William HB: Urasenke

My CIP was the practice of Urasenke-style Tea Ceremony. I selected tea ceremony because the concentration of my study is Japanese history. A very important aspect of this history, particular the warring states and Edo periods, is tea ceremony. Tea ceremony holds a place, not just in understanding the Samurai class, but also understanding a uniquely Japanese aesthetic. Many of my favorite subjects of historical study, such as Ii Naosuke, were avid practitioners of the tea ceremony and in order to gain a better understand of that history, I have decided to jump in head first. The school is conveniently located several blocks from the Imadegawa subway stop and can be reached after a brisk five-minute walk beginning from the main gates of the Doshisha campus. The classes are taught in a very old machiya with three traditional tatami mat rooms and a small kitchen nestled in the back. The first room is where people leave the belongings while they are in class. They then walk to the back room and take up seats on the edges of the room. Sensei sits at the front of the room, in seiza, facing all of her students, who are also expected to sit in seiza. There were two tea-making stations in this room. Two different set-ups where advanced students would come into the room, lay down their materials, heat the water, and make the tea under the watchful eye of sensei.

I attended class twice per month and each session was two hours long. For the first 30 minutes I would sit in the back room, watching while the advanced students practiced their art. Sensei would choose one of these advanced students to serve me a round of tea and sweets. Then, I would go to one of the other tatami mat rooms with an advanced student who would serve as my assistant teacher and show me the basics of Sado. Thus far, I have learned how to enter the tea room, how to open and close the door, how to walk to my place, how to sit down and stand up, how to fold a cloth, and how to use that cloth to clean a tea caddy. This session takes up the remaining hour and a half of the time. In the future I hope I will get to demonstrate some of these skills for sensei. Before leaving, I am treated to a more informal round of tea and sweets in the front room, where I practice. Sometimes, when there are too many students for the advanced students to serve, someone will go to the kitchen and make tea with a water heater. Finally, we have been taught how to clean tea cups after an informal tea service.

I have really enjoyed my time practicing Sado. As an art, Sado is possessed of a cavernous depth that cannot properly be explored in the time I have. For me, Sado has served as a source of relaxation and focus. Making slow, methodical, precise movements and cementing them in my muscle memory is time consuming, and sometimes frustrating, but each small success is rewarding. It is difficult to retain some of the learned processes, however, because I only attend twice a month. The tea class I attend is so popular that sensei’s schedule only had room for two more monthly sessions. As unfortunate as this is, I feel grateful to have spent as much time there as I did. Sensei and all of her assistants are extraordinarily hospitable and kind.

They have accommodated my bumbling gaijin ways and limited Japanese ability at every turn and provided an excellent environment in which to learn and grow. Not only have I been able to improve my Japanese vocabulary and make new friends, I’ve been able to immerse myself in a crucially important piece of Japanese culture and better understand its place in Japanese history.

2 thoughts on “William HB: Urasenke

  1. 茶道の練習で、江戸時代の気分を少し楽しめましたか。

  2. Sounds like you had an excellent semester with this CIP; I think it is really cool that you were able to immerse yourself in something so traditional. Do you think that your experience studying Japanese history helped you learn Sado in any way? Did it give you an enhanced appreciation for the art?