28 March 2011

A brew for peace: The Japanese tea ceremony

Given the recent events in Japan and other countries, I wanted to post something that I wrote awhile back about the peaceful, meditative effects of attending a traditional Japanese tea ceremony at Cha-An, one of my favourite tea houses in New York (scroll below for a video clip from a traditional Japanese tea ceremony).

The Japanese tea ceremony, known as ‘chu-no-yu’ in Japan is based on the principals of ‘harmony, respect, purity and tranquility’. Traditionally the host will invite guests into their home for sweets and matcha (Japanese green tea leaves ground into a fine powder) or for a bigger meal accompanied by many teas which can last for up to four hours. At Cha-An, they have a separate little room decorated in traditional Japanese style with woven mats on the floor where they hold the ceremony. I’m asked to take my shoes off before climbing into what feels like a kid-size temple. My host comes shortly after, dressed in full kimono.

First I’m invited to eat sweets and then she prepares the matcha. Every hand gesture is thoughtfully done, her hand and arm gracefully moving through the air, like a tea ballet. Technically she’s doing something we perform in our kitchen every morning (albeit with an electric kettle) but it’s so beautiful to watch I fall into a trans-like meditative state – perfect for tasting all of the subtle nuances in my lovingly prepared bowl of matcha. My host goes on to explain that it was actually samurais that popularized the tea ceremony in ancient Japan. Apparently even they got tired of all the fighting and saw the ceremony as a respite from the cruel tragedy of war! Which is why she explains, no politics, nasty comments or any unpleasant words are ever discussed at a tea ceremony! For both the host and guest, it’s a pleasant, peaceful respite from our everyday worries.

Please spare some peaceful thoughts for Japan during your next ‘tea break’. Donate to http://www.redcross.org.au/.

Japanese tea ceremony: Tea At Koken WITH SOUND