Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Japanese Tea Ceremony -- The Experience

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.]

36 comments:

LL Cool Joe said...

Ha, yeah I bet they couldn't wait for you to leave! Joking.

I don't drink tea, and I have to admit I may have been one of the peasants laughing. Not farting, I do try to behave.

Magaly Guerrero said...

How sad... that we, as a society, always have to do things a mile a minute. I wonder how much life we leave forgotten behind...

Well, I'm proud of you and your Rare One for trying to do the right thing. I'm sure someone there noticed, if not I noticed ;-D

mxtodis123 said...

I am not a tea drinker, but I think I would to participate in this ceremony. I love learning of the little rituals performed by other cultures.

How sad that your tour mates had to be so rude, but you and your Rare One showed respect. The others should have learned a lesson from you.

That little pink cake looks so good.
Mary

Kestrel said...

Ohayo Debra! I actually study Japanese tea ceremony out of Shofuso in Philadelphia. My school is Urasenke Philadelphia. http://www.phillytea.org/ Believe it or not, that sweet is part of traditional ceremony - depending on the time of year. Winter is the time for sweet bean paste filled treats. LOL, our teacher would remind us of that every time we tried to sneak a yokan or daifuku on the treat plate. In the summer we typically had some very lightly sweetened rice crackers.

It sounds like you had the simplest temae (I'm going to butcher the spelling, but I believe it's rokubon). Yes you are right they can be very formal! I hope to attend a formal New Years one in January (Hatsugama)But there are even less formal forms for picnics! I hope you get a chance to attend more. I certainly enjoy them - I've become something of a matcha addict!

Kestril Trueseeker said...

LOL...my apologies! I hadn't realized I used my non-blogging e-mail when I replied. But it gave me an excuse to share with you my blog post about my love for Japanese tea ceremony http://kestrilsrhythmsandgroove.blogspot.com/search/label/tea%20ceremony

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Hi Kestrel -- Thanks for clearing that up for me! I feel better now knowing the sweet was a real part of the actual ceremony!

Laurie said...

what a wonderful experience, embarrassing people sort of ruined it, not much respect they showed for such a time honored event, they should have stayed on the flipping bus! It must have been wonderful though, apart from the jerks,

Elsie said...

What a beautiful ceremony, Debra. I'm envious of your visit of there. My time in Europe was much the same when we were advised to remain quiet or not take photos. There was always someone who didn't respect the requests. Grrrr!!!!

Yvonne said...

Authentic tea ceremony....What a wonderful thing to experience. Why do people have to be so ugly when they travel? I hope it didn't spoil your time too much. That's why I'm afraid to travel with a group. There are so many ugly Americans and others too, laughing and carrying on at something they are blessed to see and do. Respect is something that people have forgotten I guess. I saw similar things when I traveled to sacred sited in Ireland. :(

Jeanne said...

Interesting. I knew nothing of the Japanese Tea Ceremony - other than it was supposed to be meditative in its process. And I'm sure a lot of customs are 'butchered' to fit to the tourists tastes. Makes for a more enjoyable experience that tourists will write home about....

(Good thing pre-boiled water was used, cause "a watched pot never boils!"

Suzanne said...

I am envious! What a wonderful experience

Birdie said...

The more I learn about Mindfulness the more I am attracted to it.The tea ceremony sounds lovely.

Leeanna said...

I would have berated the childish disrespectful behavior of the others in the party. I bet the Japanese were thinking it is the usual way we all act in the West.

Other than that, I was enlightened about the shorter Western version. If it was just for you and your Rare One, I know I would have loved to have been privy to the entire ceremony. It's a wonderful experience.

Cheryl said...

What a shame that part of your group was chatting away during what should of been a great opportunity to experience something from another culture. I always find it uncomfortable in any situation where there is a speaker and people don't give him/her their full attention.

I, too, have never gone to a tea ceremony and find your facts really interesting. I guess I always thought the tea was like the green tea you get in a Japanese restaurant. I don't know that I could gag down something that looks like it was scooped out of a stagnant pond. Yuck. I am better off to stay with English High teas. I am all about Early Gray and scones with clotted cream.

AlbertaMama said...

I learned a lot from your post today about the Japanise Tea Ceremony. I've always want to participate in one!

Vanessa Morgan said...

I love anything tea-related, so I really 'devoured' this post ;-)

Miss Val's Creations said...

What an experience! Unfortunately with tours we end up getting a tourist version of the good stuff. Luckily the ladies were ok with the group being obnoxious. They are probably used to it!

Adam said...

my fiancee's dad had a blessing ceremony that was an hour of chanting in Loas. It was BORING.

klahanie said...

I was slowly and mindfully consuming a cup of tea while reading this fascinating article. Okay, it wasn't tea, it was some Tim Hortons coffee :)

Gary

Magic Love Crow said...

What a beautiful experience Debra! I am so sorry that the people who were with you, acted like idiots! So sad! Why go to another country and act that way? Be respectful!

Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

What a wonderful experience. This is what I love about traveling...experiences these cultural joys.

I am embarrassed about the boorish yahoos and I wasn't even there! Bunch of morons...

mrsduncanmahogany said...

What a treat it would be to be part of a lovely ceremony like that. Shame on those people who made it bad for others....that's terrible!

Hindustanka said...

I have only heard and read about Japanese tea ceremony. I bet that they made it short for you on purpose. I am not sure I myself like meditative way of life, but attending the ceremony could be some real interesting experience.

SUZY8-TRACK said...

Sounds like an amazing experience! Such a shame that the people on your tour could not respect the ceremony.

Lon Anderson said...

Those photos are absolutely lovely, and I'd love to be there being able to participate, as well as having the opportunity in being able to sip on some of that tea!

Suzie Ridler said...

Oh to be at such an ancient ritual and to have people behaving like that?! I would have died or wanted to kill. Still, I am glad you had and your Rare One had a good experience and learned a lot. I have never done anything like this so I really loved hearing about it and seeing the process Debra.

Kay G. said...

How unfortunate that you were with a bunch of loudmouths!
If you go back and see one of my recent posts, there is a song by Chas & Dave, "Rabbit, Rabbit"...it's a good one!
We had a Japanese company here years ago, Maxell, and at the very first Cherry Blossom Festival that they sponsored, they had a tea ceremony, it was beautiful.

Jim said...

Speaking as a full-fledged Matcha addict, and one for a few years now, I really liked this post Debra despite the less than delightful experience you had.
I would love to attend one of the formal tea ceremonies.
I have learned that one uses water that has been almost brought to the boiling point for Matcha preparation. That way all the good (very high in anti-oxidants and minerals) stay intact. So besides the health value of this tea, the meditative value is primary. It helps one focus and pause at each step of this ceremony.
I have also read that this tea is to be slurped down in 2 to 3 gulps. Seriously....no messing around with sips. Maybe another 'Americanized' version.
Now to find me a 'tea ceremony'!!

sophie...^5 said...

Being a java addict I will try matcha occasionally when Jim prepares his morning ritual. I don't particularly find it bitter, maybe I'm just used to it. May I suggest NEVER drink Starbuck's excuse for matcha, unreal!!! I digress, anyway, thanks for this information and seeing your pictures makes me want a cuppa cuppa Matcha!!

Ron

Mary said...

What a wonderful, and educational post! :). Boorish is the perfect word for humans who behave in that rude manner. And i think our Western attention spans are much shorter.. (not a good thing in many cases,) than of those in Eastern cultures. We could learn from them. :D

JACKIESUE said...

probably ugly Americans..sigh*

Debra She Who Seeks said...

No, Jackiesue, they were Canadians one and all. We can behave badly too.

Riot Kitty said...

Yeah, that does sound like the Western version! Tourists are such schmucks sometimes.

Guillaume said...

I have been to a Chinese tea ceremony once, when my brother married a Chinese woman (or rather a woman of Chinese origins).

Vest said...

It was the Northern Summer of 1960 while serving on The frigate HMS Scarborough when we called into the ETA JIMA Naval Academy in Japan. Yes, I too have been through the tea ceremony, however, following up with a few Assai ? beers cleared the taste.

Vest said...

Arriving in Tokyo 15 years previous than earlier comment late August 1945, different story, definitely no welcome tea ceremony. simply pleased to have survived.