For over a month or so I’ve been toying with the idea of taking tea ceremony lessons. One of the other JETs in my town started taking them and has only said good things. After recently starting calligraphy I wanted to wait to ensure I didn’t put too much on my extra curricular plate. But this week was a non-calligraphy week so I decided to finally take the plunge and at least check out a lesson and see what I thought.
Since coming to Japan, I’ve attended one tea ceremony. There was a moon viewing tea ceremony about 2 months ago and during it I drank the best matcha I’ve ever had (not to mention endulged in tasty treats too). This peaked my interest but at the time I wasn’t quite ready to commit. Part of me was totally fascinated by the antiquated ceremonial aspects of it while another part didn’t quite see the benefit of it. It’s a long process making just one cup of tea, but a beautiful one. My friend who had already started lessons raved about it, and in spite of all the little details that were so difficult to learn, attested to the meditative aspects and assured of it’s beauty and worth.
When I arrived with my friend and my supervisor (who is also taking lessons), I sat and watched as another student and then my colleagues engaged in the methodical art of the tea ceremony. I was fascinated watching them. Sitting in proper Japanese style I found myself fixated on every movement, paying little attention to my increasingly numb legs (which I’d pay for later). I thought of nothing else but every delicate movement they engaged in while preparing the tea. From the way they folded their 古帛紗 (kobukusa- the silk cloth used by the preparer that is hung on the obi of the kimono) to the purposeful placement of every tool they used to the elegant way in which they took each step and rose and descended on the tatami mats. Everything had a purpose and design to it. It was old school Japan at its finest.
After watching them I was given the opportunity to try out a portion of the process. My legs went numb as I learned how to hold each piece properly, and once again found myself struggling being left handed instead of right. I folded and refolded the 古帛紗, I picked up and put down utensils again and again trying to get my hand placement just right. It was painful and frustrating in some ways, but I was at peace doing it. I quickly found myself committing to come the following week and continuing to attend lessons for the foreseeable future.
I’m excited to continue to expand upon my learning of Japanese culture. Between tea ceremony and calligraphy and taiko and Japanese language lessons I will no doubt be kept very busy in these upcoming months. But I think this is exactly what I need. I came here to take in every possible thing I could about Japanese culture and I am so grateful to have the opportunities to do so full throttle. When else in my life could I learn to pour tea like a geisha? Or write kanji with proper brush strokes while sitting on tatami mats? Or learn taiko drums and play them at Japanese festivals? There are many moments here where I feel very un-Japanese in spite of my familial ties to this place. Almost every moment here I’ve felt like an outsider desperate to be considered at least partly like I belong. Maybe I don’t belong, and that’s ok, but every step I take to absorb more of this culture the closer I feel to really being “Japanese” and understanding aspects of myself and my family that I never really had before. And for that I am grateful. This year, I may not get the turkey or the day off work or any other part of the Thanksgiving festivities, but I could not be more thankful that I am exactly where I am today.