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A Glimpse Into the Tea Ceremony: Chaji – Part 1

April 16, 2019

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To conclude this tea ceremony series (see A Glimpse Into the Tea Ceremony and A Glimpse Into the Tea Ceremony: Chakai Versus Chaji – Part 1), we will look at the formal setting and the sitting. Most of what is written about the tea ceremony is done in a serious tone. This is my take on what it is really like. Let’s be honest.

The Chaji, as opposed to the Chakai (A Glimpse Into the Tea Ceremony: Chakai Versus Chaji – Part 1), is a much more formal affair: a full-blown four- or five-hour meal and two tea ceremonies.

Usually by the time you’ve eaten for hours, you only want one sip of tea. Your host understands this and makes one bowl of “thick” (koicha) tea for the room, meaning everyone drinks from the same bowl and passes it along.

The more formal Chaji involves cha-kaiseki, sort of like haute cuisine. I use the term “meal” loosely as it’s more like art than food. You are expected to eat the food with your mind and then slip it into your mouth. This is not at all hard to do because the food is so exquisitely presented that you literally contemplate how on earth they did it!

The meal has quite a few liquids, represents all the flavor groups, and is followed by a formal tea ceremony with koicha (thick matcha tea). This is unlike anything most people have tasted. It always reminds me of pudding by the thick texture and yes, it is an acquired taste. Make absolutely sure you prep your palate with the sweet (wagashi).

The engagement usually ends with “relaxation time” over usucha (thin tea) and another wagashi sweet. Usucha signals the end of the gathering in the most respectful but authoritative way. In other words, it’s time to go home!

Most foreigners don’t often get invited to this long session because we start breaking the rules before we even get there! If you’re lucky enough to be invited, make sure to stop by the host’s home in advance to express your gratitude for the invitation. But don’t make a fuss about it. That would be considered rude.

Let’s say you are invited…

The idea of attending Chaji kicks in and now you are imagining “WOW! Five hours with friends, food and libations! It’s gonna be awesome – like a jolly British piss up or a night out at Hooters!”

But no…

To be concluded in tomorrow’s post

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