Japanese tea ceremony is a ritual that is heavily-influenced by the teachings of Zen Buddhism. There are two types of the tea gatherings with Ochakai being the simpler form of ceremony. It usually includes a service of confections, usucha (thin tea), and ten shin (light meal). Chaji is the more formal of the two ceremonies. It includes kaiseki (full-course meal), the service of confections, koicha (thick tea), and the thin tea. The chaji tea ceremony can last more than four hours.
Tea ceremony has very specific traditions which are followed very closely. If the tea house possesses a bench outside, guests are expected to wait on that bench until the host calls them to come inside the establishment. Guests are then asked to use a little stone basin to wash their hands and mouths to “purify” themselves. After this, the guests head inside, but must remove their shoes before the are allowed to enter. Guests are then seated on a tatami in order from the most prestigious person in the group to the least prestigious. The host lays a charcoal fire in front of them and serves several courses of food and sake to wash it down. After the meal, each guest takes out a little sweet from kasha paper and eats it. Once the sweet is eaten, the guests are all expected to return to the waiting area until they are called again by the host.
The host uses specific movements to clean all of the utensils and then prepares the thick tea. It is proper for the host to have an assistant pour the tea for the guests. The host and the guest exchange bows as the guest drinks from the tea bowl. Then, he repeats this with the second guest. The action is repeated over and over until the last guest has consumed tea from the same bowl as everyone else. Then, the guests admire the tea bowl. Once all of the guests have had a chance to admire the bowl, the host takes the tea bowl out of the room.
At this point, the host changes the event from formal to informal and adds more charcoal to the fire. To liven things up, the host brings a smoking set, more confections, and cushions into the room. Then, the host prepares individual bowls of the thin tea for each guest in attendance. At this point in the evening, it is finally acceptable for the guests to engage in casual conversations with one another. After the tea has been taken by every guest, the host takes the utensils and cleans them. The guest of honor is supposed to ask the host to let the guests examine the cleaned utensils. Each guests takes a good hard look at the utensils, but handles them with care. The utensils are often very valuable and irreplaceable. Once everything has been examined, it is time for the guests to leave. The host bows to them as they exit through a small doorway concluding the ceremony.