It was a drizzly Sunday afternoon when Dan and I arrived at the Shofuan “Wind in The Pines” tea hut. We sat on the backless chairs with “beginners’ mind;” we had never been to a tea ceremony before, and as light rain fell, we enjoyed the empty hut before us, which had a scroll we could not read and a beautiful pink flower we could not name. The maple tree in front of the hut was lovely as well and worthy of being admired.
Before the ceremony began, the teacher, Glenn introduced his students and explained how a ceremony would traditionally run. The tea ceremonies go on for four hours and include several courses (the one we viewed was much shorter because they performed the end of it,) and there’s an emphasis on hospitality, humility, and simplicity. In this ceremony, the host is chosen beforehand, but she or he is not any more important than the other guests; this ceremony is all about the guests, to serve them. The host may humbly explain how she hopes the guests will enjoy the meal and how it’s nothing very special. When one guest takes his tea, he’ll say, “Please excuse me for being so rude and going first.” The tea ceremony is simple (even though there are rules for etiquette); it differs from ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, as there is no elaborate instruction for setting up the flowers for the ceremony; they could just as well arrange them with their feet, or however they happened to see the flowers growing in the wild. It’s meant to be natural.
The guests enter by crawling into the hut, and from what I observed, it looked as though they kept their hands in a loose fist and slowly crawled one movement at a time. Afterwards, when tea was being prepared, the teacher explained how the men have purple (passive) cloths to balance and soften their masculinity and the women have red (aggressive) ones to balance their femininity. Men and women wear different komonos as well, and the women’s ones are generally longer, tied in the center (without any zippers, buttons or hooks) around the body, to keep their feet warm at night when they sleep, since komonos were used as blankets.
During the time of the tea, the scroll was read in Japanese and the teacher translated it in English: “The many leaves are lifting in the pure wind.” This was meant to give the guests a feeling of coolness since it is summer, as were other elements of the ceremony, like the water bucket. The flower in the hut was identified as a Rose of Sharon, and by the end of the ceremony, the host answered the question as to the poetic name of a utensil she was using, and she answered in Japanese, which sounded to me like …”sessa-ran-ghee;” in English, babbling brook.
At the end of the ceremony, the tea guests came around with candy and a cup of green tea for everyone. The tea was thick, unlike most green tea I’ve had, and I liked it. The lady sitting beside my husband gave hers back and said, “Ughh! It tastes like nothing!”
After that, the teacher answered questions. One viewer asked what made him interested in the tea ceremony, and he told his story, of how he was reluctant to go to the first tea lesson his friend had given him for a present, but later fell in love with the ceremony and finished all of his lessons in a short amount of time, and later moved to Japan. It reminded me of how sometimes the things we think we’ll hate at first end up being the things we love, and how it’s helpful to keep an open mind when trying a new experience, to not assume much about it beforehand.
Another aspect of the ceremony that stood out to me was how the teacher encouraged anyone interested in having a tea to include aspects of their own culture in it. For example, one of the glass utensils was crafted in Italy.