The Japanese tea ceremony is elaborate, meticulous, and contemplative, and is not merely a ceremony. What can we learn from it in the context of customer service and business?

The Japanese tea ceremony may appear to be a puzzle for some, although those of us schooled in Zen Buddhism and Chinese culture may find it at least vaguely familiar. The Japanese tea ceremony is not merely about tea, nor it is about ambience, but it is about the respectful interaction between a host and a guest. It is not merely a customer service delivery, but a contemplative exchange between two people.

The Japanese tea ceremony and the Japanese appreciation for tea came over from mainland China long ago, and the Japanese has branched out with its own definitions and reflections, enriching all of us who have affinity for tea and culture.

The 4 cardinal principles of the Japanese tea ceremony are:

  • Harmony (和, wa),
  • Respect (敬, kei),
  • Purity (清, sei), and
  • Tranquility (寂, jaku).


Harmony (和)

First, the exchange between two people must begin with harmony. The environment is a measured and intentional presentation to nullify the possible negative influences, while bringing the host and the guest together in a harmonious and still environment. The environment cannot be in a tumultuous area, and is preferably sheltered and the elements should not pose a threat or discomfort to the host and the guest.

Respect (敬)

Next, the host and the guest come together with heartfelt gratitude to this journey of the ceremony together, where respect is not mere courtesy, but a sense of gratitude and humility for the shared journey in the ceremony, where the host and the guest are equals and both parties show humble respect and gratitude to each other in the same shared space.

Purity (清)

There is nothing like a pristine environment where inhabitants are immersed in an unspoilt and meticulously cleaned space. Purity is all about drilling down to the fundamentals, where the simplest elements that retain meaning are left, and all mundane and extraneous elements are cleaned away. This is not just about a physical environment, but about the inhabitants as well, whether the host, or the guest.

Tranquility (寂)

Last, after a continuous journey of laboring at achieving harmony, cultivating respect with humility, and scrubbing towards purity, one may attain a state of tranquility. Tranquility is not necessarily a mechanical step that one attains through the earlier steps, because it is a deeply contemplative state that reflects one’s own spiritual and inner leanings. One can perhaps say that the measure of one who has mastered the spirit of the tea ceremony is one who is completely at peace with himself and all around him, whether it be the environment, people, or entities.

What struck me as particularly fascinating about the Japanese tea ceremony is because of my childhood and earlier interest in Zen and Asian philosophy, which has rooted me to understand that the universe is far larger than all our egos put together, and each of us is but a speck of dust in creation. When we can identify our humility as the spine of our beings, it becomes easier to relate to people, and when people reciprocate in the like manner, the harmonious and contemplative spirit of the tea ceremony begins to surface.

It is the same as customer service or business. When individuals come together in a relational and respectful manner, the mutual goals and needs will be met equitably and efficiently. When individuals lock horns with one another with no respect for each other on an equal footing, it becomes difficult to relate, much less conclude and carry on businesses.