My second semester of Urasenke has been an enlightening one. I have learned many things about tea ceremony, not least of which were the final steps of the process itself. While gaining an initiate’s grasp of the movements themselves and allowing muscle memory to develop, I have taken a class pertaining to the history and cultural background of tea ceremony. I have been able to discern, to some minor extent, the meaning of the aesthetics of tea ceremony and the importance of the pottery, and the philosophy behind each tea gathering. Understanding the way tea ceremony changes according to season is another facet of tea ceremony I have enjoyed studying. I wish there had been further opportunities to study, as only two sessions a month is rather few, but each one is rewarding and helpful in a new way. Finally beginning to understand the minimalist wabi-sabi aesthetic with my own hands is something that has had a profound impact on my understanding of Japanese culture and history.
My study of Japanese history has changed substantially during my time in Kyoto because I have been able to connect to historical Japanese people in a way I could not before. Tea ceremony has been a large part of that. Making the same movements in the same order as Date Masamune or Toyotomi Hideyoshi; it brings an entirely new meaning to my understanding of the role tea ceremony played in their lives and decisions. Those connections to Japan’s history lie in more than just the movements in the process. Each tea style is a family-owned franchise which only sons can inherit. The various providers of tea utensils are themselves family run and approved by the family heads of the tea schools. The answers to many things about Japanese history lie in the microcosm of Japanese society that is the tea room.
My CIP has been a critical piece of my learning experience in Japan. I have met many people and learned about the meaning tea ceremony has for them in their everyday lives. I have connected with the community in Imadegawa and Kyoto in a way I could not have otherwise. My study of tea ceremony has also enabled to me to form a better connection with my host family. My host grandfather’s matrilineal grandfather was a famous potter and there is an entire family of potters living in our neighborhood, not to mention a tea ceremony teacher. I have come to realize that different pieces of tea ceremony, whether it is the philosophical tenets or the material tools, permeate Japanese society at every level. I fully intend to continue my study of tea ceremony to the extent that I am able once I have returned to America.