Sunday, October 24, 2010

Annual Tea Ceremony at Eden Garden

Chabana (flower arrangement for tea ceremony) and the tea ceremony time

The annual Chakai (tea ceremony gathering) that I have been waiting for was finally here! I was helping out at the reception so that means I had access to backstage areas that would have been off limit to any other normal participants. A little power trip once in a while is good, I'd say ;)

Misonodana presentation, cleaning the bowl, hantou (helper) serving tea to VIP guests, and my bowl of matcha

The chakai was held at Eden Garden near Macquarie University in the northern Sydney. Despite the weather, we had a great turn out and everyone seem to be very happy to be a part of this event. The chakai was in two parts, honseki which was the formal tea ceremony and misonodana which was the more 'modern' as the host is seated at a chair and prepared the tea on a table rather than on sitting on his/her foot, seza style on tatami. Misonodana was first presented when the current Japanese emperor was a prince, so it is quite recent in its development.Fear not! You don't have to sit on your foot, folding your knees seza style at any time during this event. If anything you are seated on a chair! (as you can see from the pictures)

The Honseki: cleaning chashaku (tea ladle), explaining the rituals and its meanings

The other style presented was honseki, the more traditional one. Here you can see that everything is done on a tatami mat. On the right, the lady in pink kimono was explaining the different rituals and meaning of the ceremony. On the previous picture, you could see the misonodana host cleaning the bowl, and here the host is cleaning the tea ladle. All utensils are cleaned before guests entered the room, however, any chakai host will always clean the utensils again in front of the guests to show their respect, care, and hospitality for the guests.

Yuzu and matcha sweets, bubbles on top of the tea

Summer camellia (Nerikiri: moist bean cake)

The sweets were all handmade by the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Sydney Association members. The summer camellia was made from lima beans and naturally colored with matcha powder to make it green. The yellow pieces on the top was dried mango. I forgot what the other ones are called, but they were also handmade by the members, from yuzu (Japanese citrus) and matcha.

Sweets used in chakai are chosen to represent the season. This is tied to the zen idea 一期一会 (ichi go ichi e) literally translated as "one time, one meeting". It's basically the idea that life is transient, and that every moment is fleeting, everything its 'once in a life time'. So the host commemorates the preciousness of this moment in time with his/her guests by choosing the right sweet that represent the moment in time, the season.

Chasen (to whisk the tea) and the chawan (tea bowls) prepared for the guests

The tea powder is made from whole tea leaves, it is therefore rich in antioxidant, vitamin C and caffeine. During the chakai, it was explained that these are the reasons green tea was so popular amongst Buddhist monks who needed to fulfill their discipline in chanting sutras and meditation late into the night. In the olden days tea was used for its medicinal properties as well. Unlike our everyday tea that we chuck out of our tea cups after steeping, with these tea we drink the leaves, and this makes it a lot richer with antioxidant, vitamin C and caffeine.

My chawan

Chawan used for tea ceremony are also seasonal, another representation from the zen idea i explained above. The host will always ensure that the prettiest side of the bowl will face the guests to honor them, and the guests to show their thanks and humility to the host's hospitality will turn the cup twice to drink from the less pretty side of the bowl. After the guests drink their tea, they are welcomed to inspect the bowls. In the tea ceremony tradition this practice is not rude. The host invites the guests to inspect to show that the host has taken great length to ensure that everything used to entertain the guests are the best quality.

Mizusashi (fresh water container) with bamboo ladle on the top and the hot water kettle; clementi chabana (flower arrangement for tea ceremony)

Some people might think what a tedious way to have a cup of tea, but I really love the whole thing. It's very zen and with everything that's going on in life where our minds are constantly in the race for the next thing that we need to do, it's good to just be in the moment once in a while. To appreciate the moment and your companies, instead of trying to do a gazillion things at once, typing frantically on our smartphones while with out family or friends. I admit, I am guilty for this crime at times...

If you're interested to join the event next year, stay tuned, I post the info closer to the date. Also some flowers tips from the Ikebana and Chabana master from the chakai: if you want your clementi to last longer, bite the end of the stem with your teeth; and for wisteria, put it in an alcohol solution and not just water.

Annual Japanese Tea Ceremony Gathering
Presented by Chado Urasenke Tankokai Sydney Association

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