This past Saturday, I filled in for one of my coworkers as the narrator (or commentator, as they seem to have listed me in the program) for a tea ceremony demonstration. Our department cosponsors this event with the university gardens every year in honor of the height of cherry blossom season. The ladies from the Triangle Chanoyu society did the demonstration and prepared the tea for tasting afterward.
Because I hadn’t really seen a tea ceremony with an explanation of what I was seeing before, I was given a script written by the person who normally does the commentary for the group. Since she does it a lot, the script was full of options and suggestions for what to say, but no exact directions. Fortunately, my coworker and I were able to go to another demonstration the week before for another college’s culture class. After that, I was able to rewrite the script with precise instructions to myself about what to say when. (The tea ladies later told me that they’re going to keep it for next time, too.)
The demonstration went very well. Despite the rainy weather, there was good attendance, and even the microphone I had to use worked on the first try! First, the ladies of the chanoyu society did a demonstration of the thin tea, the final portion of a full tea ceremony, for which a sweet and whisked matcha is served. One person was designated as the host, to prepare the tea. Two others were acting as guests, and as I said in my narration, they also have an important part of the ceremony, in that they must express the proper appreciation of the host’s efforts in choosing the art or flower in the tokonoma (presentation alcove), the tea bowl, tea container, and tea scoop. After the tea has been drunk, it is the first guest’s role to ask about the tea container and tea scoop, which have usually been made by descendants of very old tea artisan families. The tea scoop in particular is given a poetic name by a tea master, and it can be revealed at this point.
The second part of the demonstration was when volunteers were called up to be guests. As a special treat for this occasion, a visiting chanoyu student from Japan acted as the host this time, and it turns out that she studies a different school’s style. There truly were a great many differences in the movements that she made, such as the way she folded her tea cloth to clean the implements, and the way she used the dipper to pour water into the bowl. At the very end, all the ladies came out together to be recognized and answer audience questions.
As it turns out, I didn’t need to be quite so nervous about feeling unprepared. In one of those strange twists of synchronicity, I’d recently read two books about tea ceremony culture and history.
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