Tea Journal

A Citizen's Tea Party @ Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan

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.

Lucky me!

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. 



Two Ceremonies 

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. 



Otsukimi - Moon-Viewing Autumn Festival

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. 

Ro - The Hearth of Sado

Posted on March 21, 2018 at 7:05 AM


Every three months the seasons change.


In the Northern hemisphere, around November (or even earlier), temperatures begin to drop and it starts getting colder and colder as the Winter Solstice approaches. 

With colder temperatures, a source of heat becomes even more necessary than usual.

The standard mode of heating during winter months are either using electric, a gas stove/heater or a good old hearth. 


If you spent the majority of your life living on a tropical island like myself, then you're probably not very familiar with what a hearth is. 


A hearth (pronounced \ ˈhärth \) is the floor of a fireplace or the stone area enclosing a fireplace. This is typically where people gather during winter months to keep warm from the harsh Winter weather. 


In Sado, Japanese Tea Ceremony, the hearth is called Ro, 炉. 





Essentially, the Ro is a square fire pit which has been sunken into the floor. It is situated between the tea host and the tea guests.


All authentic Japanese Tea Houses and Tea Rooms come equipped with one. It remains concealed below the tatami mat for the majority of the year. Until ritto (the start of winter) when the Ro is opened.

This happens in early November. 


During this time, the Ro serves a dual function.


Not only does it heat the water used in the tea ceremony but it also serves to heat the room and keep both the tea host and guests warm.

For tea ceremony the kama (cast iron kettle) can be placed in one of two ways: either sitting in the fire pit (see above) or suspended from a chain attached to a hook in the ceiling (see below).


As the days get warmer, the kama begins its journey from the Ro back up to the summer brazier.

About mid-March the Tsurigama, or hanging kettle is used. 

When hanging, it can either be suspended by a long chain hanging from the ceiling of the tea room or, similarly, by a long bamboo shaft with a wooden lever called a 'kozaru' (see image below). 




Additionally, since the Ro is situated in the floor, any temae (the procedure of making tea) involving the use of the Ro has to be conducted in seiza (the Japanese traditional formal way of sitting, with knees bent, legs folded under thigh and buttocks resting on the ankles.)


This position is a real challenge for me but I did manage to get through a few temae sessions even though my feet fell asleep on multiple occasions and I had to take a few breaks in between.

See pictures below. 


                                                                       


Opening the Ro changes almost everything in the way the tea ceremony is performed. It is very interesting to observe and experience the changing of the seasons throughout the practice of the tea ceremony.


With Winter officially coming to an end, I suspect the Ro will eventually be ritually cleansed and covered until next winter. I give thanks for the experience and I look forward to learning more about the way of tea and the various rituals for the Spring.



Stay intune,

the Tea Lady

Nadya Dee





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