The first of December was a very special day for me, not only did it mark my third month in Japan but it was a day which left a lingering happiness in me which still glows now. Perhaps it’s my surprise at the eager festive atmosphere in Japan – a country which manages to adopt every holiday it seems. It could be the relief I feel after Mitsumi very kindly helped me set up Internet at my flat. It could even be the buzz of starting my solo teaching full time…. But.. No. On Sunday I attended a Tea Ceremony at Joshoji Temple in the north west of Kyoto, and I’m considering marking it as one of the very best experiences of my life.
Tea Ceremony is held once a month and hosted by different tea groups from around Kyoto. This particular Chakai (formal tea gathering) was being hosted by one of my students groups. I was extremely fortunate to have been invited to the event, it is not something which foreigners are invited to often and certainly not considered something for tourists – I will touch on this later on in my blogs… Autumn is a special month in Japan due to the Momiji (leaves) and the area around
Joshoji is one if the leaf viewing spots, so when I arrived I spent some time enjoying the colours. I then found the tea reception and ‘signed in’. I was offered a pen but Noriko mentioned I might like to use the special brush pen, ohhh yes I did! My name looks a bit clumsy next to the beautiful kanji…
We then nipped over to the tea room, I’m not going to mention all the times I take of my shoes or put them on because that happens such a lot here (I now constantly wear slip on boots). Noriko slid open the door for me and we were greeted by two lines of people on either side of the room seated in seiza position. This position means that you’re sitting on your feet, google it. Another one of my students mentioned that some people think Japanese people’s legs are shorter because they sit in this way, but then I don’t know what my excuse is. So we bowed on entry and sat, Noriko then presented me with a few things I’d need for the ceremony, these are below.
Everything, everything, everything is beautiful. Even the paper to clean your utensils! We were also fortunate to witness a male tea maker that day, apparently they are a lot rarer and there’s only one in that days group. We watched him make tea and then we were served matcha tea. Bow at bowl, pick up bowl, move to your neighbour, bow, pick up bowl, move to your other neighbour, bow, move to the middle, maybe bow again. So the ceremony itself involves a lot of bowing to the hosts and your neighbours and to your tea. I like the bowing culture – it feels safe, like smiling at people; you know you’re being polite and showing good manners, you know where you stand. We were also served a squishy sweet treat made of potato which was called ‘ chiri momiji ‘ which translates as fallen leaves. It was a brown ball with bits of bright orange and yellow on top, delicious. Once the tea was finished we had the chance to inspect all the bowls it was served in, every bowl was unique and valuable. Once the ceremony had finished we could also view all the tea making equipment. Trying to stand up with dignity after sitting seiza for even a short period of time was a struggle, my feet were completely dead. Noriko very kindly advised that I didn’t have to sit seiza for the entire ceremony.
Noriko has been studying Tea Ceremony for 8 years, it’s a lot more complex than I thought it would be, but each step has a logical purpose. As a participant I felt very calm and my mind was completely in the room and on the moment. I enjoyed the matcha and the sweet was extra special. The generosity of the friends I’ve made here is astounding and I feel very lucky. I want to send out a huge thanks to Noriko. Just the night before I had been enjoying a thanksgiving meal too, the food and drink and company was fantastic, it didn’t matter that only one of us was American, we were doing thanksgiving as properly as we could! Our hosts were both generous and very entertaining, so thanks guys. Oh and thank you To my sister for my Christmas tree and to Rebecca Lowing for my first Christmas card!!!
Oh yeah, David Lynch, I’ve been on a viewing spree and I’m blaming him personally for the lack of Japanese study I’ve done in the last couple of days. I’ve also started watching some Tarantino but I’m not his biggest fan really, though Death Proof was a good recommendation.
On with my Christmas shopping..
Happy December folks, love you.