Nara: Big-bowl Tea Ceremony Back on, with Improved Hygiene

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Participants drink matcha from large tea bowls at Saidaiji Temple in Nara on Jan. 16.

NARA — Saidaiji Temple in Nara held its annual first tea ceremony on Jan. 16, with visitors enjoying matcha from oversized bowls as tradition calls for, but not sharing them due to modern infection concerns.

The origin of this ceremony is said to date back to 1239, when Eison, a Buddhist priest credited with restoring Saidaiji, served tea to temple-goers soon after the New Year.

At that time, tea was valued as a healing beverage, so it was put in large containers such as water jars and bowls and passed around for the people to drink.

The once-a-year ceremony has traditionally been held using a very large tea bowl, which would be passed around as worshippers offered each other support.

However, to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the temple did away with the communal bowl and had each worshipper drink from their own bowl.

On the morning of the ceremony day, a priest stirred matcha tea using a large chasen bamboo whisk and served it to about 30 visitors.

The individual bowls used this time were smaller than the traditional bowl, but large enough to completely cover the worshippers’ faces at about 30 centimeters in diameter, and still weighed 3 to 5 kilograms each.