Today we have a special guest post from Tyas Huybrechts, Japanese Tea Trainer at The Tea Crane.
While visiting Kyoto, you wouldn’t want to miss out on at least one of those cultural experiences now widely available here – activities such as taking first steps in any of Tea-ceremony, flower-arrangement, calligraphy, classical dance and Japanese cookery.
Each traditional Japanese art has come down to us imbued with the pre-modern philosophy and values upon which its founder and his successors drew. When people undertake to render so venerable an art more accessible to those with hardly any knowledge of the culture relevant, one unfortunately-prevalent tendency is irresponsibly to dumb down what is taught. This, however, falsifies the impression with which the learner is left, and withholds from her matters she might otherwise have found sympathetic, revelatory … and even inspiring.
Take, for example, Tea-ceremony. Upon attending a run-of-the-mill Tea-ceremony “experience,” you will be offered a perfunctory demonstration of a very basic service of thin tea (a lower grade of matcha – characterized, once prepared, by its surface of bright green froth), and then be provided with what you need to prepare a bowlful yourself – and for yourself.
Central to the Way of Tea is interaction between guest and host; and yet nothing of that can be gathered, either from a mere demonstration, or from serving only yourself.
Again, what is considered true tea is thick tea, which utilizes matcha of a higher grade, employed in a higher concentration. (Thin tea, on the other hand, is properly served at the very end of a full tea-gathering, as no more than an informal refreshment rounding off the climactic service of thick tea.)
Moreover, ‘Tea-ceremony’ – this term a most-regrettable mistranslation – is neither ceremony nor performance. Rather, a Tea-occasion is best understood as a social event for the success of which its guests have as much responsibility as does its host. Consequently, no “Tea-experience” can live up to that name as long as those attending remain uninvolved in active participation. Only once so engaged can they at least glimpse such a gathering’s true functioning.
If – in order to render it accessible to a wider range of persons – the forms characteristic of a pursuit are abbreviated, or its representation is distorted, what is actually offered will fail even to approximate that to which such treatment purports to afford access. In providing uninitiated persons with an authentic representation of an art, what should be adjusted to those persons’ likely needs is not that art itself but, instead, the means by which it is presented.
With these convictions firmly in mind, we at The Tea Crane have evolved an innovative and yet authentic workshop, designed for persons visiting Kyoto, and as yet remaining uninitiated with regard to the rite of Tea. What this offers is a full encounter with the core to the art of Tea, along with support for participants in functioning as an integral and therefore indispensable part of a genuine (and enjoyable) Tea-occasion.
Of the guidelines we observe, these following may be those most innovative:
・The workshop’s participants are presented with a shared bowlful of real tea – thick tea – expertly blended according to a ritual unique to employment of the grand Tea-sideboard (daisu). (Use of this austere daisu is probably the very earliest, and still the most august and solemn, form of service of tea in the presence of guests (rather than elsewhere); and we have selected this service in order to aid our participants in traveling with us – back to that epoch during which the rite of Tea first arose.)
・From the start of each workshop-session its participants, rather than being left merely to look on, are requested to take active part in the rite, and are duly guided regarding so doing. Such guidance enables each participant to exchange respectful salutations with her host and fellow-guests, with the latter share and appreciate a bowlful of real tea, and gain at least an initial understanding of the principles, values and aims embodied in all conduct desirable in the Tea-chamber.
・The rite of Tea must surely be the most syncretic of all Japanese arts – combining as it does calligraphy, flower-arrangement, ceramics, lacquer-work and very much more. Since a competent Tea-practitioner should be well-versed in all of these, we help participants to acquire an initial understanding of what to look for in the utensils employed – these being each hand-crafted, valuable, and worthy of detailed attention – and handled by every participant in turn.
In brief, our aim is gently to initiate participants, during just ninety minutes, into the decorum expected of, and pleasures offered to, any well-mannered guest. In so doing, our dearest wish is that, when they return home, and people closest to them ask them what of Japan has left the deepest impression within them, former participants should at once reply, ‘A fascinating Tea-ceremony workshop! Once it had ended, I found I now understood so much!’
To read more about this workshop and other Tea-related activities, visit our website:
Tyas Huybrechts is a fully-accredited instructor in Tea ceremony, and in addition a nationally certified Nihoncha Instructor. His heart’s desire is to convey directly, and to as many interested persons as possible, the true essence of both Tea-culture and also Japanese tea.