Today I had the pleasure of attending a traditional Japanese tea ceremony at the invitation of the Vancouver Japanese Consulate. The ceremony took place in the Tea Gallery at the UBC Asian Centre, and was performed by Ms. Maiko Behr (tea ceremony instructor) in the Omotesenke traditional way of tea. Mr. Okada (Consul General of Japan in Vancouver) and his wife participated in the ceremony with us. While the tea was being prepared and served, Ms. Behr explained the history and process of the ceremony.
Japanese tea ceremony (also called chanoyu, or “the way of tea”) is more than just the act of consuming tea, it’s a cultural activity that involves careful preparation and presentation of the tea.
The ceremony actually begins upon arrival. The guest always enters the tea room first, and from a different entrance than the host. When the guest enters they face the scroll hung on the wall, bow to it, and spend a few moments reading the words and admiring the flowers placed by the scroll. The scroll displayed today is a zen phrase which says “Hana Wo Rosureba Kaori Koromo Ni Mitsu“. It literally translates to “That the caress of flowers steeped my clothes with sweet smell” but can be interpreted as a way of exemplifying the unification of nature and a self. The flowers displayed were camellia from the Japanese garden outside the Tea House.
There is always food served before the tea. The type of food depends on the school, and the length and type of the ceremony. Typically shorter tea ceremonies are served with wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets.) These sweets are served to balance and compliment the bitterness in the tea. Today we were served yatsuhashi – a traditional Japanese wagashi made of glutinous rice flour filled with sweet red bean paste. I love yatsuhashi and ate a lot of it when I was in Kyoto. It was such a treat to have some today. When wagashi is served in tea ceremony it’s presented with a kuromoji (wooden sweet pick) utensil, which is what you use to eat it with.
The tea used in the ceremony is powdered matcha, and there is a very specific way it’s prepared involving heating the water, rinsing the cup, mixing and whisking the tea, and presenting the tea to the guest.
When you receive your cup of tea the “best” side of the cup is presented to you. Before you take a sip it’s tradition to turn the cup clockwise two turns until the “best side” is facing towards your host.
It was a real treat to participate in this ceremony today. Thank you Mr. Okada and the Vancouver Japanese Consulate Office for having me as your guest.