|Posted on February 27, 2019 at 9:25 AM|
In Japan, Golden Week (a collection of 4 national holidays in late April/ early May) is the ideal time to go exploring so, during Golden Week Heisei 30 nen (i.e. the year of our Lord 2018 ) I decided to take a solo trip to the first capital of Japan, Kyoto.
Kyoto was Japan's capital for a little over a millenium, from the 8th Century until 1868 when the seat of government and the Emperor's residence was moved to Edo (modern-day Tokyo) during the Meiji Restoration.
Kyoto is also the centre of the world of Sado, or the Way of Tea, as it is home to Omotesenke, Urasenke and Mushakojisenke (the most popular branches of Sado) as well as multiple tea houses -- two of which are located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nijo-jo Castle.
As it so happened, while perusing a Kyoto Visitors Guide I came across an announcement for an upcoming Citizen's Tea Party which was being held while I was still in Kyoto.
So after spending the morning exploring the popular Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine I made my way to Nijo-jo Castle to experience what I thought was going to be a simple tea ceremony event.
However, it was so much more that I could have imagined.
Upon my arrival at the entrance of the castle I purchased my ticket for the Citizen's Tea Party which also included entrance to the Castle and the popular Ninomaru-goten Palace.
First of all, let me tell you...Nijo-jo Castle is HUGE and it took me some time to eventually make my way to the Seiryu-en Garden which is where the Citizens Tea Party was being held.
This particular staging of the Citizens Tea party was the 64th and with good reason, as the location is absolutely breath-taking; beautifully manicured trees amidst a serene water feature.
Although I thought I'd be attending a Chado Tea Ceremony (which is what I have been practicing) it turned out that this particular Citizens Tea party was actually a SENchado Tea Ceremony.
Now, you're probably thinking
'What's the difference between Chado and Senchado, Nady?'
Well, in a nutshell, whilst chado involves whisking powdered green tea (aka matcha) senchado involves the preparation and drinking of sencha green tea, especially the high grade gyokuro type.
I was in for a first-time once-in-a-lifetime experience.
One of the main differences I immediately noticed was the cutest little teacups I have ever seen. Unlike Sado, the process of Senchado requires pouring small amounts of slightly-bitter high grade tea into small cups. Like a cross between wine-tasting and tea-sipping.
Incidentally, the ticket actually included TWO Senchado Tea Ceremonies. One in the Koun-tei teahouse and the other in the Waraku-an.
Both teahouses were separated by a beautiful garden complete with its own pond and mini waterfalls. While both ceremonies were Senchado they each had different styles of preparation (from what I observed) as well as different teapots and cups.
The tastes were also distinctly different as well.
The Seiza Situation
As if being the only foreigner present was not enough to make me stick out like a sore thumb, both teahouses were equipt with tatami mats which meant that I had to sit in seiza (legs folded under butt).
That lasted for all of 5 minutes before I had to give in and sit cross-legged (much more comfortable) to the amusement of the old Japanese ladies near to me.
Speaking of old Japanese ladies, there were quite a few persons dressed in traditional Japanese kimono for the event. Most were seated nearest to the tea master in the position of the "lead guests" and were typically the first to be served.
The vast teahouses set amidst the serene gardens and waterfalls with women in kimono seated patiently on tatami mats drinking tea was almost like a scene straight out of Oshin.
Which I was blessed to experience first-hand.
All in all, my time spent at the Nijo-jo Citizen's Tea Party was an enriching one and has given me greater insight into the significance of the Way of Tea to the rich history of Japan.
|Posted on September 24, 2018 at 8:10 AM|
As soon as September begins up until the Harvest moon in October, Japanese Tea Ceremony is typically performed while viewing the Autumn Full Moon. This is the season when the sky is said to be at its clearest and the moon at its most beautiful.
The word Otsukimi literally translates to mean (Otsuki) Moon (Mi) Viewing.
The tradition includes decorations with rice dumplings called dango and stalks of grass along with imagery of a rabbit.
Why a rabbit you ask?
Well, have you ever heard the story of the rabbit in the moon (tsuki no usagi)?
In Japan, instead of seeing a man on the moon it is said that there is a rabbit pounding mochi/ rice with a mortar and pestle.
The story goes:
"Many years ago, the Old Man of the Moon decided to visit the Earth. He disguised himself as a beggar and asked Fox (Kitsune), Monkey (Saru), and Rabbit (Usagi) for some food.
Monkey climbed a tree and brought him some fruit. Fox went to a stream, caught a fish, and brought it back to him. But Rabbit had nothing to offer him but some grass. So he asked the beggar to build a fire. After the beggar started the fire, Rabbit jumped into it and offered himself as a meal for the beggar to eat.
Quickly the beggar changed back into the Old Man of the Moon and pulled Rabbit from the fire.
He said "You are most kind, Rabbit, but don't do anything to harm yourself. Since you were the kindest of all to me, I'll take you back to the moon to live with me."
The Old Man carried Rabbit in his arms back to the moon and he is still there to this very day exactly where the Old Man left him. Just look at the moon in the night sky and the rabbit is there."
In October 2017, we attended two Otsukimi; one at the Cultural Centre and another at a Buddhist temple.
The Cultural Centre Ceremony was more of an exhibition while the Tea Ceremony at the Buddhist Temple was a bit more formal and included both thin and thick tea as well as a meal.
Both experiences were extremely enriching.
Moon and Tea Ceremony (Tsuki no cha)
The harvest moon is meant to be on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. On that night, plants are arranged and offerings of rice dumplings, persimmons, potatoes and sake. This is the way to view the bright moon. When this is incorporated in to tea, it is tsukimi no cha (tea while viewing the moon).
It is best to have this in a formal tea gathering. When and where to view the moon depends on how experienced the host is. It can happen upon entering the roji, in the middle of the tea or when stepping out into the moonlight on the way home.
In any case the rise of the moon should not be missed.
As a moon AND tea lover, this might be one of my favourite times of the year on the tea calendar. This year's tea ceremony events should be just as exciting.
|Posted on June 20, 2018 at 6:40 PM|
Anyone who knows me knows just how much I love trees.
I am a very tree lover.
There is just something mystical and magical about these beautiful Earthly creations.
So when I heard that there was a huge tea tree just a few hours away from where I now live in Japan I knew I had to go see it.
FUN FACT: This big tea tree is actually located in a city called 'Ureshino' [which translates to 'Happy City' in English].
A part of my mission on returning to Japan has been not only to learn more about the Japanese Tea Ceremony but also to explore the history and culture of tea in Japan.
So with my handy navigation system (i.e. Google Maps) as my guide I set out on my big tea tree adventure.
After driving for about 2 or 3 hours I eventually found a sign which confirmed that I was on the right track.
Or so I thought...
After turning back around 3 times because of navigational issues, with perseverance (i.e. stubbornness) and good old common sense I eventually arrived at another sign which confirmed that the Big Tea Tree was not too far ahead.
About the BIG TEA TREE:
Other names: Daichanoki; Daichaju; 大茶樹；ダイチャノキ
Age: over 360 years old
Height: 4.6 metres (15 feet)
Crown: 70 - 80 square metres
On October 20, 1926, this huge tree in Saga Prefecture was designated by the national government as a National Natural Monument/ Important Natural Property. It is a symbolic tree of the City of Ureshino. It is said to have been planted by Shinbei Yoshimura, the father of Ureshino tea, some time between the years 1648 to 1652.
ABOUT TEA AND URESHINO
“Tea production in Ureshino is said to have been started by the Chinese of the Ming dynasty who travelled to the region around 550 years ago. In the Sarayadani valley of Mount Fudo, where Chinese people are said to have settled, there are tea fields stretching as far as the eye can see.”
“Ureshino was visited by many people during the Edo Period as it served as a post station along the Nagasaki Kaido and a place of healing through hot spring bathing.”
Eventually, I found the big tea tree and I must say that it is by far the largest tea tree I have ever seen in my life.
In fact, the tree is so big that its branches have to be supported.
Before leaving, I also had to take a barage of videos and photos
My Happy City adventure concluded with a relaxing visit to one of Ureshino's popular onsens and a chance visit to a mysterious hundred year old sakura tree under the Full Moon.
All in all I would say it was a day well spent.
The Big Tea Tree Lover