Catholic Influence on Japanese Tea Ceremony

December 29, 2021

The first time I learned that Catholic Mass has influenced the Japanese tea ceremony was when I came across an article on the Catholic news site Gloria TV.

The whole idea that something so deeply Japanese would be influenced by a religion largely spread by Europeans in Asia surprised me.

But it might end up being true after all.


1st Tea Ceremony in the Philippines?

Justo Takayama Ukon is one of the forgotten historical figures of the Spanish era Philippines. He was a Kirishitan daimyō (literally meaning Christian warlord) but whose deep Christian faith caused him to be exiled.

The Catholics and Jesuit fathers in Spanish Manila did much to help and welcome the samurai lord.

In 1615, he died only 40 days after arriving in the capital. 

Sen no Rikyu, thought by many to be the master of the tea ceremony art, taught Justo Takayama Ukon the art. Takayama is said to have performed the tea ceremony at the Manila Cathedral. 

Ernie de Pedro, a historian and Takayama sainthood proponent, maintains a great website on the Blessed Justo Takayama Ukon. 

Manong Ernie’s site pointed me to a Filipina blog site that backs up the Takayama tea ceremony anecdote.  

Adnilemel, a Filipina student of the tea ceremony, writes:

“Learning that I came from the Philippines, Prof. Shizuo Mochizuki told the class that he had been to Philippines with his tea associates and his memorable experience was at the Manila Cathedral where they were shown an antique feather brush used as one of the tools in tea preparation. It was presented to the church [Manila Cathedral] by a well-known Japanese Catholic tea master — Minami-no-Bô TAKAYAMA Hida no-kami, better known as Takayama Ukon — who was exiled to Philippines in the old era.”

While these links do not prove that the tea ceremony was influenced by Catholic rites, they do show that influential Japanese Christians have been known practitioners. 

Two of Rikyu’s Seven Disciples were Catholics. One of them was Takayama.


Striking similarities

The similarities between the tea ceremony and the Mass are apparent. Popular historian Ambeth Ocampo said he conveyed this sentiment to his Japanese colleagues when he attended a tea ceremony. 

Were the parts that resemble the Catholic Mass added because they were forbidden to practice their faith? Were they a subtle remembrance of their Catholic faith?

Photo I took of a memorial in Osaka Cathedral honoring Dona Gratia Hosokawa, a known Catholic, daughter of one of the Shoguns in feudal Japan.

After watching a tea ceremony online, I have noticed what to my untrained eyes appears to be a Catholic influence:

Literally, Okashi refers to confectionery or snacks. They include sweets and candies. They are served at tea ceremonies. In the same way, wafers are accompanied by wine at Mass.

Raising the tea to head level. In Mass, the priest raises the chalice (commonly above the head) in the same manner.

After the tea has been served, a white cloth is used to wipe the cup. In the same way that priests would wipe the chalice after drinking wine.

As a result of the Catholic ban in feudal Japan, did these influences bleed into the tea ceremony? One can only wonder.

Notify of