The Japanese Tea Ceremony: a spiritual and cultural ritual a few hundred years old
Tohaku Hagesawa (painting), and Soen Shunoku (caligraphy), Sen Rikyu, mid-16th century
The tea ceremony existed before him, but it was the Buddhist Monk (and amateur architect) Sen Rikyu, in the 16th century, who really turned it into an important cultural tradition for Japan. Particularly interesting, he introduced to the tea ceremony a particular aesthetic called Wabi.
So what is Wabi about? Sen Rikyu designed Tea Houses with an emphasis on humility and imperfection.
Sen Rikyu, Myoki-an Tearoom entry, 1580
Like the tiny doorway into a tea-room pictured above, Sen Rikyu's tea houses required visitors, from high nobleman to simple farmer, to humble themselves and slow down, buy having to stoop and crawl through the tiny opening. The tearoom inside is tiny, too small to stand up in, and the beams and walls forming the structure are asymmetrical, unvarnished, imperfect. Tea is boiled on the floor of the tea room.
And here is an example of a bowl to for tea made with the wabi aesthetic:
Kizaemon Tea-Bowl, made in Korea but used in Japan, 16th-17th century
It is tipped, chipped, and blipped with scratches, unglazed spots and imperfections. And it is this very aspect which allowed the tea ceremony participant drinking from this bowl to contemplate as he was drinking, that beauty, uniqueness and personality of all things and people come out of their imperfections.