Jingzhou Huang: Tea Ceremony Lessons at Wabichakai

For my CIP of the spring 2019 semester, I attended tea ceremony lessons in Kyoto Wabichakaiわび茶会(http://www.kyoto-wabichakai.info/) two hours once a week, normally on Wednesdays from 5 p.m.

I have to say this could be my worthiest experience over the time I have spent in Kyoto to get close to authentic Japanese traditional culture. I did not only learn and practise complicated tea-making process, but also come to understand stringent tea ceremony manner, improve my communication technique while talking with my tea ceremony teacher, Fujimura sensei, and other group members, and spend awesome time with them doing extracurricular activities outside the lessons. For instances, we occasionally had delicate cuisine preparations for specific Japanese events instead of regular trainings, and we once went out to participate in large tea ceremony in Heian Jingu Shrine for cherry bloosom viewing in April. These unprecedented experience enriched my oversea life that could not be gained in scholastic classes or anywhere else.

I chose this lesson as my CIP since I was very interested in this sort of somewhat mysterious Japanese cultural property, so I asked KCJS teachers to look for a local tea ceremony group that could accept a totally inexperienced foreigner like me. I think Wabichakaiwas probably slightly different from other tea ceremony groups in Kyoto, according to my experience exchange with other KCJS students who knew about tea ceremony to some extent. Wabichakaidoes not that traditional and rigid but more flexible and original in the way of delivering the spirit of tea ceremony.

Wabichakaihas its own weekly special event called “ocha therapy” in which the activation of sensory experience is the most pivotal essence of holding tea ceremonies. The most important thing is to perceive the instant existence and obtain spiritual joviality by feeling, hearing, smelling, and tasting the tea. The concept and atmosphere of Wabichakaimade me feel less constrained and more like an insider of this group. Certainly I had to prudently learn each single act and way of phrasing from preparing tea tools to tidying up them after making a cup of tea, but, to my surprise, I was not required to strictly comply with 上下関係or use keigo in face-to-face conversation as I used to imagine. The lessons I had in Wabichakaiwere private ones rather than in a group, so generally I had only Fujimura sensei along with one of her apprentices N san in my lesson. Sensei is an amazingly elegant, easy-going and enthusiastic lady. In our normal practice lessons, as I proceeded to a certain step of the tea ceremony, sensei often explained some interesting cultural background and origin in relation to that step. For instances, I have learned the history and features of overall Japanese tea ceremony and Kyoto tea ceremony, the reason of arranging tea tools in given places in the tea tray, the meaning of conducting certain ritual acts, etc. I have learned far more manners about not only tea ceremony but also Kyoto culture than I expected.

Honestly speaking, as for tea ceremony itself, the intricacy of it was sort of out of my scope that it was difficult to truly assimilate things I have learned in the lessons. The semester is not long enough for me mastering a newly learned skill and being adept at tea ceremony. But overall the experience of building good relationship with these friendly Japanese and experiencing Kyoto culture with them was memorable.

4 thoughts on “Jingzhou Huang: Tea Ceremony Lessons at Wabichakai

  1. From your description, I am also interested in learning this. I wish I could have chosen this as my CIP too! But it is too late, never mind. But from your Blog, I do learn a lot about Japanese cultures. For example, I do not know there will be some special cuisine accompanied with some special tea ceremony. Moreover, strictly comply with 上下関係or use keigo in face-to-face conversation, is something I did not expect before. But anyway, It is very interesting to learn all these from your blogs. Thank you so much.

    • Martin, thanks for your comment! I really recommend you to try a tea ceremony as you’re still in Kyoto, which could also be a worthy experience for you.

  2. Jingzhou, this sounds absolutely incredible! What a fun and relaxing way to get an insight into such an intrinsically Japanese experience. I love the fact that it was not so rigid that you felt uncomfortable, and in addition to experience a classic facet of Japanese culture, you managed to be part of a community too. Your teacher sounds wonderful, and it makes me happy that you’ve had such a fascinating experience with the tea ceremony group. I’m sure this has been an unforgettable experience, and a real glimpse into Japanese culture.

    • Nick, thanks for reading and commenting my blog! If you had interest, I am willing to show some pictures of my CIP to you.