Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Japanese Tea Ceremony Experience

Japanese Tea Ceremony Master

One of the primary reasons for my desire to visit Japan was to be able to experience the Japanese Tea Ceremony. The fascination may have started from seeing the movie, The Karate Kid Part 2. You remember, right? They were in Okinawa, there was a big storm, and Kumiko performed the tea ceremony for Daniel-San to let him know that she was falling for him? :)

Yes, yes. I think we have already established a few blogposts ago that I am a nerd.

Well, I thought it was beautiful...  And I remember grabbing a few bowls in the kitchen to imitate Kumiko's graceful movements. After that, anytime I saw any reference to the Japanese Tea Ceremony on TV, I was glued.

Which is why I was so happy to find out that The Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo offered the Japanese Tea Ceremony experience to their guests, and I consider myself very lucky to have been able to participate in such a beautiful Japanese tradition!

The hotel has an authentic tea house located just inside their garden. The experience for a participant like me starts even before one enters the tea house. When I arrived, I was asked to wash my hands and mouth in a stone basin, or "Tsukubai" as a sign of spiritual readiness.

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There is also a special way of entering the tea house. You take your shoes off, and you sort of crawl in using your fists, starting with the leg farthest from the Alcove, which is the area where a hanging scroll is hung and flowers are displayed (most important part of the room).

The Kimono

Now, this next part is my favorite step... and it's not necessarily part of the traditional ceremony.
After all of us have crawled into the tea house, the ladies shut the windows and doors to give us some privacy... to be able to strip me down  ---- and dress me in a Kimono! :)

Wearing A Tabi for Japanese Tea Ceremony
Getting my Tabi on!
Upon my request, Hotel Chinzanso was able to rent a Kimono for me to wear to the ceremony for the ultimate Japanese experience! They asked me to arrive early because they said it takes about a half an hour to put one on. I thought they were exaggerating, but boy, they weren't kidding!

Wearing a Kimono
"Please bring honor to us all..."

Putting on a Kimono is an art form! I felt like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman... and the song "Bring Honor To Us All" from Mulan, was playing in my head.

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It felt like a ritual in itself, putting the clothes on. One layer after the other, I was slowly turning into one of those Geisha's I always thought were cool. Stomach in, chest flattened but out, a twirl here and a twist there, until finally...

Earth2Eartha in a Kimono

Voila! I have transformed!
It's weird... but because of the way the Kimono hugged my body, I felt more delicate somehow. :) I could barely move and hardly breathe, but I loved my outfit!

The Ceremony

After being dressed, the real ceremony could finally begin. As part of the tradition, our host served us a dish of sweets (Wagashi) before tea. It's supposed to balance out the tea's bitter taste.

Wagashi before Tea
Our hosts were amazing to watch. A lot of their movements were synchronized, from entering the room, to kneeling down, to presenting our dish -- it's almost like a dance.

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In fact, I think I can go as far as describing the entire ceremony as a spiritual dance of sorts. Every movement was graceful and precise, from the placement of the utensils to the way their wrists move while mixing the tea. It was just like in The Karate Kid, only SO MUCH better.

Preparing the Tea for Japanese Tea Ceremony

After watching them work, wearing a Kimono finally made sense to me. They weren't just clothes anymore, but an instrument... to help one uphold the grace that the tradition deserves. It's part of the aesthetics of the dance...

The Tea

This was the moment I've been waiting for. I finally get to be Kumiko!
As the Shoukyaku or the principal guest, I was served first. Our Teishu or tea ceremony host, placed a bowl of green tea in front of me, and then knelt down beside me to show me the proper way to drink it.

1. Place the bowl on top of the left hand, and raise it to chest level
2. Using the right hand, turn the bowl clockwise twice so that the front side of the bowl is facing left
3. Raise the bowl a little higher with a simultaneous nod to the host, accompanied by a word of gratitude for making the tea
4. Bottom's up!!!

Drinking Tea Properly at Japanese Tea Ceremony

I can honestly say without any bias, that it was the best green tea I've ever tasted in my whole life.

Fun Fact

Right before finishing the tea, it is customary to make a LOUD slurping sound as a compliment to the host, letting them know their tea was delicious! The louder the slurp, the bigger the compliment! :)

The Experience

I had the great pleasure of conversing with one of the tea hosts, Ms. Shiho Sakayori, to learn more about the ceremony. She said that the process is not just about drinking the tea, but more about the spirit of Japanese hospitality. Everything the hosts do, from picking out the flowers for the Chabana, to the heating of the water and the placement of the utensils, they do in consideration of their guests.
"In everything that I do (as a host), I am thinking of you," she said. And I really did feel the warmth and sincerity in her words and her actions.

My Teishu at Japanese Tea Ceremony

During the whole time I was there, from being dressed in and out of the kimono to slurping the last drops of the tea, my heart was filled with affection for my Teishu's, the Japanese, and just Japan in general. Ms. Sakayori was right... The Japanese tea ceremony was not about the tea (even if it really was the best I've ever tasted)... To me, it was an accumulation of the best of Japanese Culture. It's about beauty, grace, generosity, tradition, hospitality and love.

My Teishu for the Japanese Tea Ceremony
My Teishu's Shihoh Sakayori and Harue Kamiya

To the Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo and my Teishu's... Thank you so much for such a special opportunity. I will cherish every moment, and will remember this experience for the rest of my life.

Otemae chodai itashimasu!

If you are in Tokyo and are interested in participating in this wonderful experience, head over to Hotel Chinzanso. Details of the Japanese Tea Ceremony can be found HERE

Hi There! Have we met before? You look familiar! Those shoes look great on you, by the way! I’m Eartha and I recently decided to quit my job to travel the worrrrld! Join me in my adventures by checking back on my blog, and leaving me a comment or two!
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