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The Way of Tea

Updated: Mar 25

Japanese Tea Ceremony and Nature by Jack Convery, Kyoto


Meeting Jack in Kyoto was a delightful, enlightening and heart opening experience. His love for Japanese tea ceremony coupled with his ability to convey the depth of meaning within it allow people around him to expand. And, for those willing to follow him as he firmly yet gently leads the way through a ceremony, he offers the opportunity to glimpse the interconnectedness of nature and humans, of all things.
I was shocked at the depth of my experience with Jack, and the profound symbolism in the ceremony. Together they carried me in two directions. Outwards, from that small tatami room in Kyoto, to the vastness of the natural world, and inwards, dissolving layers within until, quite unexpectedly, the inner and outer came together as one.
I asked Jack to write a little about tea ceremony to give you a taste of The Way of Tea.


Jack Convery, tea master in Kyoto, smiling in his house
Jack Convery

Having been invited by Amanda Jayne to write something about the Tea Ceremony and Nature, thoughts started bubbling-up immediately. I was unsure about a good place to start; but perhaps a good beginning is the Kanji for CHA-DO.


Usually translated as tea ceremony, the kanji has the meaning of CHA=tea and DO=the way. Actually DO=Dao or Tao. So, let's use the more correct translation THE WAY of TEA. Then let's proceed to the architecture of the tea house, and especially the Kanji, MA.


Here MA has the meaning of the space between two objects. Two fingers, hands, objects, rooms. Any two things, even two thoughts that arise in the mind. Or time. MA is contained in another word, TOKO-no-MA. TOKO=floor and MA=space; so together they suggest an empty place to put something, to show something, to arrange something. Like a niche or alcove in Western design, the toko-no-ma is the first thing that the eye contacts when the guest enters the tea-house. 

The tea-house can be described as the space of emptiness; and indeed, it is a virtually empty space when the guest opens the very small and low door to enter for the first time. The initial impression is simply space, with almost nothing in the space. 

Imagine, for a moment, that you are the guest and I am the host…

Japanese tea garden and entrance to tea house

You are outside in the outer space/ma. The outer space/ma looks like a garden to most people, but is actually more like a path in the mountains. Making your way up this mountain path, you chance upon a small mountain hut. And a bench. And for a short time, you might just sit quietly and enjoy this surprising discovery on your way through something we call, ‘my life’. The correct name for this space is RO-JI, not tea garden.

RO=morning dew, JI=earth. Together they mean something like ‘The Dewy Path’: the suggestion of a pure place, between 

the place you came from and the place you are about to enter. In other words, an intermediate space between the ordinary world of busy, of strife, competition and endless things to take care of, and the empty space of the the house where not much is happening. That is the outer space. The Roji.

Meanwhile your host has already observed you making your way ‘up the mountain’, and is now making the final preparations before inviting you into the inner space – the tea-house.

An iron kettle is hanging over a charcoal fire.

A calligraphy scroll is hanging on the wall of the Toko-no-ma.

And I, your host, am placing maybe just a single flower in a flower container made from clay or woven reeds.

When everything is ready, I will slowly crawl out of the small door, pour fresh water into the water stone, and invite you with a silent bow to please wash your hands and heart, then to enter. This is the turning point for you, for only you can decide to continue your ordinary life, or to trust this host and enter into the inner space. Let's say you are curious. You go to the water stone, then to the little door, which is slightly open. You decide to enter so must open the door, lower your head, and crawl inside.

To your amazement, in front of you is the calligraphy and flower in the Toko-no-ma. Looking around... just empty space with only a hanging kettle humming softly over the bright red embers. I am not in the room, but waiting on the other side of the paper doors, giving you the opportunity to discover what ever you might discover. To see what you might see. To feel what only you are feeling. A silence like thunder.

In that silence, some have been heard to gasp, others to sob! Probably a few have had no idea what's going on, maybe even crawled out while they still had the chance. Many have stayed, for years and years. Fully at ease in this empty space where Mother Earth reigns supreme.   

A traditional Japanese tea room and Roji
Tea room © CTR

And now, slowly, I open the paper door from my side and slide into the same space with you and any other guests. After a few moments of greeting each other and exchanging words of appreciation, I explain the calligraphy hanging in the tokonoma.

From the many thousands of possibilities,

today's calligraphy…



WA is the harmony between host and guest and also between objects in the space. 

KEI is respect.

SEI is purity of the space, and the objects and people in the space.

JAKU is the tranquility that results from these first three points. 

A most powerful reminder of how best to arrange the world around us, how to move about in such a world, the kind of world we wish to pass on to others. 

What follows next is building a good fire under the kettle, adding a couple of chips of fragrant wood to further purify the space. All this to boil the cold water necessary for preparing your delicious bowls of tea. This takes about one hour, during which time I serve you a small and most wonderful meal.

Like everything in the tea-house, this has great meaning. The perfect meal is enough to satisfy the stomach, no more. Ingredients must not come from distant places; rather, as close to the tea-house as possible. Simple and beautiful; definitely not gorgeous or meant to impress. Consisting of the five tastes, the five cooking styles, and the five colours, plus a few sips of Osake. All this you enjoy slowly with great appreciation for what your host has offered, watching the charcoal fire becoming brighter, listening to the soft whispering of the kettle as the water heats-up.

We notice the changing light and shadow as the sunlight filters in through the paper windows, paying attention to the effect all this has in our hearts. WA-KEI-SEI-JAKU has become much more than just words brushed onto white paper, something hanging on the wall. WA-KEI-SEI-JAKU has become manifest in a place where host and guests show genuine concern for each other and for all that breathes.

Japanese tea garden, known as Roji, in Kyoto Japan
Roji (garden) ©CTR

The fire is approaching the high point. Stomachs are quite satisfied. Hearts are full. I invite you to kindly spend a few moments sitting outside in the ROJI. A chance to feel the contrast of inner and outer, and a chance for me to prepare the utensils for the high point of our gathering – bowls of delicious and beautiful tea. Outside, you and the other guests enjoy this world of moss and maples and pines. Genuinely relaxing, talking, maybe moving about. In many ways nothing very special: yet all so very special. The soft sound of a gong signals that your host is ready. You abruptly return to silence and re-enter the tea-house. This time there is a simple and refined flower on the wall in place of the calligraphy, perhaps a candle to provide some contrast of light and shadow. The kettle is steaming, maybe boiling. The powdered tea sits on the tatami, looking like the Queen of the Camelia plant… but after all, she is! And she is waiting for us, and maybe even enjoying the delight we feel at all these simple changes in the room.

You sit down. Quiet once again reigns over all. Then I enter with the last couple of tea-utensils and sit down. There is the sharp clack of bamboo striking bamboo. Simple bow between host and guest and a few minutes of quiet sitting before I prepare the first bowl of tea. 


Photo of Jack Convery, a tea master in Kyoto, Japan
Jack Convery

Jack Convery and Hiromi live in Kyoto and together run Shotoku-an, a place for the practice and study of Chado according to the Urasenke school of tea. Here people gather for classes where the world ruled by principles of profit, gain, speed and busy-ness are replaced by the ancient principles of Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquility.

If you would like to contact Jack and Hiromi, or visit and experience Chado with them, you can email them at:

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