On August 9th, Aja, Matthew, Malachi, and I all went to Kido-sensei’s house to experience a tea ceremony. I brought the yukata I had bought together with Kido-sensei and she helped me put it on. This was the first time I had worn the entire set and I think it looked very elegant. Kido-sensei complimented the color choices and told me to wear it when I’m 65 years old. If I can find the occasion, I certainly will.
One of my main thoughts on the ceremony was how detailed all of the steps were. The first thing we did was take seven steps, sit down, bow, and reflect on a scroll with calligraphy that roughly translates to “study forever.” I first thought the saying sounded funny but I think it is supposed to suggest that we must be constantly learning and growing. That is a message I think is more worth reflecting than what I originally thought.
At the point of the actual ceremony, we were given small treats with red bean paste inside them. I personally love red bean paste so I found this to be the most delicious part. Once it was time for Kido-sensei to start making tea, she explained the manners we must display. After being given the tea by the helper, the participant turns the bowl in two small counter clockwise motions. We sit in a line from oldest to youngest with the oldest given the tea first. Once it goes down the line, everyone must ask the person on their right if they’d like the tea. The person then (most likely) says no so they then apologize to the person on the left for going first. Then the participant thanks the maker of the tea and drinks the tea. They hand it back to the helper after turning it twice counter-clockwise and then the same process goes down the line of participants. It was essential to pay attention but we all eventually got the hang of it. The tea itself was very delicious. I have never had high quality or unsweetened matcha before. The taste was slightly bitter but I think it was the best tea I’ve ever tasted.
We did the tea drinking process once with Kido-sensei making the tea before we were given a chance to take turns making the tea. There are many specific steps to making the tea and one must execute it perfectly. The bowl must be warmed up with some water, then the container of matcha must be opened in such a way that displays the design on the lid, and then exactly two scoops of matcha must be added with one soft tap to knock off any extra from the spoon. A half scoop of water is added then the maker uses the whisk in a small back and forth motion that creates fine bubbles. They then turn the bowl twice clockwise and hand it off to be given to one of the participants.I was corrected many times on the process and movements by Kido-sensei but in the end I believe I was successful. Kido-sensei even gave me high compliments on the tea I had made for her.
In my eyes, the tea ceremony showed the ability of Japanese culture to be extremely detail oriented. There is a high emphasis on perfection and doing things in an elegant system. This was completely foreign to me as I have been raised with a more utility-focused mindset. I find it difficult to follow what feels like extremely specific instructions for the sake of the art form. I can deeply respect the artform and those who can execute it well. I think when it is done by seasoned participants, it must be very elegant and a reflection of the quality of the tea itself. It, in the end, is not just a tea tasting activity but a whole other way of respecting the tea and those who are hosting you.