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The Way of Tea (Japanese Tea Ceremony), Andon Ryokan

JAPAN | Saturday, 27 March 2010 | Views [3886]

Tea Master, Mr. Maruyama, Andon Ryokan, Tokyo

Tea Master, Mr. Maruyama, Andon Ryokan, Tokyo

Given the ritualised and formal nature of Japanese culture, it’s little wonder that in Japan, even the simple cup of tea has an entire ceremony in its honour. 

Through the influences of Zen Buddhism, the commonplace practice of tea drinking has been moulded into a spiritual custom emphasising calmness, contemplation, mental discipline and respect for others.  Chanoyu (tea ceremony or ‘Way of Tea’ as it is often known) follows a series of aesthetically crafted steps, each laden with deeper meaning and significance - far more complex than dumping some tea powder in a cup with hot water.  Every movement of the hand, flick of the wrist, turn of the fingers is beautifully designed to represent tranquillity, respect, harmony and purity. It is a stunningly complex procedure reflecting the values of this ancient culture… and it is fascinating to watch.

While in Tokyo, Simon and I attended a tea ceremony at the Andon Ryokan - an award winning architectural masterpiece and hotel in Taiko-ku near Ueno and Asakusa.  The Andon Ryokan holds a small tea ceremony three times a month instructed by Mr. Soyu Maruyama, master of the Soan tea style for 40 years, where participants first observe the correct process of preparing matcha (green powdered tea) before trying their own hand at the art.

In addition to a tricky method of preparation, drinking the tea is not a straightforward matter – guests in a tea ceremony must follow a series of actions prior to, during and after their tea drinking.  Resting the Chawan (tea cup) on the palm of their left hand while supporting it with the right, the guest turns the cup twice in a clockwise direction before placing it to their left and asking their neighbour permission to drink.  Once permission is granted, the guest takes one sip and compliments the host on the tea’s fine taste.  The guest then takes another sip and then finishes the cup with a further noisy slurp to indicate satisfaction, before wiping the rim of the cup, rotating it back two turns anticlockwise and placing it down with their right hand.

As Mr. Maruyama prepared the super-strength bitter green tea for the 6 foreigners in our gathering, we clumsily bumbled our way through the formalities of the occasion; accidentally using the wrong hand to pick up the cup, turning it more or fewer times than is required and stifling giggles at each others slurps, whisking incorrectly, adding too much water and so on, we quickly realised the mental discipline and attention to process that is required of this ceremony.  The lovely Mr. Maruyama was as patient as ever with us – his philosophy is that anyone, anywhere at anytime can learn the Way of Tea and he is happy to teach those who wish to learn.

At the end of the ceremony Mr. Maruyama made a beeline for the coffee machine and gulped down two cups in rapid succession, “Ah.  I like coffee”, said the tea master with a smile.

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