Friday, 12 April 2013

Tea ceremony

This morning I elected to stay home. As much as I hate missing out on things, my fear of getting sick outweighs this, and my body has been punishing me the last few days for not resting properly. So I got up to have breakfast with everyone, but then went back to bed for two hours once they'd left, and I feel about 400 times more human than I did yesterday. TEN POINTS TO GRYFFIND- I MEAN, EMILY.

After my mega-nap, I hopped on a bus and met the others at Gion. Margaret headed off, but Dad and Marnie and I went to get a coffee. The little cafe was really charming, with an English menu, but the woman who seemed to own it didn't speak any English. When we asked for milk, she delivered us the tiniest little milk jugs you ever did see - they were about the size of a thimble - and Marnie was so enamoured, we just had to have one. So Dad negotiated with his phrase book and managed to buy one. I think the woman thought we were crazy, not least because we couldn't stop giggling at this tenth of a mouthful of milk.

After milk-jug-accruing-adventures, Marnie and I went to a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Marnie has been to one in China, but I have never done anything like this, so I was especially curious. It took about 45 minutes and cost 2000yen (about $20), but that included tea, a sweet and the chance to have a go at making your own with the traditional utensils and methods. Our host was a lovely lady dressed in traditional kimono, and the ceremony took place in a traditional room, on tatami mats with sliding screens (rather like the house we are staying in). She explained everything -the meanings behind every gesture (and there were A LOT of meanings and gestures) and the functions of the different utensils. Every tea container and tea scoop is individually made and each tea scoop has a different name - either derived from nature or Zen principles. Our tea scoop's Japanese name meant 'Spring Sunshine'. She explained about purifying the tea and purifying yourself, and the different expressions of respect to the tea and to other people throughout the ceremony. For instance, you must turn the tea bowl twice, clockwise, to prevent your lips touching the 'face' of the tea bowl (the precious side) and thus disrespecting the tea. When you've finished drinking, you turn the tea bowl back, counter-clockwise. She also explained about the three things you need to bring with you when invited to a traditional tea ceremony. These include a fan (special tea ceremony size one) which is never actually opened. Instead, it is kept folded up, on the floor in front of you between the rest of the room and you, and you bow behind it. Which is another marker of respect. The other two things you need to bring are a little wooden knife to cut up your sweet and paper to place your sweet on before you eat it. Everything was precise, structured, and beautiful.

Tea ceremony

My awesome tea foam
After her performance and explanation, she gave us each a tea bowl and whisk to use, and we passed around the powdered tea container and tea scoop. She gave us hot water and showed us how to whisk the tea - back and forth in a straight line, not in a circle, as fast as you can, until foam forms on top. She inspected our efforts and told me my foam was better than her previous attempt. Japan win. Then you pick it up in your right hand, rest it on your left hand, and turn it twice. Then drink. Powdered green tea is very bitter, but I actually didn't mind it. Afterwards, she informed us that to be a proper tea master, you train for about ten years. She is still learning. Also, a traditional tea ceremony can take up to to 3-4 hours. Phew.

We headed home and joined Margaret and Dad made another delicious dinner, using most of the same ingredients from last night to use them up, but he also made ramen with udon noodles. Om nom nom nom. Now we've had dessert and I am too full. We're seeing Reiko tomorrow hopefully!

Dinner by Dad. Yum!

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