence the tone and mood of a tea gathering?
  • How did the reenactment of the tea gathering make you feel? Describe the elements that contributed to this experience.

Material costs: tea cloth (chakin) $3.50, bamboo tea scoop (chashaku) $8.00, tea bowlreplica (chawan) $5.00, tea whisk (chasen) $8.00. *Optional: As an alternative to purchasing these items, teachers may conduct an art activity in which students create their own versions of the tea utensils.

Asakichi Antique and Art & Tea Ceremony Store
Kinokuniya Bldg. Mall
1730 Geary Blvd San Francisco, CA 94115
Tel: (415) 921-2147

Suggested Reading for Teachers:
Sen, Shoshitsu. Chado: The Japanese Way of Tea. New York and Kyoto: Weatherhill/Tankosha Publishing, Ltd, 1979.
Varley, Paul, and Kumakura Isao, eds. Tea in Japan: Essays on the History of Chanoyu. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989.

Suggested Reading for Students:
Sato, Shozo, Alice Ogura Sato, and Jeffrey Masturah (ILT). Tea Ceremony: Asian Arts and Crafts for Creative Kids. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2005.

Suggested Websites for Teachers and Students:

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