japanese tea ceremony

Business Etiquette at a Japanese Tea Ceremony

Built around the drinking of green matcha tea, Japanese tea ceremony, called Sādo in Japan, is a spiritual event that you not only watch, but participate in. This ritual represents everything that is Japan in its formality and social restraint. As long as you are willing to adhere to the rules of the ceremony, it is a great way to help understand Japanese culture and your business supplier.

 

It’s is difficult to adhere to all the rules of the ceremony your first time. For this reason, there are practice sessions and formal tea ceremonies for English speakers.

 

Attire

Traditionally a formal kimono is worn as there are certain rituals during the ceremony that require it. Men typically wear unpatterned kimonos in subdued colors whiet women wear kimonos in brighter colors. If you do not have a kimono it is acceptable to wear formal clothing that is subdued in color so as not to distract from the tea.

 

Men typically wear unpatterned kimonos in subdued colors whiet women wear kimonos in brighter colors. If you do not have a kimono it is acceptable to wear formal clothing that is subdued in color

 

Shoes must be removed when walking on a tatami, or floor mat. It is essential to have clean feet and socks. There is also the option of wearing white tabi, or Japanese socks. There will be slippers for you to wear.

 

Arrival time

One should arrive about ten minutes early, as Japanese business people are very punctual.

 

Entrance

Enter on your knees. Avoid stepping on the center of the tatami or mats Do not touch anything with your palm, use a closed fist.

 

Seating

Each guest at a Japanese tea ceremony has a title. For this reason, seating is strictly arranged and each guest sits in a specific spot in relation to the teishu (or host). The teishu will direct the ceremony and serve the tea. It is wise to allow the host to seat you. Sit quietly until you are directed to do otherwise.

 

Each guest at a Japanese tea ceremony has a title. For this reason, seating is strictly arranged and each guest sits in a specific spot in relation to the teishu (or host)

 

The four positions at the ceremony include:

  • The teishu who is the host or person directing the ceremony and likely your business partner
  • The shokyaku is the principle guest
  • The jikyaku is the second most important guest
  • The tsume is the last guest

 

It is unlikely that you will be the shokyaku at your first ceremony, so you may follow their lead to discover what your role is.

 

Eating and Drinking

Eating begins when the teishu offers sweets to the shokyaku and announces that there is something available for the guests to eat. Wait to be offered food to eat.

 

When you are offered the tea bowl, turn it slightly before drinking from it to avoid touching the place where the last guest’s lips touched. Do not consume anything unless it is offered to you.

 

Eat and drink everything that is served to you. It’s rude to leave something behind.

 

Conversation

Never ever say or do anything that is not part of the ceremony itself. This is the time to strengthen trust and congeniality with your business associates, not to negotiate. Say nothing unless spoken to.

 

You are expected to look around and appreciate your surroundings. Every object in the room, including the utensils, wall art, flowers and anything your eyes can see is a part of the ceremony. All of it has been carefully planned by the host or teishu. Be certain to compliment the teishu on your surroundings.

 

Address questions to the shokyaku or main guest, not the host. Questions about the room, its furnishings, the food, or tea are acceptable. Do not offer compliments, but ask questions that show sincere interest.

 

Address questions to the shokyaku or main guest, not the host. Questions about the room, its furnishings, the food, or tea are acceptable. Do not offer compliments, but ask questions that show sincere interest.

 

If you are unsure of what to do next, do nothing. Any action required of you will be clearly indicated by the host (teishu) or by the lead guest (shokyaku). The tea ceremony is very elegant and simple, your role as second or last guest is to eat and drink only when something is offered to you, to speak when spoken to, and to compliment the host (teishu) on your surroundings.

 

Be Thankful

It is required to write a thank you note to the host (who is likely your business partner) after waiting a day or two.

 

Be thankful that you have been allowed to attend the ceremony. The ritual is many hundreds of years old and is both religious and social.

 

Following these tips will help you build trust with your supplier in Japan to protect your business. Want more tips on working with your suppliers in Japan? Check out our comprehensive guide on How to do Business in Japan. Veem offers a faster, safer, and hassle-free way to pay your business partners, whether they’re in Japan or any of the 60 countries we serve.

 

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