I had never participated in a Tea Ceremony before but I had read about them and thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong.
After we were seated and had washed our hands on warm cloths, we were served a small, extremely sweet cake to eat before the Tea Ceremony began. I thought this was very odd. The Japanese are not big on sweets at the best of times, let alone at a traditional Tea Ceremony.
But I think this aspect of the ceremony was probably for the benefit of our western palates. As we learned, the tea which is always used in the Tea Ceremony is a powdered green tea called matcha and it is extremely bitter. The Japanese likely learned from experience that westerners would not or could not drink matcha without a preceding big dose of sugar to coat our mouths! [Nope, I'm wrong: see Kestril Trueseeker's remark in the Comments at the end of the blog!]
An older lady explained to us what a younger lady was doing as she went through the steps of the Tea Ceremony. Each action must be slowly and mindfully performed as a meditative act. But in another concession to our western restlessness, pre-boiled water was used so we didn't have to sit there waiting for it.
While we were on the bus driving to Uji, our tour guide had instructed us how to respectfully hold and turn the tea bowl in a traditional manner while sipping. It is not considered proper to drink from the same side as any decoration that is found on the bowl.
The tea is also supposed to be slowly and silently consumed as a mindful act of meditation. My Rare One and I did so with an attempt at the proper spirit, but I'm afraid everyone else in the tour group spent the entire time yakking, laughing and farting around like boorish yahoos. I was embarrassed for them and for us, but the Japanese ladies were seemingly placid and unperturbed by this disrespectful behaviour.
I have read that a traditional Japanese tea ceremony can last for hours. But we were in and out of there in half an hour, max. Another indication that we got the western tourist version, I suppose. Or maybe that's only how long the Japanese ladies could stand us, LOL!
[All photos by My Rare One, April 2012, except for Photo 2 which is from the internet.]