One of the highlights of my time in Japan was attending a traditional tea ceremony. It was fashioned for educational purposes so our hostess performed the rituals and told us about her actions in English. We removed our shoes before entering the main living room and sat on the floor on small cushions.
The main tools of the preparation of tea include: a bamboo whisk, tea bowl and tea spoon. The wooden spoon is used to scoop powdered green tea into tea bowls. Then a bamboo ladle is used to pour boiling water into the bowl. Finally, you are to whisk the tea into a froth.
When drinking, you are supposed to put the tea bowl in your left palm and support it on the side with your right hand. Before drinking the tea in three gulps, you are to turn it clockwise three times. This allows guests to admire the painting on the bowl.
After learning about the tools and process, our hostess also explained the importance of the tea ceremony in the Japanese culture. It is a form of art and motions are slow and deliberate. Each step has special meaning. Guests are to show full respect to the hostess at all times, even admiring the tools used to make tea.
During the final part of the session, we made our own cup of tea, learning how to use the scoop and whisk. This was an incredible experience! (The woman siting next to me was in traditional Japanese dress. Many women still wear kimonos in Kyoto.)