Update: Sept. 26, 2:28 p.m.
Tea ceremonies will be held at the Charles B. Wang Center most Sundays this fall. A full schedule can be found on the Wang Center website.
On Sunday, Sept. 24, the Charles B. Wang Center hosted a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Also known as The Way of Tea, this reflection of Japanese culture originated in China, and was brought over to Japan by Buddhists monks as a form of meditation. The tea is prepared by combining matcha — a powdered form of green tea — with hot water.
Keiko Kitazawa led the ceremony as a licensed instructor from Omotesenke, a traditional school of tea ceremony. She is from Nara, Japan, and a graduate of Osaka University of Art. Kitazawa moved to the United States in 1997, and currently lives in the New York area as a tea instructor and artist. She has studied the art of tea ceremonies for almost 20 years, having trained from one to eight years old and officially entering practice in her early 30s.
Upon observing the ceremony, the participant immediately notices the peaceful and soft movements, symbolic of Japan’s tranquil, simplistic culture. Proper etiquette, such as bowing and leaving your shoes outside of the ceremony room, adds to a sensation of respect and dignity. Each action was clean, smooth and patient, with little room for mistakes.
In Japanese history, tea ceremonies were very common amongst the samurai class as a form of relaxation. A single ceremony traditionally lasts up to four hours, and begins in darkness — depending on the season, a ceremony could begin as early as 3 a.m. The tea ceremony is designed to end in light, a symbol of transition into peace. Samurai leaders that were at arms would often attend a tea ceremony together so that, by the end, they were calm enough to settle their differences serenely and without conflict.
It is understandable how the Japanese tea ceremony could have such a strong influence: the room is small, quiet and each of the artist’s moves are calculated yet natural. The formal dress worn by women of the ceremony, known as a kimono, is woven as smooth metallic silk, held firmly by a thickly layered obi, which is designed to tuck away excess fabric.
Learning to perform the art is not easy. On my own travels to Japan, I had the opportunity to attend a Japanese private school for a week, and I often joined in on many of the school’s activities. One day, I decided to visit the Tea Ceremony Club, which met after school each week. There, my friend and I — both of us foreigners — were shown what it was like to train, and partook in a short ceremony ourselves.
We were overlooked by an elder, who had been in the world of tea ceremonies since she was a young girl. She noted every misstep, chuckled at every unsteady hand.
“It is very hard, isn’t it?” the elder said, her words as slow and calm as her practice expects. “But it is very important to Japan. It is our way of life.”
The Japanese tea ceremony is, without a doubt, a holistic expression of Japanese culture. When asked about the value of the Japanese tea ceremony, Kitazawa herself regarded it as “the best way to learn [Japanese] history, tradition, clothing, architecture…everything.”