A rare presentation on Japanese Tea Ceremony or chanoyu was held last week at Leaf. An audience of eager tea enthusiasts participated in the ceremony that was led by Rie Maywar, a local certified chanoyu instructor.
Recognized for its highly-choreographed tea preparation ritual, chanoyu as an art form dates back to 16th century Japan. Besides tea the art form includes pottery, calligraphy and ikebana. The philosophical moorings of chanoyu lie in Zen Buddhist ideals of harmony, purity, respect and tranquility. It takes years to master the skills required to perform the tea ceremony.
Japanese tea ceremony are rare occurrences and tend to be pretty private affairs. Therefore, to get an invitation to one is a pretty high privilege. We were delighted when Rie agreed to make a presentation on the ceremony.
Born in Japan, Maywar started to learn Chanoyu when she was 15 years old. She came to Rochester, NY 20 years ago following marriage. Maywar continued her practice of Chanoyu and is today a 3rd degree instructor in the Urusanke school of Chanoyu. “The way of tea (as Chanoyu is often described in Japan) gives me a deeper appreciation of nature and art,” notes Maywar.
Leading the participants through the ceremony, Maywar asked them to pay attention to every detail around them including the scroll that had been hung for the ceremony. The scroll - which sets the theme for the ceremony - included the text “sun, moon and flower” rendered in calligraphy. “With these poetic words we dedicate this ceremony to all beautiful things,” Maywar explained.
Participants were also shown the right way to hold a tea bowl, to sip out of it and to inspect it for its beauty. They were also shown proper etiquette towards their fellow participants where they bowed to each other, besides the host, before drinking the tea. The tea itself is prepared using matcha, or powdered green tea. Ceremonial matcha is full-bodied tea with a slightly vegetal and nutty taste. The texture is creamy and has a mildly sweet finish.
For the occasion, Maywar had also personally prepared Japanese sweets made out of adzuki beans. It was laid out on special Japanese paper for the guests, and it had to be eaten with the help of a special bamboo pick.
The presentation required certain modifications. Normally, tea ceremonies are conducted on the floor where tatami mats (cushioned bamboo mats) of prescribed sizes are laid in a space exclusively created for tea ceremony. There is a hearth and a low entrance. But at the tea bar the presentation took place on low tables, with the guests and the host seated on chairs.
The participants did not mind. They enjoyed the ritual of the tea ceremony and had many questions for Rie. We have plans to organize more such special tea events in future at Leaf.
Keeping with the etiquette, no photographs were allowed during the ceremony itself.