My first Japanese tea ceremony

Last week, I was happy to participate at my first tea ceremony. I got to have a better idea of what it consists and understand how well it molds together with other Japanese traditions. I had matcha (fine powder green tea) before, but never sat through a tea ceremony.

During the approximately 2 hours “class”, I was simply mesmerised about the whole event. It’s an event!  It’s rigorous and complex, but oh so beautiful. Every move is done with grace, every sound has a meaning and everything has a timing.

One must know that it take about 25 years to become a licensed tea ceremony sensei. So, that in itself should tell you that one does not only have to learn a set of rules and principles, he has to perfect them. The job is not done there, as you practice performing the tea ceremony, the purpose is for you to become a better person. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.

So, what does it consist of? Please note that this is not a minute description of the tea ceremony. It’s a description of my own experience during the class, but should give you an idea of what’s all about.

1) For the participant it’s fairly easy. You sit down on the floor (tatami) and just watch, eat and drink what’s given to you.

First, you are served the sweets that go with the matcha. As the mtacha is bitter, the sweets will generally will be (very) sweet to balance it.

When the sweets are given to you, both of you will bow upon receiving them. You will be encouraged to say a few sentences, like sorry for eating first, thank you, etc.

Then, you get a beautiful bowl of matcha. Before you drink, you have to turn it twice. Generally, you’re supposed to finish your matcha with 2-3 sips. But it’s not compulsory. If your stomach cannot take it, then it’s no offense to leave it. For some foreigners it’s too bitter.

After you finish, you put the bowl in front of you and with the elbows on top of your upper thighs, you turn the bowl with your hands and admire the design before you give it back to the tea maker.

When you return it, you pick up the bowl and place it as far as your arm can reach. Then, you slide your body close to it. You may do this once or twice in order to reach the tea maker in order to return the bowl. Finally, you slide backwards to your place.

2) For the tea maker, it’s a different story. Every move, every object and sound have a purpose and carefully follow the rules.

Everything takes place very slowly and with calculated movements. I find it so fascinating that it looks so simple, yet it take one practising for years to master the tea ceremony.

I  urge you to go enjoy this exquisite part of Japanese tradition. It’s peaceful, engaging and relaxing, unless you’re counting sitting Japanese style. That will wear the untrained 🙂


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