Thursday, December 15, 2011

茶の湯 (The Way of Tea)

I have utmost respect for Japanese culture. The way that nature, poetry and tea are infused into their way of life is beautiful. A different kind of powerful. I see a calmness in the Japanese culture. Patience. Respect. Harmony. Purity. Those values that we aren't so quick to value here.

Last Saturday I had my first Japanese tea ceremony lesson (per challenge #17) at the Urasenke Chanoyu Center on the Upper East Side of Manhattan:

I wish I could have taken a picture of the interior garden. It was spectacular. Silent. I was instantly mesmerized.  

My teacher, Greg*, was friendly, well-spoken, patient, and able to cover a lot of material in two hours. The amount of information I retained can only be attributed to his great instruction.

The first thing I learned was that every. single. thing. in a traditional tea ceremony has a purpose or meaning or a particular structure. The way you remove your shoes. The way you open the door to the tea room. They way you enter the tea room. The way you place the tea bowl in front of the guest. The way you fold the Kaishi (a Japanese style mini napkin; see picture below). Even the foot you use to take a step has to be a particular foot depending on the direction you are headed. And no, this is not how they drink tea every time they drink tea. These ceremonies take place on special occasions, such as when someone is returning home, or leaving, or for a graduation, etc.

The tea rooms are impeccable, the tatami mats soft underneath your feet. I felt myself slow down and my senses heighten.

People who want to master the Way of Tea -- chanoyu (茶の湯) or chadō (茶道) in Japanese -- study for decades, if not an entire lifetime. What I learned in two hours was merely the tip of the tip of the iceberg. But still, I feel like I learned a lot. Will I be performing my own tea ceremony anytime soon? I would hate to disrespect the Japanese by hosting what would probably be the most deplorable tea ceremony in history, but I am hoping that by the end of my 29th year I will know enough to give it a beginner's go. What makes things more difficult is that even the guests must have a knowledge of how to attend a ceremony, so part of my challenge will be teaching a few of my friends the steps. And of course I must obtain the proper equipment. This challenge includes shopping? I'm in.

I'll also need to obtain a (cough) guide book (cough).

For more on this topic: 

*Name not changed to protect privacy. What? We're you expected a teacher of the Japanese way of tea to be Japanese? Settle down.

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