Arriving at the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, I remove my shoes and follow the kimono-donned host into a room bound by paper walls. I take my spot to kneel, and genuflect when the tea master enters the room. There’s a serene quiet in the air, it weighs down on me and forces my mind to settle.
We’re presented with a sweet to start the ceremony, a small rice cake filled with sweet bean paste and topped with a pickled cherry blossom. Yum!
Then the tea master begins his process, and in this ceremony there is meaning behind every movement, either practical or symbolic meaning. We sit in quiet as we watch and listen to his movements. The kettle hangs from the ceiling and swings every so slightly as the tea master dips the ladle in to scoop some water. He pours it into a bowl and swirls it around to warm the bowl, then pours it out.
Reaching into the small pot of matcha powder with a tiny spoon, he takes a small scoop of the green powder and puts it into the now-warm bowl. The matcha powder is green tea leaves that have been ground into a fine powder. The use of matcha powder instead of leaf tea is more difficult, but it is the traditional way to prepare tea at the tea ceremony.
After pouring hot water onto the powder, he whisks it into a frenzy until there is a layer of foam on top. The bowl is presented to me to drink and I bow to the host when she places it in front of me. I bow to my neighbors on each side, as if to say “Do you mind if I drink it?” and they bow back to say “Please go ahead.” I bow to the tea master, lift the bowl in my left palm to my lips and sip the warm earthy tea. I can feel it traveling through my body, spreading warmth and peace.
We are served one at a time and must drink the tea immediately and continuously. Otherwise the powder may settle and ruin the tea. During this time when we all have our tea in hand, we should not talk or mingle, but rather focus on drinking the tea and share moments in peace with our fellow guests. I focus my mind on the four principles of the tea ceremony: harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility.
After the tea has been served to all the guests and we’ve finished our drinks, the ceremony ends. We’re given the chance to ask questions to the host and tea master, which bookends the informational introduction at the beginning. In this way, we learn about the Japanese tea ceremony and it’s place in the culture and history of Japan.
We’re given a chance at the end to try making tea in the traditional way, and really, the tea master makes this look easy! There are so many steps to take, so many rules regarding your posture and movements. But the process is relaxing. I focus my thoughts and energies on each movement and step, fully engaging with the task at hand. It’s a meditative practice, and the four principles resonate with me.
I leave with a peace of mind and sense of balance that I did not expect to find at a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. It’s clear to me now why this ceremony continues to have a place in Japanese culture today. Like much of their culture, the tea ceremony is both beautiful and functional, a perfect example of what you can find here in Tokyo and in all of Japan. When you do come to Japan, be sure to experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. You can book the same one as me with JTB Sunrise Tours.
Thank you, JTB Sunrise Tours & JAPANiCAN.com for showing me the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. All opinions expressed here are my own.
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