Tea Ceremony Warning!

I was invited to a Japanese Tea ceremony today by my friend Miu.  She had told me a while ago that she was performing in it and then checked to see if I could come when I showed some interest.  So a couple days ago she rang me and said anyone could come and told me to show up Sunday at 10am at Culport in the city. Well, I did.  I found that I was drastically unprepared for said ceremony when I was sitting in the first waiting room and they bring out some cold tea and sembei for us while we were waiting.  Everyone produced these little packets of white paper, from thin air it seemed.  My first and only thought was, “I don’t have any of those.”  They used them to set the sembei on before eating, to catch the crumbs and such.  At this point I realized I was missing some sort of tutorial, introduction, or equipment pack or something.  So when the folks sitting next to me told me to dig in, I said… “Ano kami no yatsu wa? [Those … paper things?]” and I received a stack of them from said neighbor.

Step 1, Get little paper things.  (Apparently they’re called Kaishi 懐紙)

Then we were shuffled into the second waiting room, where I was inexplicably reserved a space at the front.  That was a little embarassing at first as I hate being singled out for being a foreigner.  Until I was later very grateful and I learned that it was not because I was a foreigner but because I was so clearly and noticably unprepared.  Why?

Step 2, Wear a suit. (Or a kimono if you have one).

The men in suits weren’t just businessmen on a lunchbreak, they were wearing the suits for the purpose of the tea ceremony… Who knew?  I was wearing my brown FASA t-shirt with a sick Jose Rizal quotation on it and some fairly short khaki shorts.  I was obviously not prepared, and they singled me out to help me.  Turns out, I got special attention, the head sensei lady came and taught me one-on-one how the basics of tea ceremony go.  When we went into the actual ceremony room she showed me how to respect the decorative kanji wall hanging, flower, and little ornament and showed me to my apparently honored sitting place beside her and one other respectable sensei lady.  They said I got to be a shokyaku (正客), which apparently means guest of honor.

Step 3, If you’re not wearing a suit, don’t have little paper thingies, act clueless and then you might get to be the guest of honor like me!

Anyway, I was also missing a little fold out fan called a sensu 扇子, which as I was explained was absolutely not to be used for fanning oneself or anything else.  It is left folded up and placed in front of oneself at the beginning and ending formalities to create a formal barrier between the guests and the hosts when you bow.  I was not given one, so I just bowed.

Step 4, get a sensu, folding fan, that is made especially for the purpose of Tea Ceremony.

The actual ceremony was much less formal than I expected with the obachans (grannies) around me chatting it up about the drinking implements and tools of the ceremony.  This actually turns out to be part of the motions, something which I didn’t realize until halfway through.  You have to pass around the different chawans 茶碗 that you drink from so that everyone can admire and appreciate the fine teawares being used.  I sort of got the hang of this.

Step 5, when you’re done drinking from your cool unique tea cup, pick it up, turn it around in your hand and admire its beautiful details.  Look for the maker’s mark and say something nice about it to your neighbor, like “kore wa hontouni sugoi desune! [This is really amazing isn’t it?]” Then set it down gently in front of the next person so they can do the same.

Then I went to a 2nd ceremony as well, thanks to a nice old lady who let me trade tickets so I could get in and out sooner (I needed to get home to start working on video editing).  All in all it was a very educational and interesting experience that only caused minor embarrassment and pain in my legs.

Step 6, last of all, learn to sit in seiza 正座 for an extended period of time.  I folded my legs over to the side two or three times since I couldn’t hold it the pain/discomfort became unbearable.  Just make sure you regain posture for actual drinking of the tea.

So, follow these few steps and enjoy Sadou (茶道)! The way of tea.

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Filed under Japan, musing, news, travel

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