At our recent orientation for new JETs my landlady was kind enough to host a tea ceremony demonstration for us. She was assisted by her daughter and a friend. The tea ceremony is not just about drinking tea, but also for enjoying the atmosphere of your surroundings and the companionship with the other guests. She told us, “one reason that I enjoy the tea ceremony is that even though you speak English and I speak Japanese, we can enjoy communication without words: appreciating the season, enjoying the atmosphere, and listening to the peaceful sound of the water kettle.”
In a more formal tea ceremony, we would be served both a thick matcha tea (koicha) and a thin matcha tea (usucha), but in this introductory demonstration we had just the thin tea.
Everyone took their seats and we began with a sweet. The sweetness helps to mellow the bitter flavor of the tea. The sweets chosen also reflect the season. One type looked like colorful cubes of ice. This image was intended to help us feel refreshed from the hot and muggy weather. The other was a small, pressed sugar flower called usagi hana, or rabbit flower. August is the moon viewing season, and the Japanese see a rabbit in the moon (where Americans might say that there is a man in the moon), so the usagi hana reflects the season. The motifs on the tea bowls and tea canister are also seasonal, and there is a seasonal haiku inscribed on the tea scoop.
Next, we each enjoyed a bowl of tea. First, after accepting the tea, we would say to the person on our left, “excuse me for drinking before you.” Then we would thank our host for the tea. Before drinking, you lift the bowl with your right hand and rest it on your left hand. Then rotate it 180 degrees and drink the tea. When finished, rotate the bowl back and place it back on the tatami in front of you.
After we enjoyed the tea, some of the new ALTs also got a chance to ask questions and to mix their own tea with the bamboo whisk.
water kettle and bamboo ladle
copyright 2008 LMS