It’s finally happened! I finally have the internet in my apartment! Is this really okay? I feel like I’m cheating or something. It’s just too easy…I mean…all I have to do is walk across the room and I can get my e-mail in a second. No bundling up in warm clothes, no frostbitten fingers.
Here I come, productivity!
Those of you who’ve been reading my site for awhile now will recall the two traditional arts courses I took last semester: Shamisen, a traditional three-stringed Japanese instrument, and Wagashi, Japanese Confectionaries.
You might also recall this post on June 23rd, describing an incredible trip into the mountains north of Kyoto during which I experienced my first ever tea ceremony. If you haven’t read that post, I highly recommend it. Even six months later it still remains one of my most memorable days in Japan.
I enjoyed that day’s ceremony so much that this semester I decided to enroll in an entire class on Tea Ceremony. I know it probably sounds silly to most westerners to be taking a class in something like this; after all, how much could there possibly be to serving tea? Well, let me tell you…
From Wikipedia (modified):
“Sado, the Japanese tea ceremony is a traditional ritual influenced by Zen Buddhism where matcha (green tea) is ceremonially prepared and served to a small group of guests, often with a light meal or sweets. Since a tea practitioner must be familiar not only with the production of tea, but with kimono, calligraphy, flower arranging, ceramics, incense and a wide range of other traditional arts, the study of tea ceremony takes many years and often lasts a lifetime. Even to participate as a guest in a formal tea ceremony requires knowledge of the prescribed gestures and phrases expected of guests, the proper way to take tea and sweets, and general deportment in the tea room.”
I’ve now attended four sado classes, and I have to tell you that I’m already overwhelmed by how much there is to remember. As I mentioned in June’s post, every single action, every motion, every phrase must be perfectly refined. But it isn’t just how you hold the bowl or pick up and replace the chopsticks, it goes as far as the position on the tatami where you must sit and how you must carefully place your feet with each step you take across the room. The depth of the bow, the direction your fan faces when it lies on the floor in front of you, even the way your hankerchief is folded inside your kimono all play a role in the tea ceremony. And all of that effort…is just to act as the guest.
The host’s role is significantly more complex, something that we either learned very little about, or I understood very little of during June’s ceremony. The host has not only to behave perfectly during the ceremony itself, but to prepare everything flawlessly before the guests arrive. A wall scroll must be carefully selected to convey a certain meaning, a pot of flowers arranged in a way to reflect the intended mood of the evening, sweets selected to reflect the season. The bowl he serves the sweets in must be not only carefully chosen, but placed in front of the guest in a way that will reveal only the appropriate side: in the fall, a bowl with both maple leaves and cherry blossoms would be presented such that the guest could not see the cherry blossoms, a springtime flower.
I can’t pretend to be able to comprehend the depth of the tea ceremony, but I can say that this class has put a whole new perspective on June’s experience. I’m sure that it has a lot to do with the fact that my Japanese has vastly improved since then; while Ota Sensei carefully explained each and every motion to us, I was only able to get a general understanding of what he was saying. Now that we’re hearing the same vocabulary week after week, I’m picking up on a lot more of the intricacies of the ceremony.
Incidentally, I mentioned once that traditional arts classes at Ritsumeikan are taught not on campus by regular university professors, but in the homes or personal studios of nation-renowned masters. This semester during one of our preparations I happened to notice the label on a box of sweets that was to be used in the ceremony. You’ll never guess who had personally prepared the assortment. That’s right, it was Ota Sensei.
Nothing less than the best for a famous tea master with whom most Japanese wouldn’t even be able to arrange a lesson.**