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Tue. Sep. 12. 2017Tea Ceremony

September 7, 2017 : Tea Ceremony

Students from Doshisha University and Doshisha Woman’s University performed the tea ceremony and taught how to make matcha tea.
Below is a report by Rachael Miller (KCJS29 Fall, Washington & Lee University)

As with the start of any new program – particularly a new program abroad – one comes to expect mandatory participation in a number of bonding activities and icebreakers, each aimed at ensuring that all of the participants are nice and cozy with one another by the end of the first week. Of course, while such activities are typically effective, they tend to accomplish their goal in a somewhat roundabout way; after having sat through a dozen or so iterations of “my name is, my hometown is, my major is,” etc., the mutual groaning which takes place often provides the participants with an unexpected kind of common ground.

In the case of the twenty-ninth class of the Kyoto Consortium of Japanese Studies, this pattern holds true, but for a couple of interesting changes: the self-introductions repeatedly taking place are almost always given in Japanese – which, in the case of each of the student participants, is not a first language – and almost all of the ice-breaking events are aimed at acquainting the students not only with each other, but with the culture and residents of our host country. So, of course, very few were surprised when an invitation was extended to ten interested KCJS students to view and participate in a demonstration of sadō (sometimes referred to as chadō), the traditional Japanese art of whisking matcha tea.

As an avid student of the tea ceremony at my home university, I was beyond excited by this opportunity, and was even more excited to learn that the practitioners of the ceremony – Doshisha University students who study at the KCJS campus’s sister location – would be making no concessions in the tea ceremony’s rigid rules simply because their audience was comprised of foreigners. We were each told to wear clothing that would not be too revealing so that we could sit in seiza, the traditional method of sitting with one’s legs tucked beneath them, to receive our tea. Additionally, upon arrival, we were each given a pair of white socks to change into exclusively for use on the tatami floors of the tea room.

Walking into the tea room and being greeted by the smiling faces of our Japanese peers, dressed in kimono and their tea utensils at the ready, did little to abate the apprehension of our small group. For most, this would be their first experience of the tea ceremony; having already garnered an idea about the strict rules which govern its execution, a strong feeling of ‘I don’t want to mess up’ was shared by all.

However, after seating ourselves in a row and completing the necessary self-introductions with our Japanese hosts, the atmosphere in the room quickly relaxed into one of trying to figure out how, exactly, to hold the tea bowls, whilst simultaneously managing to not burn one’s tongue on the exceptionally hot matcha. Our hosts were not only gracious, but seemed to derive a bit of amusement from our incomprehension at why, exactly, the tea bowl must be turned twice clockwise before one can drink from it, and with a mixture of broken English and broken Japanese, we attempted to communicate a mutual understanding of the rules and regulations of sadō with one another.

The small group lessons which followed the demonstration were equally if not more jovial, providing us an opportunity to connect more deeply with one of our hosts. In groups of five, we crowded around a setup of tea utensils and were given slow, measured instructions in Japanese as one-by-one, we attempted to make our own bowls of tea. These instructions were often punctuated by giggles and frequent corrections, with plenty of teasing from our classmates on the sidelines. By days’ end, we found ourselves exchanging Line IDs, making museum plans, and tentatively scheduling dinner dates with our hosts who, only two hours previous, had been complete strangers.

Such is the magic of the KCJS Program. Perhaps it is rooted in the fish-out-of-water feeling shared by its participants, perhaps it is the mutual desire to learn on the part of both the English-speaking and Japanese-speaking students, or perhaps it is a combination of both. Ultimately, the reason is far less significant than the outcome – through the kind of cultural exchange that took place at the sadō demonstration, when it came time to really get to know each other, no artificial ice-breakers were needed.


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