Anyways, I felt obliged to tell you my tea ceremony experience of this past Tuesday. :)
When I walked into the door of my classroom, 20 minutes before the class was about to start, I'm not sure what I was expecting. Certainly not two old women in beautiful kimonos, (which is absurd since I should have expected this). Nonetheless, it shocked me enough that I stopped still in the doorway. This motion gave the ladies the false notion that they were in my way and moved aside with soft "gomen"s which prompted me to hurry to my seat, all the while frantically thinking "What have I done?! Why are they sorry? @.@"
Not long after that, they left the classroom, presumably to get more water, and I took a better look at what had been set up in front of the classroom. The whiteboard was obscured by a large hanging scroll which depicted a woman beating raw silk against a stone and her son crafting something out of rushes on a river bank. To the right of the scroll, a small table covered with a red cloth was set up and on it, a slim vase with a lone purple flower stood. To the left of the table, a much larger table stood with a great big pot of some sort on it. The table was also littered with smaller containers, which I couldn't make out due to my unfortunate seat at the far end of the classroom. There was no doubt that this was where the tea would be made.
When class started, breaking the eerie silence that had settled, Conway-sensei jumped right into the "lesson" introducing the two ladies and an older man with thinning white hair, also kimono clad. The three let off an air of distinguished and those who abide to strict tradition; later, I found out they were much kinder than they looked. The man started out by giving a comprehensive history of the tea ceremony in rapid japanese...I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what he was saying until Conway-sensei translated and informed us all of something I hadn't caught at all! Thank you very much sensei!! I don't remember the details of this portion very well, only that the tea ceremony was brought over from China by a Zen monk named Sen Rikyu who turned it into this elaborate and graceful way of building friendships over tea. The Japanese call tea, "cha", which is what the Chinese call tea as well. However, the word "tea" also originated from China. Apparently there is a place called Tea/Ti/spelling unknown in China where tea leaves were grown and exported in abundance. Those in Europe simply named the drink after where it came from and it became "tea", whereas the Japanese chose to use "cha".
And then the actual tea ceremony commenced. The first 5 to be served took their places at the front of the class while we all intently watched one of the women as she poured hot water in a small bowl and whisked in powered green tea, using very deliberate motions as she checked for clumps in the tea before dishing it out in large ceramic bowls, which were served by the other woman. We were told beforehand that the powered tea was still made the way it was hundreds of years ago and the water used was purified rainwater. The unassuming tea was actually quite fancy! o.O Everyone was passed a small bag containing a small slip of paper covered in kanji and a packet of 4 small tan and light green mochi called suhama. They encouraged us to eat some before drinking the tea as the sweets would combat the bitterness of the tea and "create harmony in your mouth". I tried one, saving the rest for my family, and found it to be really sweet and dry, but enjoyable nonetheless.
As the first round ended, I quickly went up to take one of the five vacated seats and the tea making process began again, with the two women switching roles. I ended up sitting in the far left seat again but got a much better view of the ceremony. Thanks to my seating position, I was also the first of my group to be served the tea. As the bespectacled, orchid kimono wearing woman stood before me, who sat in such a way that any esteemed musician and band director would be proud of, she turned the blue ceramic bowl three times until its painted design was facing me and set it down before me. The large bowl was filled with only about 35 ml of tea with a lovely shade of mossy green. We then, bowed to each other. Following the procedure that was taught, I lifted the bowl, burning hot to the touch as it was an excellent heat conductor, and turned it 3 times counterclockwise until the design faced away from me (this was done so no tea spilled on the design). Then I brought it to my lips and took a sip. While it was made to be very weak, the tea was still bitter and contained a faint taste of seaweed. As I set the bowl down, I found my sever staring at me questioningly. "Oishii" I managed to whisper timidly and she beamed broadly at me. I finished the rest of my tea in two sips and waited patiently while the others in my group were served. During this time, I kept thinking of all the things I could have said during that brief interaction ("Chotto horonigai demo oishii desu") but finally contented myself with the fact that I was actually able to say something.
While the rest of the class took their turns, those who were served devoted their time to completing the assignment Conway-sensei gave us of writing sentences about the tea ceremony. As the official ceremony finished up, our attention was drawn to the pieces of paper that came with our mochi. Those who had a circle stamped in the bottom corner would receive a special present...guess who was among the lucky winners! :D With an "Omedetou!" I happily received my white packaged boxes which contained a small bamboo picture holder/knickknack display and a beautiful paper fan featuring the rabbit, next year's zodiac animal. We then took a break in our work for group photos and a few brave souls tried their hand at making tea.
When I left, gratefully bowing to our hosts with a "Arigatou gozaimasu" I reflected over the events of the past 3 hours and quickly determined that this was the best class of the semester thus far (especially after our midterms!) and knew it would only get better. I guess I should say I'm very thankful that I've had the experience of taking this course and all the memories I've made from it. Were it not for some unfortunate circumstances that I used to curse to this day, I would have never had to take this course. However, I'm so glad I had the opportunity and it only goes to show that every cloud has a silver lining.
Last bit of what I want to say: I'm meeting up with friends who went to different schools later and I'm really excited!! We'll all go trick-or-treating later in the evening; I'm dressing up as a tree. :P (I've sewn leaves onto my jacket and everything!) So all that's left is to wish you all a very