Translated by Misaki
Japanese Encyclopedia: Sadō ("The Way Of Tea")
Written by MATCHA
Sadō, or "the way of tea", comprises all the teachings that one needs to know in order to enjoy tea at a tea ceremony, either as a guest or as a host. This art has been brought to completion by Sen no Rikyu, who is regarded as the great tea master.
Sadō or Chadō ("The Way of Tea")refers to the teachings related to organizing the tea ceremony in which matcha ("powdered green tea") is served to guests in the traditional style. Matcha consists in the finely ground powder of the first tea leaves of the year. It has a bitter, refreshing flavor.
The Japanese "way of the tea" is a lot more than just enjoying matcha. It has taught manners, hospitality and the way of living through philosophy and religion. The utensils created through traditional craft arts, the space in the tearooms and the gardens, the dishes used in the tea-ceremony and the Japanese confectionery are all essential elements of sadō. Having a profound influence on Japanese culture, sadō has developed into a composite art which represents an ideal of Japanese lifestyle.
The Art Brought to Completion by Sen no Rikyū
Image courtesy of Make Delightful Japanese Sweets at Kanshundō in Kyoto!
The custom of drinking tea is believed to have started in China B.C. Back then, tea was used as medicine and not as a drink like it is now.
It was around the 7th century that a Zen (*1) monk brought back tea from China (during the Tang Dynasty). By the 12th century, the custom of drinking tea had spread as Zen became popular in Japan. During that time, Zen temples were popular cultural spots for the upper class.
Image courtesy of Akarimado: A Renovated Nostalgic Cafe In Akasaka
In the 16th century, Sen no Rikyū, who was a merchant in Sakai, Osaka, has completed the art of tea and developed the original form of sadō. Rikyū was one of the confidants of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the most powerful generals of that time. It is believed that many generals learned sadō under Rikyū. He not only simplified the temae 点前 "the procedure of making matcha" but also invented a more refined style of sadō, which is used even today. Before Rikyū, they were using imported items from China. It was Rikyū who ordered that the utensils and tearooms be produced in Japan, bringing about a revolutionary change in the Japanese arts and crafts through tea.
*1 Zen shū: A sect of Buddhism. Seated meditation called zazen is the basic discipline for those who practice Zen.
The Meaning Behind "Dō"
As mentioned above, sadō has been deeply associated with Zen. Rikyū is known to have introduced the concept of "wabi sabi” to sadō, thus initiating an original Japanese aesthetics. "Wabi" refers to the aesthetic values found in solitude and simplicity, while "sabi" refers to the beauty found in rustic, imperfect and original things.
Image courtesy of A Simple Way of Making and Enjoying Matcha At Home (Japanese)
In sadō, you can find the aesthetics of wabi-sabi in the simple and serene tearoom, where guests can calm their mind and reflect while deepening the inner connection with the host/hostess.
In Japan, we have budō (martial arts), which include judō, kendō, kyūdō and aikidō. As you can see, all these words contain "dō" ("way"). The literal translation of budō is "the martial way". Sadō is not a type of martial art, but a type of geidō, literally translated as "the way of art". Other geidō (Japanese traditional arts) include kadō ("the way of the flowers" or ikebana) and shodō (Japanese calligraphy). Geidō - the Japanese traditional arts - just like budō (martial arts), are practiced to train the mentality and build the character of the learner while he or she strives to master the art.
Because by practicing sadō one learns philosophical values through practice, this art is far beyond the mere act of drinking tea.