Monday, May 12, 2014

Things to ponder on when attending a tea ceremony

Learning from other’s behavior
We have a saying “人の振り見て我が振り直せ” or “Look at how other people behave, and then take a good look at yourself.” I always have a lot of things to learn when I attend a tea ceremony. The other day, I saw a middle-aged lady in a ceremony. She looked sophisticated wearing a white shirt with the collar turned up. She sits and bows nicely. I could tell that she is experienced and knows the manners of tea. It’s hard to criticize her. However, I sensed a slight oddness in her presence. I realized that there is something wrong with her sitting posture. She sat with her back straight and chin down. That is good, but she was too conscious to sit straight. I could see she was trying so hard with her posture‏. So, she didn’t look natural. Sitting straight is a good thing but being natural is more important. Lately, I care about my posture, but I try not to overdo it.

I didn’t know that there is such a nice tea hut in my neighborhood park. 

Narrow-minded me
At a festival in my town, tea ceremonies were held. Anybody could join them and enjoy matcha and sweets casually. I saw an elderly couple with two young kids at one of the ceremonies. They went into the tea room offhand even though there were some other people waiting since before they came. The kids were restless and sprawled in the middle of the small room. They were kind of blocking others from getting in. Finally, they were seated and the man among the elderly couple took the main guest's position‏. The main guest has important roles and how the ceremony goes can depend on the skills of the main guest. I was looking forward to see and learn those skills, but the old man didn’t seem to know anything about tea ceremony. I was disappointed and unhappy with the kids and the one who assumed the main guest’s position. However, I realized how narrow-minded I was. This is a causal ceremony that anyone can attend. It’s not only for the experienced. This is how it is. I’m ashamed of myself that I had a negative perspective even just for a moment. I should enjoy the time with these people. As I started to think that way, the kids relishing the sweets looked adorable. How I can enjoy the ceremony totally depended on my state of mind. I reflected.

Peaceful moment
The host asked the couple if he should prepare the tea light for the kids. They said yes. I was pleased with the host’s consideration. Moreover, four bowls of tea were served for the couple and the kids. They seemed to pay the admission only for two, and they were thinking to share the tea. But, with the special arrangement of the host, they got one bowl for each. How nice! Everybody in the room felt happy at that moment. I want to emulate that kind of grace.

I love the flower arrangement at the ceremony.


  1. understanding our flaws is the first step of getting rid of them :-)

  2. Kohei, I live in Kyoto. What I see as the major obstacle for new generations to embrace their own native culture is this adherence to the rules. I understand why new generations feel that they must adhere to the rules. The education and the society in Japan is entirely focused on creating the appearance of following-the-rule. Dento-bunka needs new guides and helpers who will share arts with students and guests in a more free and playful spirit. Perhaps, exploratory and curious was the Japanese spirit prior to the beginning of warrior rule. This is the true tradition and the only path to survival. Otherwise, if young people hate their own culture (as most do here in Kyoto) many traditional arts will perish, be lost, or be horribly distorted.

    1. You must be right. Education might have a lot to do with embracing dento-bunka.
      I think that preserving tradition is very important, but at the same time, innovating the tradition is also important. Nowadays, many people don’t sit on tatami, wear kimono, nor use charcoals to boil water. They were normal practices in the past but not now. Those unfamiliar elements in Chanoyu (The Way of Tea) can be obstacle to young generation to get in. So we need a modern Chanoyu to fit our life style. Maybe, you can use an electric stove, table and chairs as far as you keep the essence of the tradition. The modern Chanoyu has to be fashionable, and it can become a good introduction for young generation to be interested in their own culture and tradition.
      Thank you for bring up the opportunity to think our problem in passing on Dento-bunka.

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