Long time no blog post! I was hoping to have this one out before I left on my home leave back to the States, but you know time got away from me…again!
Most of you probably know that I had taken on the challenge of learning traditional Japanese tea ceremony shortly after my arrival in Japan. Well in June all my hard work paid off and I was able to perform at a local Japanese Garden. This friends was exciting and scary all at the same time. I for one have never been great at performing in front of an audience and well lets just say the Japanese when they do something they always do it right.
This is something that I’ve learned on my journey here in Japan, a big difference between the American culture and Japanese. American’s will do the best they can, but if it’s not perfect at least we tried, whereas the Japanese will not even bother if it’s not perfect or they can do better. With that being said I still gave it my all and performed over the course of a weekend at Shirotori Garden for their Ajisai (hydrangea) Tea Ceremony.
When I arrived in Japan I was lucky enough to be introduced to my sensei, Noriko-san. She and her husband, Daiichiro-san, spend a lot of their time teaching expats all about Japanese culture. With her I’ve learned everything from Japanese calligraphy, to hand sewing my own yukata, tea ceremony, and other various Japanese traditions. She literally has been one of the best things to happen to me and many others in Japan and I’m grateful that I will have these memories to cherish.
So onto traditional Japanese tea ceremony! For one, Japanese people who practice tea practice for a lifetime. It takes years to become a tea master and opportunities to perform in public is a big deal. The Japanese take their matcha very seriously and to serve it in a traditional way is almost like a dance in itself. The form of tea ceremony that my sensei teaches is called Urasenke and is one of the three major schools of tea in Japan. The three schools are directly descended from a 16th century tea master named Sen no Rikyu.
Typically a tea ceremony is performed in a Japanese tea room with the traditional tatami style floor. This is the style I learned to perform tea while at my sensei’s house, however, during the Ajisai performance we were able to sit in a chair. Thank god! Because let’s be honest, us gaijin cannot sit on bended knees for an hour! The struggle is real people, the struggle is real.
The art of making tea is absolutely beautiful and the men and women who master it make it look graceful, elegant, and almost easy…except it’s not! Let me tell you after a year of practice I was a bowl of nerves. Despite this I conquered a fear and accomplished something rare.
A typical tea ceremony begins with the host cleansing and preparing the utensils used to make tea. This includes, tea bowl, tea scoop (chashaku), and tea whisk (chasen). The tea bowl is first warmed with water and then thoroughly cleaned with a hemp cloth (chakin) , before a scoop and half of matcha powder is added to the bowl. From there, hot water is added and whisked until the tea make a beautiful foam with very small bubbles and even a small mound of tea foam. The idea is make the tea look beautiful before it’s served and many people will take notice to how your tea looks. Traditional Japanese tea is always served with a sweet called, Wagashi, this is cut the bitterness of the tea and is always eaten first.
When making tea the idea is for the host to be graceful with movements and when watching a seasoned tea master it truly is beautiful to see it done. Something that I recommend to any one visiting Japan is to attend a traditional tea performance. It’s truly something beautiful and unique to this country.
The performance where I was able to show off my new skills is something that my sensei puts on every year. It’s meant for non-japanese people to show off their skills of what they’ve learned in Japanese culture. Many of my crafts and accomplishments were shown off, along with my fellow tea classmates. We each gave a speech after our performances and discussed what drew us to Japanese culture.
Side note: last summer I participated in an event at Nagoya Castle to do stone rubbing, which is to use ink and copy the stone markings from samurai’s onto parchment paper. I was lucky enough to be able to turn mine into a scroll and add some calligraphy to it. Below is a picture with my calligraphy that says “ichi-go, ichi-e” which roughly translates to “every moment, once in a lifetime”. Not to get all mushy-gushy here but I chose that because that’s how I truly feel about my time in Japan. It’s a once in a lifetime experience and every challenge and every thing I’ve learned over the past year has been truly been a gift.
Here are some final photos of the weekend! I even coerced John into participating and serving tea. He was a bit skeptical at first, but I think that he overall enjoyed the experience. We really have been so lucky to learn and live in Japan.
Also, the yukata (summer kimono) I’m wearing I hand-made it! It only took me 13 months, but yup that was all me!
Look out for a post soon on my adventures back in the States. Spoiler alert: reverse culture shock is real!
Until next time! Ja Mata じゃまた！