Posted in Kafevend Blog
As we discovered in last week's introduction to the Japanese tea ceremony, it's a tradition with deep roots in Japanese history and maintains a strong presence in Japan to this day. Nevertheless, the intricate ceremony takes up to four hours to be properly carried out, so in today's busy society it's not a custom that the majority of folk have the opportunity to practice regularly, Buddhist priests and elite members of the Japanese tea tradition being the obvious exceptions. The custom is far from dying out however, as plenty of people from all walks of life are involved in weekly classes dedicated to Chadō- The Way of Tea, which is what the Japanese call their tea ceremony.
The lessons encompass all aspects of Chadō. As well as learning how to make perfect matcha, the powdered green tea at the heart of the ceremony, students learn everything from how to make the charcoal fire that the water is heated on, to the appreciation of art and poetry. Study of Chadō is very much a hands on activity, less about intellectual merit and more about the Zen influenced focus on the present moment; fully concentrating on the processes involved helps to clear the mind to this end. There are those who continue to study for the rest of their lives because Chadō is often viewed as the Art of Living itself, so not something that can be wrapped up in a year long course!
Classes are held in a wide range of venues, from the private home of the teacher to schools specially dedicated to tea. One of the biggest names in Chadō is that of Sen no Rikyū, a sixteenth century tea master whose influence persists to this day. There are three historical households, collectively known as the Sansenke, which are directly descended from him: Urasenke, Omotesenke and Mushakōjisenke. During their Tokyo branch's New Year tea ceremony, the Urasenke household's guests featured a host of current and former politicians, including Prime Minister Abe Shinzo- ample demonstration of Chadō's cultural importance.
While Chadō is a cultural cornerstone of Japan, its influence has gradually spread much further afield. The Urasenke foundation has been instrumental in promoting the custom within the wider world, seeing its ideals of harmony, tranquillity, purity and respect as a potential for bringing peace and understanding amongst the global community. Its first venue outside Japan was established in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1951 and since then it has gained a presence in major cities on every continent. The UK branch opened in 2009 and can be found in London, not far from Greenwich Royal Park, where they run study groups, tea gatherings and workshops, as well as performing weekly presentations at the British Museum.
If this blog has sparked your interest in the Japanese tea ceremony you can find out more at urasenke.co.uk. Next time round we hope to whet your appetite for matcha, the green powdered tea that is drunk during the proceedings.