Christopher Avalos: Tea Ceremony Lessons

For my CIP activity, I took tea ceremony classes at Kyoto Wabichakai わび茶会( They took place once a week for around 2 hours. Even though this semester abroad was unfortunately cut short, I was able to take four lessons and learned a great deal in that time. I have always really liked Japanese tea and have seen videos about tea ceremony, but I still didn’t really know much about it. With the help of Yamaoka sensei, I found Wabichakai.

For my very first lesson, I mostly observed my sensei as she performed the tea ceremony for me, which involved multiple rituals, preparing and serving the tea, and serving wagashi, or a traditional Japanese sweet. The wagashi was one of my favorite parts of my tea ceremony experience, as the sweets were not only delicious, but they usually held some meaning. For example, one of the lesson’s wagashi was a plum blossom shaped mochi treat, which signified the winter season. I was also fascinated by the ritualistic nature of the entire ceremony. Specifically, everything was done precisely and a specific number of times. During the ceremony, my sensei also explained to me the history of tea ceremony in Japan. Although the vocabulary used was difficult at first, it got easier as time went on through the use of flash cards.

Subsequent lessons saw me more active during the lesson. My sensei taught me how to properly hold a tea bowl and how to drink the tea. Everything had to be done precisely and cleanly, especially when eating and drinking. Moreover, another one of my favorite parts about my experience was the field trip we made to Kitano Tenmangu shrine. The time we went, they had a plum blossom tree field for plum blossom viewing. Not only were the plum blossom trees beautiful, we also got some plum tea. My sensei also explained the history of the temple to me, as she is also well-versed in Kyoto history.

I really enjoyed the one on one nature of the lessons, as it allowed me to really build a relationship with my sensei. Not only did we perform the tea ceremony, but we also learned about each other as well. She told me about her experiences living in San Diego when she was younger and about her daughter. We also talked about my other classes, my family back home, and about my homestay family and experience. Even though I only had a few lessons with her, I feel like we were able to build a relationship that will hopefully last for years to come.

Despite the craziness of the past couple months, my CIP experience was a worthwhile one, and I plan on taking another lesson when I return to Japan in the future. I am grateful for the time I was able to take lessons with my sensei, and I look forward to seeing her again the future.

7 thoughts on “Christopher Avalos: Tea Ceremony Lessons

  1. When you told me at the beginning of the semester that you would be taking tea ceremony lessons as your CIP, I was so jealous! I’m so glad that you were able to get so much out of this experience before the local program was canceled.
    Did you get to experience an official tea ceremony with others during the CIP?

    • Unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience one with others. 🙁 I think I would have if I had continued through March.

  2. It’s nice to see you had good times with your CIP. The only experience I had with tea ceremony was the one with the Doshisha tea ceremony circle. They also served us plum blossom wagashi. I had a hard time with せいざ, but the members in the circle told us if we practice, we would get better at it. Do you feel you have become better at せいざ now?

  3. Uwah!! Tea ceremony sounds like a fun CIP! I’m sure you were able to learn more about Japanese thinking by studying this, as well as the history. I’ve been interested in sadō for a while, and I did a project on it last year for my Asian religion class. I wasn’t able to make tea for everyone, but me and a Japanese friend of mine worked together to make some wagashi! I made shiro-an and a kashigata in the shape of a lotus flower. It wasn’t perfect, but it was super delicious!
    Did you learn about any techniques for wagashi making, or about the different kinds of tea that are used? How long can you sit in seiza now?

  4. Hey Chris, I really enjoyed reading about your CIP! It’s so nice that you were able to build a relationship with your sensei, while also learning about different aspects of the ceremony. Overall it sounds like your CIP was a great opportunity to learn about an aspect of Japanese culture and make a connection using your Japanese.

    When I’ve had the opportunity to participate in tea ceremonies before, I found certain things, like the seiza and the bowing and the set phrases, to be particularly difficult. Was anything particularly challenging for you? Is there any way for you to practice the tea ceremony back at home?

  5. Hey Christopher your CIP experience sounds like so much fun! It sounds like you had a great sensei. I went to the KCJS event with the Doshisha University Tea Circle and got to experience a tea ceremony as well, it was so precise like you mentioned, and I was really impressed that you were learning how to do that too. During the tea ceremony I attended the wagashi was also my favorite part, it was so beautiful and delicious! I really miss getting to see the plum blossoms in Kyoto, as I’m sure you do too. But it sounds like you were really able to make the most of it through your CIP experience.

  6. Tea Ceremony sounds like it would be extremely fun but also extremely difficult to get a hang of! I remember having a short introduction with it once and not knowing how to hold the tea cup, or when to eat the wagashi or how to properly eat the wagashi! It’s wonderful you were able to learn so much about the tea ceremony tradition, and it sounds like you learned a lot of words specific to the tea ceremony which is amazing as well!