Friday, May 31, 2013

Are tea people taciturn?

This is the entrance towards my tea school (shown on the picture). What I found there was a trace that someone intentionally watered the pathway. Can you guess why? I think that my teacher sprinkled water over the path before the class started. I’m not the first student coming to the class so the path was not completely wet when I came. Anyway, the wet pathway is the sign for “I've been expecting you. Please come in.” The host sweeps and cleans the entrance before the guests come. Then, she sprinkles water. If you see the wet entrance, you can tell that the host is ready for the ceremony and you can get in. The sprinkled water is called “mukaemizu” which literally means welcome water.

In Sado (The Way of Tea), we highly value wordless actions and there are some rules for the non-verbal communication. The same rule similar to first given sample is keeping the door slightly open. It is the sign from the host that it’s ready and you can enter this way.

Tomeishi-stone or Sekimoriishi-stone also leads you to the correct trail in the tea garden. The stone is the sign for“do not go any farther than here”. If you see the stone, you have to go the other way. Without a map or instruction, you can still reach the destination where the host wants you to come. (Past entry about Tomeishi >>>

There is a rule also for the guests to tell the host their intention. When guests enjoy the kaiseki cuisine, the host is not in the same room; he/she is waiting in the next room. So, when the guests finish eating, they drop the chopsticks on the tray and make a sound all together. It is the sign for they are done. Then, the host comes into the room and clears away the dishes.

These rules can cut off idle words and make the ceremony smart and simple. I found it very interesting; tea people try to eliminate not only unnecessary objects from the tea room but also words.


  1. Replies
    1. There are a lot of greens so I love this place.

  2. Wow, does your teacher take care of the garden by herself or does she ask her students to help? I have to help my teacher take care of our tea house garden. I have to admit it is not my favorite job :P One thing that we have to do is clean bird poop off the stones every time. I never knew that was part of the job of a tea master! Haha.

    1. My teacher has never asked us to clean her garden. Wow, I didn’t know there is a tea school that asks their students to do the gardening as a part of training. What did you learn? Is there any certain way of taking care of the tea garden?

    2. Well, I didn't know anything about any kind of gardening before, so I think what I've learned so far isn't specific to tea gardens. I haven't done any pruning or planting yet, my teacher and some of her colleagues do that. My classmates and I rake, sweep, clean, and spray water on everything before tea starts. If it is getting dark, we light our stone lanterns and put additional candles in holders along the walkway. We sometimes have to adjust the water pipe to our shishedoshi and the water pipe running into our tsukubai, and change the filter in our koi pond (very slimy and messy!).

      We only help my teacher for less than an hour during tea class, once a week. But I know she and her colleagues spend one or two whole days during the week taking care of the garden. I hear that learning how to be a Japanese gardener is a lifetime of learning in itself!

      One thing that may be specific to tea is a story my teacher tells us about a monk in training, who was told to pick up fallen leaves from a garden. He spent all day picking up leaves, and finally thought he did a good job. The garden was completely clean of fallen leaves. When his superior looked at the garden, though, the superior took a leaf and put it back on the ground. Only then did he say it looked good.

      I guess this story is to teach us about tea aesthetics. We don't necessarily want it to look perfect; beauty in tea includes some imperfections, right?

    3. Wow, how serious it is! If you maintain the garden with the time and effort, it must look neat and beautiful. I don’t want to change the slimy filter in pond, either. Hahaha. I guess that your effort will all worth to become a great tea master!