Friendly Fukuoka - Tea Gathering and Tea Ceremony

During the first semester in Kyushu University I followed an introductory course to the art of Japanese tea ceremony. We did readings, presentations, listened to stories of the teacher but there was also the practical side of making tea, folding a special kind of napkin and serving tea and so on. The best part of this course were the field trips. One of the field trips was a trip to Nishijin to buy some supplies. I bought a tea cup, a tea whisk, a tea scoop and a set which included the aforementioned napkin, paper holders for sweets, a sweets cutter, a fan and a small bag. After the shopping ws done we went to an Indian restaurant where our awesome professor treated us. I received one of the biggest naan I've eaten to date.

So you think we were set for our tea ceremonies after having bought this stuff right? Well, you are right, but this was actually our second field trip. We went to one before buying the materials for a tea ceremony, so basically we were unprepared for our first field trip! The reason our teacher did this was to make us dependent on the others there and thus forced to make contact with the people around us.  Our first field trip is a so called 'Tea gathering'. It is different from a normal tea ceremony because it was outside and actually reminded me of a festival. There were big tents spread over the terrain of the temple, each tent representative of a different school of tea. In front of the tent you could buy a ticket. That ticket granted acces to the tea ceremony inside. Another difference is that these ceremonies were performed in front of a big group of guests while it is usually a small gathering. And we got to sit on normal chairs and tables. Anyway, there was only one ticket left for the next ceremony of my teachers' school, Nambo Ryu, when I arrived so my teacher gave it to me and I left my classmates behind who were going to one of the later sessions. So I was thrown into the unknown, on my own. My first tea ceremony, without utensils, without support. The lady next to me was nice enough to notice I didn't have the proper utensils and gave some of hers to me. In front of a few rows of guest there was an old lady in a kimono holding a kind of conversation with the guest of honor and explaining some things. Next to her was a lady preparing the tea, so doing what we would think the actual 'tea ceremony'. That tea was also for the first guest (or guest of honor). All the others got tea and sweets that were prepared in the back room. Usually the first gets and the host exchange some words about the weather, season, decorations and the guest would say how good the tea was.

We were so lucky that our teacher could get us some more tickets so we could attend a second ceremony by a different school. They have different ways of decorating, folding their napkin, scooping the hot water for the tea and even drinking the tea. There are many subtle differences which was interesting to experience. I didn't take any photos of the actual tea performances because it is not proper etiquette to do that and I stand out enough as a foreigner as it is. My friend did take a few photos though, so thanks to her I can show you a glimpse of the ceremony.

The day of the gathering was also the time of shichi-go-san festival, when families with three-, five- or seven year old kids go to the temple to thank for their healthy kids and pray for ongoing health. The kids get dressed in their prettiest clothes. Sometimes in kimonos, sometimes in tiny suits. it is so cute to see. And the traditional clothing for a tea ceremony is the kimono, so I saw many beautiful kimonos that day. As you might notice, the kimonos of these ladies are quite sober, not as brightly colored and decorated as the ones the kids are wearing or we can see on maiko (apprentice geisha) in Kyoto. That is because tea ceremonies are supposed to be a sober and relaxing event where boasting your wealth and possessions is not proper, so you need a simple kimono to match that thought. The older the lady is, the darker and less bright the colors get and the less decorations are on the kimono.

Made by my friend Kim Le 
Made by my friend Kim Le
Made by my friend Kim Le
Made by my friend Kim Le 

And the last field trip that I joined was a tea ceremony, not a tea gathering like above. Although it was not a tea ceremony for entertainment, but a memorial tea ceremony in a tempel. It was to commemorate the death of the founder of the Nambo Ryu tea school. It started early in the morning with all the guests gathering in the main hall. There a memorial service was performed and a symbolic bowl of tea was prepared. It was much like any other memorial service or morning service of buddhist temples. The only problem was that is took a good hour if not more and I was sitting on the ground in the same position the whole time. I know now what pain and uncomfortable is. When the ceremony was over and I could finally feel my legs ago we could go to a warmed up room (because temples are cold and not heated) to eat a lunch box. We had to wait for our turn for the tea ceremony so we took some pictures outside the temple. I didn't bring my camera this time, so I only took pictures with my phone. Anyway, soon round two of sitting in seiza (on the knees) began. This time the pain came much quicker especially because the room was so cramped I couldn't move a muscle. It was actually so painful I started to feel sick and break out in a sweat. But all the Japanese in the room were doing fine so I had to put up with it. When we finally got the sweets and some tea I had some distraction. But I survived somehow. And by now I was dreading the third round. But there was a nice old lady who had seen my struggles so she had asked for a stool for me. So the third round I could sit on a small stool and I was so happy I could kiss the woman. And like that a long and painful day ended, but I was a lot more rich in experiences than I was before.

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