I STUDIED CHADO IN KYOTO
In Japan you can purchase green or black tea, hot or cold. You can get tea in tearooms or from vending machines, contained in precious teapots as well as cans or plastic bottles. You can buy tea-flavored ice cream, candy, chocolate and even shampoo. There is a department store in Kyoto that specializes in Japanese tea ceremony utensils. If you still haven’t got enough of tea, you can visit a tea exhibition or go to the tea utensils museum. The history of the tea ceremony in Japan dates back several hundreds years. Some tea ceremony utensils are regarded as national heritage, and for Japanese people are of the same value as the Mona Lisa is for the French. Some families have been making tea utensils for generations. After six years of studying traditional tea ceremony in the Czech Republic, I was invited by my Japanese tea master to study at Urasenke School in the country of tea.
“Get up and practice” would be a good motto for a typical day in tea school. I get up and put on a kimono, which after several months, only takes me a couple of minutes. I place my schoolbooks onto a square shaped piece of cloth called a furoshiki and make a neat bundle. I put on white Japanese socks tabi and sandals zori and off I go to school. Being a student at an institution of traditional art, I was supposed to go to school in a Japanese kimono every day. I had to buy several of them in order to have a different one for summer, winter, formal and informal occasions. On the way to school I would stop to bow in front of the gate to konnichian – the house of the school’s head tea master. The school is located in Ogawa street, where well regarded tea masters and teachers live. Every time I walked along this street I had to bow to everybody I passed.
At nine o’clock in the morning we get up from our school desks to greet our teacher: “Sensei ohayo gozaimasu, yoroshiku onegai itashimasu“ (Good morning master, please teach us). We start with lessons of tea ceremony history, followed by architecture of tea gardens and tea houses, then tea utensils (their type, history and the possible combinations for specific months of the year). We learn to prepare food “kaiseki”, served during the tea ceremony, as well as flower arrangements for the tea room in a style called chabana. (In chabana, compared to the more familiar ikebana, flowers are put in a vase in a way that looks natural as if they were growing in a meadow). Once a month we were visited by the buddhist monk master Matsunami, who was giving us lectures on zen. Those days we spent half our morning in zen meditation. The lectures on Noh theatre were also very interesting and we had a chance to try this difficult old art form. The next thing was lunch in a two-story school dining room. We would pick up our food upstairs and eat it downstairs. The first floor was for the teachers and Urasenke employees. Most of the time, the food was a combination of rice, vegetables or fish, and green tea as a drink. Soba or udon noodles were served for the vegetarians. They were wide or thin noodles soaked in salt water (something like soup). There was no silverware, so like everybody else we had to use chopsticks which makes you eat slowly.
After lunch we moved to the tea rooms where the practical part of the tea ceremony studies began. We studied the “old form” of the tea ceremony, which means all the lessons took place on tatami mats in a position called seiza, where you kneel sitting on your heels. Students took turns in the roles of hosts and guests preparing tea for each other. The practical part finished after four hours of kneeling, but that was not the end of the school day yet. There were also rotating after school activities called toban, which were a part of the discipline necessary for the tea ceremony. They included, for example, preparing tea for the afternoon teachers, cleaning the blackboard and the desks and preparing the hearth for the next day. The hearth preparation took place at around six o’clock in the evening after school was over. One of the duties was to also sweep and wipe a room that had over one hundred tatami mats. (One Japanese tatami mat is 90 x 180 centimeters).