Miles Bothwell: 茶道

Tea Ceremony

After nearly a year of practicing Tea Ceremony, I may not be another Sen no Rikyu (famous master), but I do feel like I have learned a lot more from my bi-monthly lessons than just how to prepare and serve tea to someone in a chashitsu.  For the first semester, and much of the second I spent my time devoted to memorizing rule after rule, and proper form after proper form, but did so in the company of salarymen, fellow Doshisha students, old ladies, and of course a fellow kcjs friend.  Through this multitude of interactions, I have seen the inner workings of a society entirely incomprehensible to outsiders, both foreign and Japanese.  And, thanks to participating in various non-tea related events with the organization, I have seen how many of the members live and behave outside of their tea room personalities.

Last semester, the only interactions I had with other members were very limited. It consisted of two experiences outside of the classes: one at yet another tea ceremony at Doshisha’s yearly event, Eve, and one time eating lunch with a fellow Doshisha/Urasenke school student.  Because of this, I may have been “in the Urasenke community”, but did not know anything about anyone in it beyond what they would say in a jikoshokai.  However, this changed early on in this semester when HB and I went to a Urasenke dansei nomihodai/tabehodai party on a Tuesday night.  With a limited Japanese vocabulary, and even more limited speaking skills considering the circumstances, it was a miracle we managed to hold even small talk conversations, but we did.  We did, and we were actively part of the group for once instead of being the gaijin shuffled off to the side room to practice tea ceremony for the week like we normally are. And as a result, each time I participated in tea ceremony classes after that, interactions between us (the only gaijin) and the other guys in the school felt more comfortable; it was on some level an informal “initiation into the club”.

While I started this CIP as a way to get hands on in my previously researched-only studies, I think I have appreciated the experience a lot more because I was also given a modern culture education. Had I just taken private lessons, this would not be the case.  In this way, I am less concerned about the fact that I still cannot perform a full tea ceremony with a kama yet, and am limited to using a thermos for hot water.  Of course there also have been a few hiccups along the way that slowed my progress down to cause this, like my parents coming to one of the lessons.  Looking back on it all, I know I will continue Tea Ceremony schooling as soon as life permits, but for now I am glad to have come as far as I have.


4 thoughts on “Miles Bothwell: 茶道

  1. Tea ceremony sounds like a really interesting study! Just wondering, how expensive were the classes? I was considering doing some kind of lesson for my own CIP, but in the end decided it would probably be too expensive.

    Also, the nomi/tabehoudai you went to was for “dansei”? Why only men? Are the students of the school predominantly male? On that note, how many people were in your class?

    Your parents came to one of your lessons, too? Hahaha! Were the people in charge of the class okay with it? It’s gotta be difficult to try to explain things in English while you’re in class, too. I’m kind of assuming there’s not supposed to be a lot of chatting during the lessons?

  2. Boy, there are a bunch of points to address. The classes were certainly more expensive than one would like considering we only met twice a month, but the good news is you can spend as long as you want in the tea room on the days you can go (which means basically up to like 4-5hrs though usually it’s 2-2.5). Each month you pay ¥5500, plus at the beginning of the year we spent ~¥7,000 on our 道具.

    As for the dansei factor, I think it was just supposed to be a “male-bonding” night or something of the sort, but actually most of the students are women. I’d say men represent at most 15% of the students. I don’t think I can give you a great answer to how many people are in the class because it really varies from day to day. Sometimes when we go, up to 8-10 people will be in the room with us practicing making and receiving tea, while other times it will just be me HB and sensei. Both are worthwhile experiences, but it’s usually more effective when it’s emptier.

    When my parents came, they definitely seemed like they were okay with it, but that might have just been omotenashi? It kind of felt rushed in that they made tea for them, and then, politely, kinda scooted us out. The English translation wasn’t terrible because one of the students who was there that night happened to be an English teacher, and in fact there is a lot of chatting during the lessons. It’s quiet during the actual tea preparation [usually], but in interregnums, there’s plenty of small talk (especially outside of the main 教室, which is where HB and I normally practice).

  3. This sounds like a really interesting CIP! In the beginning of the semester, I was unsure of whether I wanted to pursue a CIP that would teach me a Japanese craft, or something along the lines of an internship. I chose to do an internship, and after having read your experience with Tea Ceremony, I am slightly jealous that I didn’t choose to take lessons like you did!

    In comparing your experiences from the Spring semester vs. the Fall semester, after having grown more comfortable with the other non-Gaijin students during the Fall semester, did this continue into the Spring semester? Are you satisfied with how much you were able to integrate yourself into this Japanese community? Along these lines, I’m curious if during class there was much time for socialization, or if you built friendships mostly outside of class with your classmates.

  4. Well, I can understand where you’re coming from but I think an internship was probably a great idea in the end. I definitely learned a lot from my Tea ceremony experience, but I didn’t get as far as I would have liked because we were limited to two lessons a month.

    HB and I were actually the only two gaijin students in the school, so it was a pretty quick immersion. I think we integrated ourselves into the community as well as we could given the circumstances, but we didn’t really build friendships outside of the classes. Unfortunately the guys that I got closer with had to switch their attendance times so I stopped seeing them on a consistent basis, too, which didn’t help. Regardless, for the most part I enjoyed spending the time that I did with them.