Tea ceremony and short history of ancient Japan


This edition I would like to share about tea ceremony. This posting related to Historical Geography, one of many part of Human Geography.

Two days ago, I watched ”Red Cliff” movie with my wife. The story was about three kingdom in ancient China, and at the last part of this movie, the bad one was failed due to postponed because the curious of the General to tea ceremony.

Tea ceremony is very popular in Japan, every foreign student should have this experience. At first time, monks brought the plants from China because tehy found drinking tea helped to keep them awake during long hours of meditation, and popularized it as the secret of long life. Then these monks came to realize the social and aethetic potential of their habit of drinking tea together; they created the tea ceremony, and doing so discovered one of the most perfect expressions of Zen (part of Budhisme) simplicity and reliance on the power of suggestion.

Tea ceremony

The tea ceremony in ancient time is much more than a meeting of friends to quench their thirst. At its best it is a formal social gathering of connoisseurs, free for a time from the cares of the world to give themselves to appreciation of what is modestly beautiful. The prescribed setting is removed from the everyday world, but reminiscent of it in essentials: a tea house, just three meters square, set in a garden, with a stone water basin, lantern, and toilet. Entering the room, one becomes not a spectator but participant. The smell if incense, the sight of a scroll hung in an alcove with simple flower arrangement below, subtly stimulate the senses. The simmering of the iron kettle over a charcoal fire is likened to the sound of the wind in the pine trees. Tea-thick, green, and bitter-is made with the utmost economy of movement. After each participant has sipped a bowl of tea, the conversation turns to the quality of the tea bowl itself and associated subjects. Participants in the tea ceremony today are heirs to an ancient tradition.

Ureshino, one of the famous tea plantation in Japan

Most of the Japan history was originated from ancient China, such as religion (Budhisme), political system (court), art and architecture (such as music, painting, and sculpture). Red gate in front of every jinja was originated from China. Right of paddy field and irrigation system is adopted from ancient China. Many of scholars from Japan was sent to China to learn new knowledge, when they came back to Japan, the scholars adopt the knowledge best into Japan systems.

The important place for this movement was northern Kyushu, port of Hataka. The voyages from China (between 1433 and 1569) stimulated economic activity in Japan, especially in the town of Sakai and Hakata. Swords, copper ore, sulfur and fine wood (the last reexported from southeast asia) were the most important Japanesse export. Copper coins were a major import from China, with silk, porcelains, and books. In the days before the Japanesse minted their own coins satisfactorily, Chinesse coins were commonly used. The payment of salaries and taxes, the sale of produce and land were transacted either in coin or in terms of coin. Availability of currency greatly facilitated the use of credit, which, in turn, stimulated economic activity.

The Mongols invasion came in 1274 also from Kyushu, but Japanesse warriors were saved by their fortitude-and by the weather, a storm that night scattered the fleet and left possibly as many men drowned as had klost tehir lives in the fighting. The second invasion was in 1281 from northwest coast of Kyushu, again typhoon on August 15, 1281 came to gave victory. This typhoon has come to be known as the divine wind, or kamikaze, a name revived during the closing stages of the war in the Pasific (1941-1945) for suicide pilots whos used their planes to ram enemy shipping.

Tatebana, is standing flower arrangement. It was intended not only to please the senses or display the skill of the arranger, but to make a spiritual impact on the beholder by re-creating a scene that was true ti nature. Tatebana were constructed to suggest the scared hill of Sumeru (Semeru in Bahasa Indonesia – Semeru Mountain is located in East Java next to Bromo), famous in Buddhist literature, with mountain peak, waterfall, hills, the foot of the mountain, and a town suggested by the green foliage of certain trees and plants used in fixed combinations and ance was essential, but unnatural symmetry was to be avoided. At this time, and until 19th century, flower arranging was a masculine art-practiced by priests, nobles, and warriors-and flowers were arranged for a hero’s departure to battle as readily as for his wedding.

upper figure shows Bromo Mountain, lower one shows Semeru Mountain

In general conclusion, historical geography between Japan and China has a long history and correlation. Till now they are trying to influencing each other. In case of Sendai, the first international student was came from China, Lux Xun. As we know today the most foreign student in Tohoku University is come from China, when the ancient time most of student from Japan sent to China.

The ancient art and music af Japan was describe the natural condition, describe the similarity and differences between land surface on the earth, describe the journey of scholars and warriors. This is the beautiful of Historical Geography, and I love it (:..

from history we can learn how to become a wise human and face the reality stronger than before (:

Material source: Mason, R.H.P., Caiger, J.G. 1997. A History of Japan. Tuttle Publishing, Tokyo, Japan.

Picture from http://www.green-tea-health-news.com/matcha-tea.html



  1. Very interesting article, indeed, especially about Sumeru.

    I remember that in Java island there are two Semerus, one of them is oftenly called Mahameru. As far as I know, it’s a hindu sacred premise rather than buddhist. In old Javanese Hindu, this mountain top was believed to be the eternal sanctuary of gods and goddess. In Javanese mahabharata version, the Pandawas met their death when they tried to climb this mountain.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s