Exploring the Chabako: A Traditional Element of the Japanese Tea Ceremony

Chabako Unohana Temae

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The Japanese tea ceremony, known for its deep roots in tradition and meticulous rituals, utilizes various tools and accessories that enhance the experience and symbolism of the ceremony. One such essential item is the “chabako,” a tea box that not only serves a functional role but also carries cultural significance. In this blog post, we will delve into the history, use, and aesthetic importance of the chabako, shedding light on why it holds a special place in the art of Japanese tea-making. Join us as we explore how the chabako complements the serene and thoughtful atmosphere of the tea ceremony, making it an indispensable part of this age-old practice.

A tea box is called “chabako” in Japanese. It is usually a rectangular-shaped wooden box, which contains tea utensils inside. A tea box can be carried outside of the tea house to make a bowl of tea. Here, we will look at the most basic tea-serving procedure using such a tea box. The tea serving procedure is called “Unohana Temae”.

Finally, we provides a detailed procedure of the Urasenke school’s Chabako Temae known as ‘Unohana Temae.

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Understanding Chabako

The chabako, or tea box, originated in Japan as a practical solution for performing tea ceremonies during travel and outdoor settings.

History of the Chabako

Historically, the concept of a portable tea ceremony kit is believed to have been popularized by traveling tea masters who sought a way to practice their art form while on the move. The chabako was designed to contain all the necessary utensils and components needed for a tea ceremony, compactly organized into a single box. Over time, these boxes evolved from purely functional items to beautifully crafted works of art, reflecting the aesthetic values of the tea ceremony itself.

Cultural Significance through the Ages

The chabako is not just a tool for convenience but has also played a significant role in the cultural dissemination of the tea ceremony across Japan. It symbolizes the spread of the tea culture among various classes in Japanese society, from the nobility to commoners. The chabako allowed the tea ceremony to be more accessible and adaptable, contributing to its evolution from a sacred ritual to a more widespread social practice. This adaptability has helped preserve and continue the tea ceremony tradition through various periods of social and political changes.

Design and Materials

Traditionally, chabako are made from fine woods, often lacquered to protect against the elements and to add a decorative finish. Inside, the box is carefully arranged to hold various tea utensils such as the tea bowl, whisk, and tea scoop. The layout and specific materials used can vary depending on the region and the artistic preferences of the tea master. Modern chabako may also incorporate contemporary materials like reinforced plastics or lightweight metals for enhanced durability and ease of transport.

Different Types of Chabako

There are several types of chabako, each designed for specific settings or styles of tea ceremony. Some common variations include:

  • Travel Chabako: Compact and robust, designed for outdoor or travel use.
  • Seasonal Chabako: These feature designs or materials that reflect a particular season, enhancing the seasonal theme of the tea ceremony.
  • Artisan Chabako: Handcrafted by skilled artisans, these chabako are often unique and can be highly ornate, serving as collector’s items as well as functional tea ceremony kits.

Each type of chabako serves not only a practical purpose but also acts as a canvas for artistic expression, blending functionality with the deep-rooted aesthetics of the Japanese tea culture.

The Role of Chabako in the Tea Ceremony

Functional Uses The primary function of a chabako is to store and transport all the necessary utensils for conducting a tea ceremony, especially when away from a formal tea room. This includes a tea bowl, whisk, scoop, and tea container. By consolidating all essential items in a single, compact box, the chabako ensures that the tea ceremony can be conducted almost anywhere, from a tranquil garden to a remote travel destination. This portability is crucial for tea practitioners who wish to bring the serenity and mindfulness of the tea ceremony into various environments.

Symbolic Meanings In addition to its practical use, the chabako carries deep symbolic meanings. It represents the tea practitioner’s readiness to host a ceremony at any moment, embodying the principles of hospitality and preparedness that are central to tea ceremony philosophy. Furthermore, the act of opening the chabako and arranging its contents in a precise and mindful manner is a ritual in itself, symbolizing the setting aside of daily concerns in favor of a peaceful and reflective moment.

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Aesthetic Considerations

Artistic Aspects of Chabako Chabako are often works of art, crafted with materials that not only endure but also age beautifully. Artisans may use intricate lacquer techniques, inlays of mother of pearl, or fine wood carvings to decorate the boxes. The choice of materials and designs often reflects the aesthetic preferences of the tea school or the season, making each chabako a personalized statement of artistic expression within the tea ceremony.

How It Enhances the Ceremony’s Ambiance The visual presentation of the chabako contributes significantly to the ambiance of the tea ceremony. A well-crafted chabako sets the tone before the ceremony even begins, evoking a sense of anticipation and reverence. Its artistic details enhance the overall aesthetic experience, harmonizing with the natural surroundings and the ceremonial elements to create a cohesive and immersive environment.

Maintenance and Care Tips

Caring for a chabake ensures its longevity and beauty. Regularly clean the interior and exterior with a soft, dry cloth to remove dust and prevent scratches. Avoid exposing the chabako to extreme temperatures and humidity, which can warp the wood and damage the finish. If the chabako includes metal hinges or decorations, periodically check for tarnish or corrosion and clean them appropriately. Proper storage when not in use will protect the chabako from environmental damage and keep it ready for the next ceremony.

Uno Hana Temae(Urasenke)

“Uno Hana Temae“ is a tea serving procedure introduced by the 11th generation grand tea master, Gengensai, of Urasenke tradition. Later on, Ennousai, the 13th generation grand master modified the procedure slightly and it has been passed down for generations since then. Although initially, this “Uno Hana Temae” was designed to represent summer season, the name “Uno Hana” is expressed with the kanji character “u” which also can mean “rabbit.”

Preparation (Chabako Unohana Temae)

First, you need to prepare the following items to be placed inside the tea box. A “furidashi” sweets’ container, a tea whisk in a tea whisk holder, a tea linen in a tea linen holder, a tea container in which powdered green tea is kept, a tea bowl, a silk cloth called “kobukusa”, a tea scoop, and finally, your “fukusa”, a silk cloth, which is used to purify the utensils. Let us see how these utensils all fit into a tea box.

  • A furidashi is placed on the far left corner inside the tea box. A tea whisk needs to be set inside its holder called “chasenzutsu”, and is placed on the top right hand side of the tea box, followed by the tea linen in the linen holder below the tea whisk.
  • Then, a set of tea bowl with a folded “kobukusa” and a tea container needs to be set up prior to being placed inside the tea box.
  • A kobukusa is folded into half to form a rectangular shape with the right hand side being a folded side. Then it is gently placed on top of the tea bowl and its middle section is pushed inside to make a dent. A tea container should be placed on top of kubukua, where the dent is, in such a way that it sinks into the tea bowl.
  • Place the tea bowl inside the tea box at the near side.
  • A tea scoop is the next item to go inside the tea box. Place it face down on top of the tea bowl. Make it diagonal with the spoon part on top left.
  • Finally, fold your fukusa and place it on top of the tea scoop.
  • Cover the lid of the tea box. Now the tea box has everything necessary for the tea serving procedure, also known as “temae”.
  • A couple of more items need to be prepared other than the tea box itself.
  • The tea box must be carried into the tearoom on top of a tray. Like many tea utensils, a tray has a front and back.
  • Check the seam on the side of the tray. Where a strip of wood is bent to make a circular rim of the tray, and where the two ends meet, is where the seam is. The seam needs to face you.
  • Before you start your temae, you will also need to prepare a kettle with a handle with hot water inside. Normally, if you serve tea inside any tea room, the kettle is placed on top of what we call “binkake”, which is a small brazier.
  • The last item you need to prepare is a wastewater jar called “kensui”.

Procedure(Chabako Unohana Temae)

  1. At the tea room entrance, place the tray at the corner where the guests can see.
  2. Open the fusuma sliding door and exchange a formal “shin” bow with your guest.
  3. Lift the tray with both hands and enter into the tea room with right foot.
  4. Place the tray in front of the brazier, and leave the room with your left foot to bring the wastewater jar, “kensui”.
  5. Walk straight towards the brazier with kensui in your left hand and sit very closely to the tray.
  6. Place the kensui on your left side, where your left arm naturally drops.
  7. With both hands, shift the tray to the right, then take the tea box on top of the tray to the left, close to the partition.
  8. Pick up the lid of the tea box with both hands and place it in front of you, in between the brazier and yourself.
  9. Pick up the folded fukusa inside the tea box with your right hand.
  10. Refold the fukusa and hold the folded fukusa deeply in your right hand.
  11. With both hands, hold the tray for a second, and lift just the left side of the tray a few centimeters up, so the tray tilts towards the guest.
  12. With your fukusa in the right hand, purify the surface of the tray with a motion as if you are drawing the kanji character three.
  13. With both hands, place the tray back on the tatami mat.
  14. Place the fukusa on the 9 o’clock position of the tray.
  1. Take the tea scoop out of the box with right hand, turn it up and hold it with left hand for a second to adjust the position of the right hand, then place it at 6 o’clock of the tray.
  2. Take the sweet container, furidashi, with your right hand.
  3. On your left palm, turn the sweet container clockwise twice to make the center face towards the guest.
  4. Place it down on tatami mat for the guest.
  5. Exchange “shin” bow with your guest.
  6. Take the tea bowl from the tea box with both hands and place it on the lid of the tea box in front of you.
  7. Take the tea container, “natsume”, out of the tea bowl with your right hand and place it on the 12 o’clock position of the tray.
  8. Take the “kobukusa” out of the tea bowl with your right hand and place it in between the lid and the tea box.
  9. Move the box up with both hands. Move the wastewater jar up to the knee line with your left hand.
  10. Take the fukusa with your right hand and refold. Purify the natsume tea container.
  11. Place the tea container slightly to the left of the original position, at around 11 o’clock.
  12. Refold the fukusa and purify the tea scoop. Place the tea scoop back at 6 o’clock position of the tray.
  13. With the fukusa in your right hand, close the lid of the kettle, and place the fukusa back at 9 o’clock on the tray.
  14. Take the tea whisk holder with your left hand, and while the right hand supports it, push the bottom of the tea whisk upwards with your left fingers, so the right hand can take it out of the holder.
  15. Place the whisk at 3 o’clock position of the tea bowl and place the holder back in the box.
  16. Take the fukusa with your right hand to hold the kettle lid and pure hot water inside the tea bowl with your left hand. Place the fukusa back on the tray.
  17. Take the linen holder with your left hand, take the linen out with your right hand and place the holder back with your left hand inside the box.
  18. With both hands, fold the linen and place it at 3 o’clock position of the tray.
  19. Bring up the tea whisk with right hand to check the tines twice.
  20. Rinse the whisk inside the tea bowl and take it out.
  21. Discard the hot water into the wastewater jar with your left hand.
  22. Wipe the tea bowl with the linen and place the tea bowl back on the lid.
  23. Place the linen back at 3 o’clock position of the tray.
  24. Now all the utensils are purified!
  25. Pick up the tea scoop with your right hand and tell your main guest to go ahead and enjoy the sweets.
  26. In this video, the tea container is a flat type container called “hira-natsume”, so pick it up with your let hand from the top, bring it towards you and hold the right side of the tea container with your right hand and bring your left hand at the bottom of the container to hold.
  27. Bring it to the 9 o’clock of the tea bowl and open the lid. The lid needs to be hang on the rim of the tray at 6 o’clock, where the tea scoop was placed.
  28. Scoop the tea twice and gently tap the tea scoop at the edge of the tea bowl.
  29. Close the lid of the tea container and place the container back to the tray.
  30. Place the tea scoop back to the tray as well.
  31. Pick up the fukusa and pick up the kettle. Pour hot water into the tea bowl. Place the kettle back on the brazier and fukusa back on the tray. Pick up the whisk and hold the tea bowl with your left hand. With back and forth movement, whisk the tea until it lathers.
  32. When you are done whisking, take the “kobukusa” with your right hand and place it on your left palm. Adjust your right hand by holding the kobukusa on the other side with your right thumb pointing at you, turn your wrist towards the guest and extend your arm.
  33. Touch your right thumb on the tatami mat to place the “kobukusa” down. Open it up from left to right.
  34. Pick up the tea bowl with right hand, turn twice on your left palm so that the tea bowl’s center faces the guest, and serve the tea bowl on top of the kobukusa.
  35. The main guest drinks the tea and returns the tea bowl with the kobukusa back to you. When tea is served on top of kobukusa, the guest is not supposed to separate them.
  36. Pick up the tea bowl with your right hand, place it on your left palm and glance inside, place it down on the lid. Take the kobukusa with your right hand, fold once and place it on your right side.
  37. Take the fukusa with your right hand and pour hot water into the tea bowl. Discard water in the wastewater jar.
    The guest will say please close the tea ceremony.
  38. Acknowledge your guest’s request and nod. Place the tea bowl back on the lid and with both hands touching the tatami mat, say “Oshimai Itashimasu”, which means I am closing.
  39. At this point, the guest will request the viewing of the tea utensils.
  40. You will nod, and take the kobukusa from your right and place it in between the lid and box.
  41. Pour hot water inside the tea bowl again.
  42. Purify the tea whisk, this time, rinse first and then check the tines by lifting it up only once.
  43. Place the whisk back on the tray.
  44. Discard the water and wipe the tea bowl with the linen.
  45. Place the linen back into the tea bowl
  46. Place the tea bowl back on the lid.
  47. Take the tea whisk and place it on top of the linen.
  48. With your left hand, bring the wastewater jar back.
  49. With both your hands, bring the tea box back aligning with the lid.
  50. Take the kobukusa with your right hand and place it above the tea box. Open it up.
  51. Take the tea bowl with your right hand at 3 o’clock, transfer to the left hand at 9 o’clock, then adjust holding the tea bowl with your right hand at 5 o’clock to place it on top of the open kobukusa.
  52. Take the lid with both your hands and turn diagonally to the guest.
  53. Place the lid down.
  54. Take the fukusa and fold.
  55. Take the tea container with your left hand and purify.
  56. When opening the lid of the tea container to purify the rim, place the lid on top of the lid of the tea box.
  57. When the tea container is purified, place it on the lid, in the center.
  58. Refold the fukusa and purify the tea scoop.
  59. Place the tea scoop on the left side of the tea container.
  60. The end of the tea scoop should be slightly sticking out of the lid.
  61. Pad the fukusa twice on top of the wastewater jar to get rid of the green tea powder on your fukusa.
  62. The fukusa is placed back on the tray.
  63. Lift up the lid with these two items on top, using both hands.
  64. Move your right hand to the far right corner, left hand to the near left corner and turn the lid clockwise.
  65. Repeat until the lid faces towards the guest.
  66. Place the lid on tatami mat for the guest.
  67. Turn to the brazier, take the box with both hands and turn diagonally towards the guest again.
  68. Place the box down and turn the box twice on the tatami mat so that it faces the guest.
  69. Place it next to the lid on the right hand side.
  70. Turn towards the brazier again.
  71. Take the tray which is on the right side, and move it all the way to the left side close to the partition.
  72. Take the kobukusa with the tea bowl on top and place it on the tray.
  73. Move your knees to left and take the wastewater jar with your left hand.
  74. Stand up and turn away from the guest to leave the tea room.
  75. Wait outside of the tea room while your guest appreciates the tea utensils and returns them together with furidashi sweets’ conatiner.
  76. Go back inside the tearoom once everything is returned, and face the guest.
  77. Answer the questions that your guest asks.
  78. Exchange the bow.
  79. Take the lid with both hands, turn to the brazier and place it in front.
  80. Turn to the guest diagonally and take the box with both hands and turn to the brazier.
  81. Place the box at the bottom of the tray.
  82. Take the furidashi with your right hand and place it where the tray was.
  83. Take the whisk with your right hand, take the whisk holder with your left hand and push the whisk into the holder.
  84. Return the holder into the box with your left hand.
  85. Take the linen from the tea bowl with your right hand, take the linen holder with your left hand from the box, and using the side of the holder, roll up the linen with your right hand.
  86. Put the linen inside the holder and holder inside the tea box with your left hand.
  87. Move the tea container, which is in the center of the lid, a little further up, so that you can place the tea bowl in the empty space.
  88. Pick up the tea bowl with your right hand at 5 o’clock, transfer to the left hand at 9 o’clock and right hand holds the 3 o’clock position to place it on the lid of the box.
  89. Fold the kobukusa with your right hand and place it inside the tea bowl.
  90. Place the tea container on top of kobukusa, so it sits inside the tea bowl.
  91. With both hands, place the tea bowl back inside the tea box.
  92. Take the sweets container with your right hand, hold it for a moment with your left hand and adjust your right hand to place it inside the tea box.
  93. Take the tea scoop with your right hand and turn the face down.
  94. Place it inside the tea box on top of the tea bowl diagonally.
  95. Take the fukusa and close the lid of the kettle.
  96. Refold the fukusa and place it inside the tea box.
  97. Close the lid with both hands.
  98. Take the tea box with both hands, place it on top of the tray, and place the tray in front of the brazier.
  99. Once again, hold the tray with both hands supporting the bottom.
  100. Stand up and turn towards the guest.
  101. Leave the tea room.
  102. Exchange closing bows at the entrance.
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