Monday, April 20, 2015

Steeped In History: Hey, what’s going on in there?

My last post provided an overview on what a Japanese Tea Ceremony is and a bit of its history. Now, let’s see what goes on behind the doors! 

Before the actual tea ceremony begins, arriving guests may stay in a waiting room called a machiai. Here, they may change into one of the obi robes provided to them and they may leave behind anything not required. The guests will begin their journey towards tea house by walking across the roji, clearing their minds of all negative thoughts and energies. They will move to a nearby stone basin called a tsukubai, where they will wash their hands and mouths in preparation for the tea ceremony. 

Sitty pretty!

After cleansing, the attendees will head to the tea house, removing their shoes prior to entrance. The host will greet each guest with a bow as they make their way by crouching through a door so small it practically forces them to bow. In the tea room, the guests seat themselves on the tatami floor mats usually in order of importance. The host will then appear and address the group, answering any questions they may have about their surroundings and items such as the scrolls, artwork, and chadōgu, making them feel at ease.

Sweet treats!

At a chaji, the guests are first served the main courses of their cha-kaiseki meal along with sake and wagashi. After consumption, a short break takes places where the guests will head off to a waiting area or take a stroll through the gardens, allowing the host to tidy up, make any decorative changes, and set-up the tea tools for the ceremony. The guests will re-enter the tea house at the sound of a gong. 

It's tea time!

The chanoyu begins with the host cleaning the chawan, chashaku, and chasen. Then, a bowl of Matcha is prepared to the correct consistency in order to achieve koicha. This single bowl is presented to one of the guests as they both exchange bows. The guest takes a moment to admire the bowl, then rotates it just before taking a drink. The guest will then wipe the rim of the bowl with a chakin before passing it to the next person who repeats the process. After everyone has had their turn, the bowl is returned to the host for proper cleaning. 

Time to shake things up!

The gathering becomes more laidback after the host momentarily excuses herself to retrieve some goodies. Guests are offered cushions for comfort and tabako-bon, which are smoking sets. Dry confections called higashi are also supplied. These delights will accompany the bowls of usucha the host will prepare next to be served individually to each guest. Lively chit chat, song and dance, and even drinking games may occur during this time of relaxation. The guests even have the opportunity to inspect the tea utensils used, handling them very carefully, and asking any further questions about them. After all the utensils are collected, the host will end the ceremony by exchanging bows with each guest as they make their way to exit the tea house. 

I’ve participated as a guest in a simplified version of a chakai. It was held on a patio of a local tea café so I did not get the full effect even for a chakai. Still, it’s quite something and you really feel yourself getting drawn in. I’d love to attend a chaji! 

Do read Memories of a Geisha. It is a beautiful book written about the life a geisha and will give you some insight on the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the role it played in Japanese aristocracy. Also, make sure to check out the many books written about this serious ceremony that go into far greater detail and of the many practices required to achieve the correct way of tea.



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