Japanese Tea Ceremony - Tea Ceremony and Tatami

Tea Ceremony and Tatami

See also: Chashitsu

Tatami are used in various ways in tea ceremony. Their placement, for example, determines how a person walks through the tea room, and the different seating positions.

The use of tatami flooring has influenced the development of tea ceremony. For instance, when walking on tatami it is customary to shuffle, to avoid causing disturbance. Shuffling forces one to slow down, to maintain erect posture, and to walk quietly, and helps one to maintain balance as the combination of tabi and tatami makes for a slippery surface; it is also a function of wearing kimono, which restricts stride length. One must avoid walking on the joins between mats, one practical reason being that that would tend to damage the tatami. Therefore, tea students are taught to step over such joins when walking in the tea room.

The placement of tatami in tea rooms differs slightly from the normal placement in regular Japanese-style rooms, and may also vary by season (where it is possible to rearrange the mats). In a 4.5 mat room, the mats are placed in a circular pattern around a centre mat. Purpose-built tea rooms have a sunken hearth in the floor which is used in winter. A special tatami is used which has a cut-out section providing access to the hearth. In summer, the hearth is covered either with a small square of extra tatami, or, more commonly, the hearth tatami is replaced with a full mat, totally hiding the hearth.

It is customary to avoid stepping on this centre mat whenever possible, as well as to avoid placing the hands palm-down on it, as it functions as a kind of table: tea utensils are placed on it for viewing, and prepared bowls of tea are placed on it for serving to the guests. To avoid stepping on it people may walk around it on the other mats, or shuffle on the hands and knees.

Except when walking, when moving about on the tatami one places one's closed fists on the mats and uses them to pull oneself forward or push backwards while maintaining a seiza position.

There are dozens of real and imaginary lines that crisscross any tearoom. These are used to determine the exact placement of utensils and myriad other details; when performed by skilled practitioners, the placement of utensils will vary infinitesimally from ceremony to ceremony. The lines in tatami mats (畳目, tatami-me?) are used as one guide for placement, and the joins serve as a demarcation indicating where people should sit.

Tatami provide a more comfortable surface for sitting seiza-style. At certain times of year (primarily during the new year's festivities) the portions of the tatami where guests sit may be covered with a red felt cloth.

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