Japanese Tea Ceremony

photo_1Today at work I went to a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony lesson. Something I’ve wanted to do for a while, so it’s great that I managed to do it on the AIST campus so early on in my stay. And for just 200 Yen!

The ceremony was held in the ‘Japanese Room’ in the welfare centre, tucked away between the hairdressers and a restaurant (obviously). After the obligatory shoe-removing we were shown to cushions to kneel on, which I have to say I find extremely uncomfortable. My Western knees aren’t up to it! More training required.

First off we first had a display, where one main guest performed a kneeling bow (lots more of this to follow) at the entrance, then shuffled over next to us. Shuffling, it turns out, is preferred as it causes one to slow down and minimise disturbance. Her friend then joined her in the same fashion. After this, the tea-sensei came in and began the ceremony. This basically involves:

  1. Confectionary offering. Wagashi are offered to the main guest in a large bowl by the sensei’s assistant after a series of bows. Bow to the rest of your party and say “o-saki-ni” (“Excuse me while I go first”). Wooden chopsticks are used to pick up the sweets, which must then by cleaned by folding the corner of the kai-shi (paper napkin) over the chopsticks and wiping. After returning the bowl to the host, the confectionary are eaten in small bites with a ku-ro-mo-n-ji (small wooden pick).
  2. Washing the bowls. Hot water is taken from an iron pot with a bamboo ladle and poured into the (presumably already clean) bowls, known as cha-wa-n. A kai-shi is then used to wipe the cha-wa-n dry, first inside, then out.
  3. Preparing the tea. A wooden spatula (cha-sa-ku) is used to measure out 1.5 measures of powdered green tea which are added to each bowl. Hot water is added to the tea from an iron pot, and then mixed with a tea whisk (cha-se-n). This kind of looks like a shaving brush, but is made from a single piece of bamboo. The host whisks the tea counter-clockwise, slowly at first and then increasing in speed.
  4. Presenting the tea. After a series of bows and phrases I didn’t quite hear, the tea is offered to the first guest. The guest takes the tea across the mat in their right hand and then apologises to their neighbour for going first. The bowl is raised and placed in the left hand, before being rotated 180 degrees clockwise.
  5. Drinking the tea and admiring the cha-wa-n. The tea is drunk in sips, with both hands, with minimal noise except for a final ‘slurp’ to finish. Cleaning the bowl is then done with your fingers, which are then wiped on your kai-shi. After this, the bowl is placed in front of you to admire. You should first place it to your left side and kneel to the right to get a good view of the right side. The same procedure is then repeated for the left side of the bowl.  Finally, left the bowl to admire it from below, taking note of the personal seal of the maker. Bow to your host.

As you can see, it’s quite involved! No wonder that people spend their whole lifetimes studying ta-do (the way of the tea). After the display, we had a feeble attempt at being served ourselves, and then making our own tea.

In our brief lesson I got an idea about the basics I listed above, but on further research it seems that there is much more to it than this, including proper etiquette for opening of sliding doors, walking technique, how to enter and exit the room, who to bow to and when….overall I really enjoyed learning about the tea ceremony, and think I’ll be picking up a set of basic equipment to study at home, or as souvenirs for friends/family. Don’t think I’ll ever look at builders’ tea the same way again!



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