So Natsuno happened to go to school with the coolest, nicest, sweetest guy who later became a Buddhist monk. His temple was not too far from Tokyo and we would be spending the day and night there. We left our hostel at 9am, caught quite a few trains. One of the trains was on the chuo line – infamously known as the Japanese suicide line because of how many people commit suicide on that route. Natsuno also told us about another train line called the “groping line” where creepy men like to touch young women. Creeeeeeeppy.
We finally made it to the temple right around lunch time. We first got to meet Jokan – Natsuno’s monk friend. He was very welcoming and gave us a brief introduction to the temple before bringing us to join the rest of the group of mostly ladies (both young and old) who would later guide us through the tea ceremony, help us get into our kimonos and teach us the importance of each of the ceremonies.
We all sat down on the ground to eat from the low tables. Lunch was delicious noodles – we were instructed to eat them with quite a bit of slurping noises to show we were enjoying it. It was quite liberating to break this eating norm we had grown up with – of not making loud noises with your food. Soon we were all having a blast. The older women did not really speak English, but we were all able to communicate with hand gestures, smiles and a few words that transcended language – me Kenya, her Ivory Coast:-). The ladies were all magnificently dressed in their kimonos and so graceful even as they ate. After a few minutes, my thighs started killing me. Sitting on the ground in semi-tight angles is a learned art. I kept on shifting around to get rid of the pins and needles on my feet.
After eating we were split into groups for the tea ceremony. Tea ceremonies are steeped in Buddhism and is an art of performance with certain steps that have to be followed. Silence and paying attention is a very important aspect of tea ceremonies. We each removed our shoes and were led to thin pillows where we would kneel or sit on depending on the part of the ceremony. The hosts/ladies who would be serving us tea entered the tea room and welcomed each guest. The hosts then proceeded to ritually cleanse each utensil with such elegance – the tea bowls, the whisks, the tea scoops etc. in front of us and with very precise motions. The tea was then prepared in front of us.
Slowly we were each served in turn – the lady serving would bow and the guest would bow receiving the tea. Before sipping from the cup, each guest would turn to the guest next to them and raise the bowl (this is a gesture of respect to the host.) The guest would then rotate the bowl, take a sip and thank the host for the tea. This process would be repeated till all 7 or 8 in our group had each had a sip.
After this we were all individually given our tea with a few more formalities. We were also given some delicious confectioneries to take with the tea. I might just be imagining it, but that tea felt really special compared to other teas I had drunk as I got to fully concentrate on just enjoying the tea. The peace and solitude of getting to eat or drink something without having to talk, think etc. I was beginning to understand the magic of silence. We live in a very noisy world and this noise distracts us from enjoying simple pleasures.
After all the guests have taken tea, the host cleaned the utensils in preparation for putting them away. The hosts then collected the utensils. In total our tea ceremony lasted around 1.5 hours though I’ve heard they can last up to 4 hours.
I think this summed it up really well, “The matcha tea ceremony is a quiet celebration performed with grace and beauty, the matcha tea ritual is a bonding experience of mindfulness, respect and a focus on the now.”
Tea ceremonies, similar to meditation are about finding the sacred in everyday life.