The Tea Ceremony - Syllabus

The Course

An examination of the history of chanoyu, the tea ceremony, from its origins in the fifteenth century to the practice of tea today. The class will explore the various elements that comprise the tea environment--the garden setting, the architecture of the tea room, and the forms of tea utensils.  Through a study of the careers of influential tea masters and texts that examine the historical, religious, and cultural background to tea culture, the class will also trace how the tea ceremony has become a metaphor for Japanese culture and Japanese aesthetics both in Japan and in the West.

The class will meet twice a week (M/W) at 12:30 in Fayerweather 113.  It has been designed for maximum participation, thus it is essential that you complete the reading assignments before each class.  If you need to miss a class, please contact me in advance.

There will be one field trip to Mount Holyoke College to participate in a tea ceremony at their Washin’an tea room, and a field trip to a potter working in the Japanese style in Vermont.  If scheduling and time permit there will be a field trip to visit the Smith College Museum of Art and the Urasenke Foundation in New York.


The following books have been ordered for the course and are available at the Jeffery Amherst College Store on South Pleasant Street.  There will also be a reader for the course available through the Fine Arts Department at Amherst College.  All other readings are on reserve at Frost Library.

Hirota, Dennis.  Wind in the Pines.  Berkeley:  Asian Humanities Press, 2002.
Kawabata Yasunari.  Thousand Cranes.  New York:  Vintage, 1996.
Okakura Kakuzō.  The Book of Tea.  Mineola:  Dover, 1964.
Tanizaki Jun’ichirō.  In Praise of Shadows.  New Haven:  Leete’s Island Books, 1980.
Varley, H. Paul and Kumakura Isao.  Tea in Japan.  Honolulu:  University of Hawai’i Press, 1989.

You will receive a handout for most classes geared to the lecture and meant to serve as a supplementary reference to the topic. If you miss a handout they will be posed on the CMS course site.

I am developing a database of images of tea objects including most of those we will cover in the course.  These will be linked to the CMS course site.


Written assignments:

    Analysis of an object used in the tea ceremony 
    Due Feb. 8 (5 %)

    Essay on the aesthetics of tea, 3-4 pages   
    Due Feb. 27 (15%)

Looking assignment comparing two works of art, 3-4 pages   
Due Mar. 12 (15%)

Final paper, 10-12 pages
Due May 12 (40%)

You will be given guidelines for each of the assignments.  Please include photocopies of the relevant images when appropriate.  Extensions for the final paper must be arranged through the office of the Dean of Students.  All work must be submitted to complete the course and to receive a final grade.


You will also be expected to participate in class discussion (10%) and in three presentations (15%).  One of the basic skills of a tea practitioner is the ability to arrange objects for his or her guests.  Over the course of the semester you will expected to make such an arrangement, known as a toriawase.  You will begin by selecting two objects and presenting them to your classmates commenting primarily on their formal qualities.  By the mid-point in the semester you will be expected to devise a complete toriawase and present it to the class.  At the end of the semester you will be expected to revise your toriawase incorporating into it contemporary objects that you deem suitable for the tea ceremony.   Each toriawase should be accompanied by 3-4 pages of comments explaining your choices.

    First presentation    Feb. 18

    First toriawase    Apr.  7

    Second toriawase    Apr. 30