Sado (Japanese tea ceremony) is regarded as the quintessence of Japanese culture. Such a ritual enables one to purify the spirit and pursue the practice of zen through the offering tea. Over time, Sado has influenced the development of diverse Japanese traditions, such as “Ikebana” (Japanese flower arrangement) or “Shodo” (Japanese calligraphy). Therefore, practicing Sado enables one to fathom the secrets of the inner Japanese culture. The ritual has been honed for hundreds of years. Today, at the dawn of the 21st century, one Tokyo-based high-tech team of creatives has reinterpreted this ancient art with a cutting-edge digital technology.

A colorful digital flower grows from inside a teacup
Tea presented by TeamLab

Tea ceremony in a technological wonderland

In Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo, an unprecedented type of tea salon has been welcoming visitors. Team Lab, an internationally acclaimed art collective, has temporally opened a tea venue “EN Tea House” in their exhibition center TeamLab Borderless Odaiba. From outside, the tea house appears to be a conventional tea venue. Nevertheless, once entered, one will be amazed by its technologically harmonized atmosphere. After being seated, an attendant serves green tea, carefully hand-picked in Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost main island. Taking the teacup from the tatami-made table, the fantasy-like experience starts - a yellow chrysanthemum-like flower suddenly starts to blossom inside the cup, and as it gradually grows into full bloom, its yellow petals flow and scatter out of the cup. Purple and pink flower start to gradually blossom, then a butterfly approaches and seats itself on the virtual flower. Just as abruptly as it began, everything disappears and flows beyond the cup. Then the life cycle of the flower continuously rewinds inside and outside the teacup.

Multicolored lights stream across a darkened room
Artwork presented by TeamLab at TeamLab Borderless Odaiba

TeamLab, the artists behind this installation, is known for their technique of seamlessly blending technology and real life. It is an art collective of multi-faceted specialists including artists, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians, and so forth. Their aim is to find convergence among art, technology, the natural world, and science. Their work involves multi-channel media combining video footage, audio, lighting, and digital sequences, blending together to draw the audience into a virtual wonderland.

The universe illustrated by TeamLab presents the spirit of the tea ceremony, where the “unrepeatable nature of a moment” flashes and disappears inside a simple cup. Inside the vessel, the amount of tea changes, then accordingly the size of the flowers reactively changes. Taking the cup, the flower will scatter and flow outside of the cup. This animation is activated by the interaction with each customer in real time by a computer program. Thus, the artwork simulates the unrepeatable nature of Sado as the interaction between humans and the installation continuously changes, which magnifies the concept “this single moment is unique in a lifetime” – which is central to the practice of the Japanese tea ceremony.

Sado, the quintessence of Japanese culture

Following this interpretation by TeamLab, the ritual appears to have almost endless variations since its nature is more philosophical than empirical, and obviously goes well beyond the simple act of offering tea. The tea ceremony is rooted into the principle of Zen Buddhism and founded upon the appreciation of beauty in the daily life. Thus, a tea house is often called a “small universe” as its pure and sacred environment.

A woman in kimono prepares tea
In traditional tea ceremony, the making of the tea, the serving of the tea, and the complete surroundings of the tea room all combine to create a unique experience

In the tea house, where the flower arrangement and hanging scroll provide pleasurable feeling of seasonality to the guests, everything is set according to an order. The host prepares tea with utensils, offering seasonal sweets with the tea. Those who practice the ritual emphasize the quality, as it is fundamental to develop harmony between the guests and the surrounding environment, respecting the participants and utensils alike, the balance between cleanliness and tranquility. Even as the time flows, the quintessence of Sado will be perpetuated in new form.

Three women in kimono participate in a tea ceremony
The guests themselves are an equally important a part of the ceremony

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