Saturday, January 17, 2009

How to behave at a Japanese tea ceremony

If you are lucky enough as to be invited to a japanese tea ceremony, you have to study its history and meaning and expect to have a long relaxing adventure, if we only consider that a complete tea ceremony can go up to 5 hours. It consists of three major stages. For starters you will be served kaiseki- a kind of appetizer, then koicha- a dense thick tea and, at the end, usucha- a light tea. Considering it's duration, the tea ceremony usually is restricted to the last part.
Those who decide to follow exactly the ancient tea custom have to abide by a multitude of strict rules, even before the proper ceremony begins. The traditional Kimono is a must and the location of the ceremony( chashitsu- the tea house) has to be perfectly cleaned. None of the ceremonial utensils are randomly chosen: they are all cosiderably old, except the bamboo bowl and a napking used for wiping, who have to be immaculate white. You also have to pay attention to way of saluting, of sitting at the table or the way to pour out the tea into the tiny cups. Conversation also plays a key role and usually is centered on origins of the utensils, on prasing the beauty of the host's gestures, of the ceremonial and natural beauty in general.
The traditional japanese tea ceremony takes place in special arranged rooms; the guest's itinerary starts from a waiting room, followed by a garden and a further passage through a gate. Then they wash their hands and mouth, in order to purify themselves and after that they finally enter the chashitsu. There is no talking during this interval, so the guests are guided just by the host's gestures. The tea room is extremely simple, as it contains only a small table for serving tea, a traditional painted parchment and a few mats: the host and the most honoured guest sit on one mat, the rest of the guest on a second mat and utensils are all put on a third one. After all the guests have payed a close look to the parchment they are served appetizers, called chakaiseki. After that they are invited to the garden, as the host has an significant task ahead: preparing the tea and changing the parchment with a floral arrangement called chabana.
With 5 gong beatings or 7 bells( depending if the ceremony is taking place during the day or night time) the guests are called back into the chashitsu. While they are admiring the chabana the host brings all the utensils required for the tea ceremony: a large cup, a bamboo whisk, napking, a vase with water for washing, a silk handkerchief and a bamboo ladle.
But how is the tea prepared? The powder tea is poured into a cup and then you pour water heated at 60 degrees Celsius. Afterwards you mix it with a bamboo stick untill it turns foamy. The cup is then offered to the first guest. The later performs a bow, uplifts and rotates the tea cup, tastes it and then he gives it away to the next person, till the cup comes back to the host.

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