Tea Diaries

Can we experience Harmony in everyday life?

Pouring Sake for others | Where My Heart Leads

Japan stepped into a new era – Reiwa (Enabling Harmony) – when Crown Prince took the throne on May 1st.

“What is Harmony?” has been on my mind since a friend said, “It went really smoothly. It was harmonious.” she said of a New Years tea gathering we helped host.

Harmony has great significance in Japanese tea ceremony. As a Japanese Tea student, we are introduced to the concept of Harmony early on – a four character scroll, summarizing the four tenets of Chado

Wa (Harmony)

Kei (Respect)

Sei (Pure)

Jaku (Tranquility)

written in large ink brush script would hang in the centre of the alcove – like a Buddhist master transmitting his teachings, reminding the student to hold these tenets of the practice to heart.

Despite trays of exquisitely arranged food of more than 10 items each needing to be assembled, bowls of tea to be whisked and served, sake to be poured and a few mishaps thrown-in, the new year tea gathering flowed like clockwork.

Everyone on our service team stepped up to complete whatever task was required. Whatever needed to get done, got done. And thanks to the teacher on duty with her calm and harmonious demeanor, the tone was established for the group to come together as a seamless team. You should have seen “backstage” in the kitchen, some of us did a little jiggly dance pre-show! This group! Haha.

It’s one thing to comprehend something like Harmony conceptionally, and another altogether to experience it. That gathering was the first time I felt like as a team, we were a collective, passing through the gates’ of Harmony (there are many gates of learning in chado I suppose).

Passing through the gates of learning.

Ego in the Tea Room

Way back when Chado, the wisdom and way of tea, was practised by the nobles, the samurai, and the religious, swords were carried at the waist atop of the Kimono. To enter, these swords (weapons, and defense) are hung outside the tea room on a rack. Before entering, one would purify one’s hands and mouth with water at the end of the stone path before crawling through a small window-like opening to enter the sacred space.

All external labels be it rank, pedigree, creed are left outside the tea room. Upon entrance, everyone is considered equal within that space. 

Stripped of the labels, stories, emotional baggage, the one entering the room is essentially a person in its purity. In my mind – perhaps it’s almost like enjoying the gathering over tea with a bunch of zenned out beings, where it doesn’t really matter what they do in their day job, who they are socially, because those don’t matter other than what’s in one’s heart.

Before entrance, one purifies themselves, the hands, the mouth, the heart.

Looking into the Heart

When confined in such a small, quiet space of the tearoom, our senses become heightened. We hear the rumbling of boiling water more fully, taste the scent of incense more clearly, and most of all we sense how everyone in the room IS more directly – whether one has left their non-essentials at the door, or have brought it in with them – becomes easily palpable.

Tea Practice is mesmerizing to some, yet an enigma to others. A friend of mine had said she couldn’t see the appeal of it when you’re doing the same thing again and again – take out the utensils, wipe clean the bowl, serve sweets, whisk tea – all the while kneeling on the floor too! Next week – repeat. And the week after – repeat. For some, it can be a life-long involvement.

Chado is so multi-faceted though, those who want to learn about the histories of the utensils or how to move beautifully can do so; those who want to come and meet with fellow tea lovers and enjoy time together over a bowl of tea can do so; those who want to uncover ‘the Way’ through tea may also do so. Chado can be a multi-dimensioned treasure trove where beyond the surface, leaves more to be uncovered and pondered.

Our tea teacher once remarked, Chado isn’t just about the taste of teas so much as it is about the practice of how the person be. 


Chinese characters and Chinese expression holds much wisdom and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface and appreciate the depth of it as I have grown in years (ahem). The character for Harmony – Wa, means not only Harmony, but togetherness. It’s also implies a tie, like in a match where the two teams tie = are equal, neither is the winner or the loser.

Is togetherness only possible when there is Harmony? Or does Harmony enable togetherness? Chicken and Egg.

Wa Kei Sei Jaku by 66mami66| Where My Heart Leads
The four tenets: Wa Kei Sei Jaku.

The beautiful script calligraphy is by contemporary Japanese calligrapher MAMI. Find her on instagram: 66mami66. Mesmerising to watch how she creates life-size calligraphic works like a dance with ink and paper. Check it out!