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Cha No Yu (Tea Ceremony)

One afternoon we went over to the teahouse on the ground of the famous Gyokusenen Niwa (garden) in Kanazawa. Although not as large as the more famous Kenrokuen garden, Gyokusenen is very well-known as a garden and as a setting for tea ceremony; a small teahouse in the back was used for over 300 years. The teahouse has been in the Nishida family now for over 100 years.

Above, we all pose in the tearoom. Back row: Leslie, Joy, Matt, myself, Jack. Front row: the young lady who made our first round of tea (unfortunately, I don't know her name); Sondra, Frances (demonstrating her ability to make a funny face in any picture), tea mistress Nishida, Hans, Urs, and Simon.

The Washing of the Hands

Before partaking in the tea ceremony, one should wash one's hands at the provided cistern. Frances, at right, was first up for the ritual. You take the wooden ladle lying next to the cistern...

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...pour the water over your right hand, to wash that. At left, Frances demonstrates. It was all a little trickier than it looks because, since we were in the entrance to Gyokusenen Niwa as well, you had to stand only on the stone provided as a walkway.
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Then switch hands and pour the water over your left hand. This is Urs, one of the students from Switzerland, who hasn't been in many of the photos.
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At the end, you tip the ladle up in order to run water down the handle and wash the ladle off for the next person. At left I demonstrate that technique.
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Finally, you place the ladle carefully back next to the cistern. This is Jack, who actually was staying at the house where the tea ceremony (and the Gyokusensen garden) were. Quite the homestay location!
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  The variant where you drink some of the water at the end wasn't really part of the program, Frances is just improvising here.
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Preparing the Tea

Then we all entered the tearoom and sat. The tea mistress spoke excellent English (she had lived in America for a time) and chatted with us while we filled in. We were served a selected, seasonal sweet just before the tea was made (the sweetness counteracts the bitterness of the tea).

At left, Matt tries to horn in on Leslie's usual camera-hogging. At right, Yasuko, Sondra, and Joy sit in the tearoom.

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Then our first cup of tea was prepared. Every movement made by the woman preparing the tea was graceful, spontaneous, and yet expert. In fact, watching her go through the practiced motions reminded me of watching a skilled karateka go through a martial arts kata. ChaNoYu1.jpg The (powdered) tea is measured out into the bowl. The water is added and the tea is whisked with a bamboo whisk used only for this purpose. Then the individual bowl of tea is delivered to the guest.

 

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Then we all savored our finely prepared tea. The art of tea ceremony involves the host, with a knowledge of each guest, choosing the perfect tea and the perfect serving vessel for each guest. Although we weren't known to our hosts, they still provided beautiful tea serving utensils and a wonderful cup of bitter Japanese tea -- the perfect follow-up to the seasonal spring sweet we had before hand.

Everyone enjoys their tea. At top left, Hans, Simon, and Leslie; at top right, Yasuko (mouse over to see what she thought of her tea); at bottom left, Sondra; and bottom right, Frances, once again demonstrating her make-a-funny-face-of-anything ability.

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Round 2: Make-it-yourself

Afterwards, several of us volunteered to try and make our own second cup of tea. It turns out to be a very zen exercise to whisk the tea; you have to move your hand rapidly and precisely, and yet be totally relaxed and loose. It definitely helped make the tea-ceremony/zen connection clearer.

At left: Sondra, myself, Frances, and Matt.

Afterwards, we headed outside to tour the famous Gyokusenen Niwa.

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  © 2004 Leo Hourvitz