Andrea Radziminski: Tea Ceremony Lessons (Spring Semester)

From the fall of 2018 through the spring of 2019 my CIP was attending tea ceremony lessons. In the fall, I experienced how tightly knit a tea ceremony school could be, because it took a couple of lessons before the teacher and other students stopped keeping me at such a distance and treating me as a complete outsider. They kept me at a distance not to be mean nor discourage me, but because we had not yet developed a feeling of closeness and had no shared experiences. Since then my linguistic, cultural, and mechanical knowledge of the tea ceremony has increased week by week, and the distance between myself and other students has decreased in proportion. Along the way, I learned that my school takes the tea ceremony very seriously. Therefore, until they get to know a new student more and witness that student’s hard work at lessons and passion for the tea ceremony, the new student cannot become a member of the group.

With the above in mind, I also came to realize that just as Japanese culture emphasizes the group, as opposed to the individual, so too does the tea ceremony. At our tea school all students are at different levels and are of vastly different ages, but everyone learns and works together. For instance, there are only two tearooms and one tea teacher despite there often being 12-18 students learning at one time. Thus, we must work together so that lessons run smoothly, such as by helping one another in small ways to set up for practicing the tea ceremony. Likewise, we clean up together by helping those who finished practicing the tea ceremony to clean up the tools, sweets dish, etc. Then, we also learn together. Since there are so many of us in the same tearooms at the same time, our teacher could not possibly teach us one by one. Therefore, only a few students practice the tea ceremony while the rest play the part of guests. We take turns playing each part so that everyone gets to eat a sweet twice and to prepare tea once or twice.

At the head this hustle and bustle, our teacher orchestrates and oversees what the makers of tea and guests of tea do. Meanwhile, the students playing guests are expected to help one another and, when the teacher is in the other tearoom, to help give reminders, hints, etc. to those making tea. When our teacher has an important point to make about a tea ceremony type (as there are quite a few kinds), techniques, tea tools, tea ceremony décor, all students are expected to pay close attention at the same time. Whether or not this style of teaching is unique to my school, I know not. However, it makes our school at least a place to learn, make mistakes, and sometimes even laugh together—it also makes the fairly intense strictness tolerable and even enjoyable at times. And so, I am still very glad I chose this school and did not give up.

In summary, I learned that our tea school is tight knit community that takes the way of tea very seriously. However, once a student proves that their intentions for learning are serious through sincerity, hard work, and practice; our school becomes a welcoming community. In our vast world of tea inside our little tea school we learn together, work together, and admire the many tea ceremony seasons together all while making tea.

Andrea Radziminski: Tea Ceremony Lessons


Second Tea Ceremony Room

Over the fall of 2018 my CIP was attending tea ceremony lessons. At first, I experienced how tightly knit the tea ceremony community is, because it took a couple of lessons before the teacher and other students stopped keeping me at distance. They treated me as an outsider not to be mean nor discourage me, but because we had not yet developed a feeling of closeness and had no shared experiences. As I observed, the students closest to the tea teacher still used desu/masu and even keigo regularly when talking to or about her, but what they talked about and the relaxed atmosphere in which they communicated reflected their closeness. For instance, the teacher would casually, in plain form or desu/masu, discuss with more experienced students the price of new tatami, private tea gatherings she attended, or what previous students.  Their discussions are always quite happy, warm, and friendly.

By comparison, the teacher only talked to the less experienced students, who had spent less time learning tea there, about the tea ceremony, and their discussions always happened in a more formal atmosphere. Over the course of the semester, all students, including myself, continued to develop closer ties to the teacher. And so, I, and others, slowly developed close enough ties to be considered more of an inside member of their close-knit group, and the formal and distant treatment at the beginning slowly melted away quite a bit. So, I now look forward to continuing developing closer ties and slowly becoming more a part of their inner world of tea. So, I encourage other students who may at first experience a colder or more distant reception to not be discouraged. The strictness, formality, and distance in small groups like the tea ceremony are only signs of how close-knit the group is, with bonds going years or generations back. If you are sincere in your efforts to try your best, then once they get to know you, they will begin to warm up to you.

With the above in mind, I learned, practiced, and observed a great deal of keigo as well as the many intricate manners for interacting in Japan, which became a great help in many other interactions beyond my lessons. When switching between receiving instruction and actually participating in the tea ceremony, I was able to gain more experience in knowing what keigo was used in place of other words in various situations. Likewise, I learned that there are many ways of showing gratitude to your sensei, or superior, beyond saying thank you and bowing. For instance, very long letters are written yearly by students to express their gratitude, and these letters must use certain kinds of paper, language, and multiple forms of saying thank you. Similarly, gifts of sweets or gratuity money are not required but seen as signs of gratefulness towards the teacher, and these signs of gratitude must be presented in a certain way as a gesture of respect. For instance, monthly lesson fee payments must be made of crisp bills and be placed in a crisp, new envelope. This envelope must be placed on a fan and presented in front of the teacher using a set phrase and bowing, usually while sitting seiza style. Later I learned many of these rules and gestures can be helpful in other kinds of everyday situations with people with which you are not close, business situations, and school situations. So, they were all very helpful to learn.