Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony

Remember when you were a kid...
     ...and you gathered all your teddy bears and barbies and some of your brother's action figures around your little toy chest, which had your patchwork blankie on it as a table-cloth, and a makeshift tea-party in which you sipped air and spoke to inanimate objects in what you once thought was an English accent...
     Those were the days... weren't they?
     Well, originally--a long, long time ago, before imaginary afternoon teas in the your mummy's closet, tea parties were taken much more seriously. Particularly in Japan.

The Japanese Tea Ceremony...
     ...also called Chanoyu, Sado, or Ocha (in Japanese) is an elaborate, almost choreographic process, which easily lasts for several hours, and requires the meticulous use and precise placement of over a dozen utensils, including:

  • 棗 Natsume: tea caddy used when serving 薄茶 Usucha, or thin tea. Natsume are considerably smaller than their koicha-tea equivilent (the cha-ire, see below). For instance the natsume to the left is less than three inches tall, yet it's selling for 280 bucks. It's made from walnut tree wood, and as you can see is quite ornate. The natsume to the bottom right is from the seventeenth century (Edo period) and features a "drooping cherry" lacquer design. Both, as you can see, are quite exquisite.
  • 茶入 Cha-ire: larger, elaborately adorned, usually ceramic tea caddy, used for serving 濃茶 Koicha, or thick tea. It is displayed for viewing by guests at the end of the ceremony.
  • 仕覆 Shifuku: drawstring pouch used to carry cha-ire into tea room
  • 茶碗 Chawan: the tea bowl
  • 茶筅 Chasen: tea-whisk, carved from a single piece of bamboo, used for mixing matcha
  • 茶杓 Chashaku: teensy-tiny tea scoop, carved either from ivory or bamboo, looks like a miniature hockey stick
  • 柄杓 Hishaku: long bamboo ladle, for scooping hot water into the matcha bowl
  • 茶巾 Chakin: a rectangular white linen cloth used to clean the chawan
  • 布巾 Fukin: hemp cloth used to wipe the rim of the chawan after serving to a guest
  • 袱紗 Fukusa: silk cloth used to clean tea scoop
  • 古帛紗 Kobukusa: or 出帛紗 Dashibukusa: personal silk napkins
  • 蓋置 Futa-oki: bamboo or ceramic ladle rest
  •  Kama / Chanoyugama: the kettle / iron pot.
  • 水指 Mizusashi: cold water container, such as the one to the left, ca. 1720 (Edo Period)
     Some spend many years studying the precise and exquisite art of hosting such a ceremony. Many even attended schools called Sansenke... Yeah, man, I've got a Master's in making tea... 
     It's supposed to be relaxing, but honestly I'd be too busy worrying about which napkin is for what to relax and enjoy my frothy green tea, but the ceremony functions to bring people together. Friends, family, and loved ones meet in a serene study room called a shoin and bask in the pleasure of each other's company, so what's not to like about that?
     In the mid-1300's, anyone present at a Samurai tea ceremony was expected to consume at first ten, then twenty, and eventually a hundred cups of tea per person in one sitting. I mean... were they allowed to get up to use the restroom? Or is that strictly forbidden, for some reason?
     Too many rules make me nervous. I'd much rather just put the kettle on the stove and plop a tea-bag in my mug. Although, on the other hand, a Japanese tea ceremony makes for a much more attractive presentation than my usual morning routine.


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