Tea Ceremony

The last official cultural program we got to take part in was a tea ceremony.  ICU has an area of the campus specifically designated to tea ceremonies, with two small, traditional buildings.  Unfortunately, one of the two was deemed unsafe for entry after the earthquake, but I am very glad I was able to see the other one, because it was so peaceful.  The entire ceremony was very long, and because the structure is so incredibly refined and important, it was too much to film all of.  One girl made the tea for three other girls, in exactly the same way each time, down to every last finger placement and hand angle.  And each girl received her tea and drank it in the exact same way.  The cleanup was then done, in just as specific movements as the rest.  I didn’t understand if there was specific meaning behind most of it, but I do know that before using a bowl of tea, it is turned in the hand twice, no matter what.  Also, every bit of equipment used must be thoroughly inspected after each use to make sure it is still perfect.  You can see these things in the videos at the end of this post.

After the ceremony was complete, we were able to look more closely at the simple, but still very traditional and specific setup of the room.  Everything from the water heater to the cups and whisk used have to be specific ones for the ceremony, and the hanging scroll and flower arrangement (ikebana: an art form in itself) are necessities to the ceremony and require detailed setup.  What seems to be simple really isn’t at all.  We were even instructed about what specifically we could and couldn’t wear, and obviously shoes inside were forbidden.

Then we all sat down and were given a bowl of tea each (it was strong but frothy, most likely because of the way it is whisked), as well as a sugary cake filled with bean paste.  It was much sweeter than I had expected, to the point that I could barely finish my one small serving.

It was really exciting to be able to see this ceremony performed because a Japanese friend of mine, Kana, performed one for my family and me after we hosted her back in my last year of high school.  Ours was much less formulated because we were unable to communicate well and we obviously didn’t have a readily available room in a lush setting with tatami mats.  But, she had brought with her all of the necessary dishes and tea powder.  She creates ikebana for tea ceremonies in a club at her school, so she knows a lot about the whole process.  Now that I’ve seen and understood even more how much effort goes into all of it, I appreciate even more that she was willing to perform even a casual version of it for my family and me.