Sometimes all you need is a good cup of tea…
After a year of living here in Japan, I finally had the pleasure to attend a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony. To be specific I attended a Sansai-ryu Tea Ceremony given by the beautiful Umemura Naoko Sensei (Professor).
To my surprise my experience was much different than I originally imagined a tea ceremony would be like. I imagined being at a tea ceremony meant sitting on the ground, eating sweets, and of course drinking tea…I found that the tea ceremony was more than just that ordinary sequence of events. The experience involves not only tea, but also a special connection with the earth, the seasons, and the nature surrounding us.
Each season provides a different meaning and expression. The floral decoration in the room of the tea ceremony was simplistic, and expresses the bond humans have with nature, it isn’t something that can be arranged, like in a flower shop. There was also a single piece of art hanging on the wall, it looked like a scroll, Naoko’s father had written on it. This piece also changes according to the season. This tea ceremony became a special experience. My mind and body felt at peace while I enjoyed the knowledge and experience Naoko expressed.
I felt an artistic vibe throughout the ceremony. The way each step in the process was beautifully presented in a specific way related to me.
Since I was young I have been involved in dance. I find that dance is a calming way to express emotions. The tea ceremony was like a beautifully choreographed dance. There is a specific sequence of steps you take in the tea ceremony. The folding of the “ fukusa” was particularly difficult for a first timer like me. You must use your left and right hands at specific times to pick up your sweets, or tea.
These actions are each taken with such care it makes you feel calm, and this is why the ceremony can be viewed as a beautiful routine. I first ate the omogashi (Japanese sweets) and then drank the usucha (maccha green tea). Not only was the entire experience delicious, I also left feeling tranquil.
The connection between the tea and the Zen practice has a special effect on a person, one you must experience to understand.
My adventure with Sensei Naoko will continue in my column next month! Stay tuned!
A little cup of tea education:
The Sansai-ryu tea ceremony was created for the warrior class by Lord Hosokawa Tadaoki, who was one of the seven disciples of SEN Rikyu. Rikyu gained an insight into the expression cha-zen-ichimi, which means tea ceremony and Zen share the same concept. The preparation and drinking of tea is an expression of the Zen belief that every act of daily life has the potential to lead to enlightenment.