The practice of tea ceremony in Japan has been around since the 16th century. It’s a quiet experience of mindfulness, appreciation, and respect towards life.

A Japanese tea ceremony looks simple from the surface but it involves specific sets, steps, and etiquettes.

In this post, you’ll learn a few things you SHOULDN'T do when attending a Japanese tea ceremony.

Be Late

This is a big NO-NO even if it’s your first time attending a tea ceremony.


Japanese people are known for their punctuality. You should arrive at least 10 minutes earlier, and don’t let your host wait for you.

Think of the host as your boss.

Do you know that in Japan, an employee doesn’t leave the office until the boss leaves?

Wear Casual

In Japan, people would wear a formal kimono for certain rituals or ceremony including a tea ceremony. Typically, men should wear an unpatterned kimono in subdued colors while the woman wears kimonos in brighter colors.

If you don’t have a kimono, you should opt for a smart casual dress. Don’t wear a tank top or definitely not shorts.

Not Taking off Your Shoe or Slipper

Remember to remove your shoes at the entrance and put on a pair of slippers that your host graciously prepared for you.

Walking in Casually

When you enter the tea room, don’t walk in casually. As a guest should enter the room on your knees. Avoid stepping on the center of the tatami or mats. Use closed fist when touching the mats, instead of an open palm to keep your hand clean.

Pick Your Own Seat

Typically during a tea ceremony, there’ll be around 2-3 guests. Each guest at a Japanese tea ceremony has a title and your seating is strictly arranged based on your title. Let the host seat you and wait for instruction.

Not Knowing Your Role

Each guest has a title and their sitting arrangement in relation to the host (or teishu) is based on their title.

Photo by Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum

The 4 titles are:

  • The teishu who is the host or person directing the ceremony
  • The shokyaku is the principal guest
  • The jikyaku is the second guest
  • The tsume is the last guest

If it’s your first time attending a tea ceremony, most likely you won’t be the shokyaku. A shokyaku should know how to respond to teishu during the ceremony.

If you have any questions, address your questions to the shokyaku or the main guest, and not to the host directly.

Not Showing Respect or Appreciation

A tea ceremony isn’t your usual tea time with your friends. You shouldn’t make small talk with the host or other guests on stuff unrelated to the ceremony.

Look around the room and appreciate every single detail. Your host put up their best efforts to choose every single utensil, wall arts, flowers, the sweets that you eat as part of the ceremony.

So, do make sure you compliment the host on your surroundings.

Final Thoughts

Japanese tea ceremony is usually hold in a small group and performed in a small room. Instructions are provided before hand so don't get intimidated by all the etiquette.

Its' a good calming experience where you get to enjoy the hospitality of the host in a unique atmosphere different from the fast pace of everyday life.