Learning the Ancient Art of Tea

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One of the many things that has delighted me about Japan is how excited the people are to teach us about their culture. I had been hoping to attend a tea ceremony since I arrived in Japan, and when a friend mentioned a group of women was hosting one, I jumped at the chance. We were told to dress nicely (no jeans) and wear socks.

When we arrived, the women split us into two groups for the day’s activities. I was in the tea ceremony group to start and once we were seated upon the traditional tatami floor, they presented us with tiny sugar candies. The sugar candies served vary by season; this one represents the upcoming spring.

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When they told us to please go ahead and eat, I picked mine up from the napkin on the floor in front of me and they immediately stopped us.

It turns out, that is the man’s way of eating the candy – of course. Here is the far more graceful, ladylike way of eating the treat, as demonstrated by our tea ceremony sensei.

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To host the ceremony, the women dressed up in gorgeous kimono – this one, with it’s brightly patterned obi, was my favorite.

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Throughout the ceremony, the women instructed us on how to accept the tea (you hold with the bottom of your left hand and support with your right), how to drink the tea (the teacup will be presented with its most beautiful image facing you, so before you drink, you turn the cup clockwise three times), and how to bow in thanks for receiving and enjoying the tea (while seated, place both hands together in front of you on the mat and bow).

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The tea itself is their own recipe – the women often sell it at local bazaars. It was frothy (which surprised me) and oishii (delicious!).

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Once the tea ceremony ended, we switched places with the other group, and moved onto the Japanese writing portion of the day. It felt just like a kindergarten class, practicing the basic letters and getting corrected when you’re wrong.

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Unlike in English where it doesn’t matter exactly how you draw the letter as long as its legible at the end, Japanese characters have a direction and order for every brushstroke of the pen. Not all of them are intuitive!

This is me celebrating a successful page.

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They taught us to write our names – I’ll be doing a lot of this when we register our son for the upcoming year at the local yochien (Japanese kindergarten), so it’s great to start learning now!

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