Sado, way of the tea

Third post is a charm? After being a complete rookie and out of place in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony 2 times I can now proudly say that the secrets are beginning to unravel!
I have now studied the “Japanese Traditional Arts” aka tea ceremony for a few weeks, and let me tell you: it’s not as easy and simple as one could expect. Midterm is coming up next week, and there is still a lot to memorize! There is a certain manner when entering the room, certain amount of steps to take to the tokonoma (alcove) to view the scroll and the flower, specific number of bows at certain points, and so much more. One does not simply grab and munch the okashi (sweet) and wash it down with matcha – there are semiformal and formal positions, bows and phrases that need to be remembered. It is a must to apologize to the next guest for eating and drinking before them, and of course the previous guest has to know that you will join them with your treats. And of course one has to be thankful for the tea and the treats, express thanks and admire the cup from many different angles. No chit-chatting involved.

Tokonoma and eager students waiting for tea
Tokonoma and eager students waiting for tea

Wa kei sei jaku – harmony, respect, purity and tranquility are the key terms. Respectful I am, but tranquility is far when trying to remember to wipe the empty cup from right to left, and leaning on your knees to view the inside of the cup. Our group is quite big, and the atmosphere is more like in kindergarten than in a hut of peace (which is the name of the space where the classes are held). Besides the atmosphere and the challenge of memorizing everything, the ceremony is extremely interesting! And each time we get to eat an okashi, traditional Japanese sweet treat (that’s why we paid for the course). There are unbelievably many creations one can make from bean paste and rice! I think it might deserve a blog post of its’ own.

Ichigo ichie – One opportunity, one encounter. I hope that’s not the case when it comes to the test!

Matcha, ready to be served and the cups to be observed
Matcha, ready to be served and the cups to be observed

Another tea ceremony

There are so many ways to drink tea.

Tea set, some of the tea selection and mikan fruit

More chilled atmosphere than the previous time, this tea sampling was followed by a delicious Vietnamese-Korean dinner (pictures of which I accidentally deleted). No rules, no cup turning, and no bowing included. Just friends, chilling and talking.

Master at work

If you buy tea that’s worth 200yen for 52grams and import water recommended for tea, I guess you are a tea master?

Special water for special drinks

Drinking tea does not have to be in perfectly harmonized environment, it can also be harmonized with the atmosphere.

Drinking from small cups allows room for more tea varieties

We sampled some 7 different teas, including Chinese green tea, Japanese sencha, Chinese black unflavored, and white tea (my favorite).

Delicious Vietnamese ice coffee was also sipped and sniffed (ahh, the aroma!)

Tea ceremony

Next quarter I will have a course called the Japanese Traditional Arts, but impatient as I am, I already went to see (and participate in) the Tea Ceremony circle’s practice.

Tea master and his pots

The circle gathers twice a week to practice the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Some of the members have been practicing for several years, and they still have a lot to learn and remember!

Matcha in the making

I tried to follow the ceremony rules as best as I could, though with the language barrier it was a bit challenging. I tried the okashi as well as the powdered matcha green tea, which was foamy and definitely not like your regular cup of lipton (not that I ordinarily would ever drink Lipton, but matcha was something quite unique).

Apricot cream daifuku, and some thingys whose purpose remain unclear to me

The okashi (traditional sweets served before eating) was delicious sweet mochi. I have to admit, it was a bit of a challenge to get the mochi to my napkin with the chopsticks, since all the club members were staring and making notions of my left-handed work.

26 bows and counting

The tea ceremony had 2 tea drinkers besides me, then one person making the tea, another talking (apparently something about the tea and okashi), and third person was serving the okashi and tea. There was numerous bowing and cup turning – in my turn, I was supposed to bow to each and ask both my sempai (seniors) if they wanted to have my tea, and then ask the tea maker as well. Unfortunately I forgot the phrases as soon as I uttered them out.

Sensei in her beautiful kimono

I truly wish I spoke Japanese and would be able to understand the meanings of the ceremony – after few months the secrets will hopefully start revealing. Until then, I will drink my tea without any fuss of turning the cup around and bowing 14 times before drinking. Maybe next time I will understand what is happening and why – maybe one day I will get to foam my own tea as well.

Tea-making gear