Seasonal Tea Ceremonies in Japan
Jars Get Opened
Traditionally, the yearly cycle of the Japanese tea ceremony begins in November. It is considered that tea leaves collected during springtime and stored in special clay jars during summer and the first months of fall by this time are ready for grinding.
In November the containers are gallantly opened. Alongside with this, old tatamis are changed to new ones, bamboo fences in gardens are fixed, all worn-out, broken things get repaired. Tea ceremonies are especially festive at this time.
On December 31 the farewell kettle boiling rite is held. The rite is called "zeuyagama".
First Water Boiling
At the beginning of January friends are invited to the tea ceremony, and teachers and students get together to celebrate the first water boiling for tea of the new year.
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The beginning of February falls on the start of spring according to the old Lunar calendar. However it is too early to say spring. The weather is quite cold, and sunny days are rare. During this month in the morning they hold tea ceremonies known as akatsuki.
At the beginning of March, when the plum tree shoots its white blossoms, it is now that the arrival of spring is celebrated. Usually this corresponds with the puppet festival held on March, 3.
Tea ceremonies of April are all about cherry blossom time. But cherry blooming is fast, and is quickly forgotten. The rest of the year traditionally they don't speak about it anymore.
May is the month when the drink is brewed from the leaves of freshly collected tea. From May till November the Japanese remove the fireplace from inside the tea house. Instead, they use portable fire basket. Secret ceremonies are dedicated to this. They are named "seburo" which means "new fire basket".
During hot and stuffy evenings of June simplified ceremonies are organized. They are called "uza-ri".
July and August are the hottest months. Tea ceremonies named "asachi" are held early in the morning, before 6 a.m.
In September the weather gets cooler, and tea ceremonies can be held both in the open air and inside.
In October tea ceremonies are called "nagori-no-cha", which menas "leaf tea". The Japanese say goodbye to autumn, drinking the last matcha tea.
Why So Much Fuss
This variety of ways to drink tea may seem confusing and complex, but it gets clearer if you consider the aspiration to make things simple and natural. You tend to protect yourself from cold and bad weather and enjoy warm and nice days. Just the same, the pursuit of harmony brings the people of Japan to move outside in great weather and avoid chill and rain inside the walls.
Unlike the Japanese, other nations do not go that much into detail. Besides, it's not only tea you need, but a special tea garden and a tea house, too. So, if you want to drink tea like the Japanese do, go to Japan.
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The tableware for the tea ceremony must be simple and made roughly, without adornments. The tea set consists of a tea box, a kettle or a pot, where the water boils, a bowl for a common drink, guest cups, a bamboo tea stirrer, a spoon to take and put tea leaves with.
Entering the room, guests pay attention to the niche in the wall opposite the entrance. Inside the niche there are: a scroll with sayings that make the theme of the ceremony, as well as an insence burner and flowers.
The host of the ceremony must meet the guests at the entrance and be the last one to come in. The place of the host is opposite the guests.
While the water is heated, the guests are served with simple light food. After the meal everyone safe for the host goes outside - to take a walk and to prepare for the main ceremony.
Meanwhile the host changes the flowers.
When the guests come back, the host starts preparing green powder tea. The rest of the company observes him in silence, listening to the sounds. This act resembles meditation. The prepared tea is put inside a bowl, brewed with some boiling water and mixed with a bamboo stirrer.
The tea is stirred till the appearance of green foam. After that the rest of the boiling water is poured in, until the necessary concentration is attained.
Bowing, the host of the ceremony passes the bowl to the most honoured guest. The left hand of the guest is covered with a silk scarf. The bowl is taken with the right hand and is put onto the left hand. The guest bows to the next one and makes a sip from the bowl. The scarf is put down, and the rim of the bowl is wiped with a paper napkin.
The bowl is then passed over to the next guest. It is passed over in circle and comes back to the host's hands. This way the ceremony symbolizes the unity of all the guests.
The next step of the ceremony consists of all the guests drinking from individual cups and conversing. The subjects of their conversation are the sayings written on the scroll, the flower composition and the tea. Some sweats are served before the tea.
Before the conversation is over, the host leaves with an excuse. This allows guests to contemplate once again all that was used for the tea ceremony.
When the guests leave the tea house, the host stands near the entrance and bows everyone goodbye. Then he comes back to the tea house and restores the tea ceremony in his mind, living through all the sensations again. Then he takes the tableware, the flowers, and leaves the place.
Cleaning of the tea house is necessary, it must look like before the ceremony. Only memories must stay.
Tea ceremony is meant to free its participants from any kind of fuss, to unite with the nature. Any worries should stay outside tea house.
© 2014 Anna Sidorova