a Moonlit tea

Just came back from tea lesson and for the first time in a long time, I’m itching to write about it right away so that I won’t forget as many details. But what an absolute treat it was today. *_____*

It’s so funny how things turn out exactly opposite from what you’d expect sometimes. I had decided to go with my friend to Sumi-E class held at the Japanisch-Deutsches Zentrum so I wasn’t able to go in the morning to T-Sensei’s for tea at my usual 8.15-8.30am slot (the only time I get up willingly in the morning to get out of the house is for tea lol). The whole morning and lunchtime though, my mind was pretty much always flitting back to the thought of tea and whether it would have been better if I had just stuck to my usual early morning timing…because in the afternoon it’s usually much more crowded with more students around. And after lunch I was already feeling my energy levels dropping precipitously… so in a way when I sat in for the other students’ tea ceremonies, I somehow had in mind that well, perhaps for today since everyone’s pretty darn tired and all flu-ey already, I might just try to learn some tiny little techniques rather than do a whole ceremony and leave that to next week. Turn’s out T-Sensei would not allow that and not only did he teach me a beautiful variant of the winter ceremony, he even performed the same ceremony back for me. But more about that later.

I must admit that it’s definitely beneficial sitting in for other students’ lessons especially those that are more advanced than me. In the afternoon, lovely T did a Thick Tea or Koicha ceremony which was called Cha-ire Kazari 茶入れ飾り or a ceremony in which the Cha-ire (matcha tea holder) was ‘decorated’ or used to elevate the ceremony. I suppose through interacting with other tea students, I always end up learning more about myself about my tastes and preferences. For example, T always gets so excited about the different tea equipment used and seems to agonise so much over choosing the items that she wants to use for her ceremony. Perhaps that is something that will come to me at a later stage when I feel the importance of selecting every item as the host of my ceremony since the equipment chosen does reflect so strongly the host’s feelings about the tea gathering. But for me, I suppose at this point in my tea journey, there are certain items that I adore such as the Hagi tea bowls because of their glorious milky white and pink hues but it’s more of the beauty of the Temae that gets to my heart each time.

Through watching her though, I was able to get a feel for the Koicha ceremony and more importantly perhaps, practice the guest’s role in holding the tea bowl, passing it around, asking to see the equipment in Haiken 拝見 (when the items can be formally appreciated during the ceremony but the first guest asking specific questions about the items), moving the equipment back to the host, all of which are procedures with specific rules that are so important to learn. And what was interesting too, was seeing her ‘interaction’ with the ceremony. Watching someone perform tea is almost like watching someone perform a dance, except perhaps it is a dance that’s a little more raw and leaves the performer open and more vulnerable because it’s something that’s performed in such close quarters at such close proximity that there is no hiding one’s emotional state at that point in time. How you react when you forget a move…or perform a move not to your own expectations… shows a lot about your current state of mind. How tense you are shows up almost subconsciously in your stiff shoulders (or my lifted pinky when I grasp the tea bowl too firmly for example) or the grimace in your face. Many subconscious quirks that I suppose if you’re lucky enough, your teacher will tell you early on so you can pay attention to correct them. 😉

Koicha ceremonies tend to take agesss and I think by the time she was done, it was almost 6 and I could tell T-Sensei was pretty zonked out with a congested nose. I tried suggesting that I would perhaps learn some small bits of the basic Koicha ceremony rather than do a whole ceremony, to which he simply replied ‘what is that you are suggesting?? I can’t understand~~” which obviously meant he wasn’t taking any of that for this session. XDD And that we would be going on to learn a proper ceremony.

I ended up learning a really beautiful one called Irekodate or 入子点, which is a special one done with a Tana/display rack and is actually meant to catered to the young/the elderly and those with physical disabilities who might not be able to sit for long/sit in the formal seiza style. Just the thought of that made me smile inside as I imagine performing something like that for my dearest Ahpo.

The features of this ceremony that I thought were particularly special:
– the kensui or waste water basin was actually one made from cedar wood stitched and joined at the edges with cherry bark. The cedar wood is supposedly the masculine part while the cherry wood that binds the entire structure together is meant to be the feminine part. 😉 Trust the Japanese to have imbued that with such gorgeous symbolism eh?
– the tea bowl is in the kensui from the start and is brought out with everything in place already
– the Chakin (cloth used to clean the tea bowl) is actually refolded again at the end because it needs to be ‘cleaned’ too before being used as a decorative item on the Tana
– when the host leaves the the tea room at the end, he or she only removes the waste water basin. The tea bowl or Chawan is actually part of the decoration on the Tana which is something I’d never seen before. Even the Fukusa or cloth used to cleanse the items, is placed on top of the Mizusashi or cold water bucket. In that sense, when the host leaves the room, he/she leaves behind his/her role of Host. And just becomes a regular person in that sense.
– there is no formal Haiken or allocated time for viewing of the special items (tea caddy and tea scoop) because this ceremony is meant to be more concise for the comfort of the guests who might not be physically able to cope with a long ceremony

Just a couple of changes here and there to the Temae and the entire ceremony is elevated. Just the ingenuity of these tea masters never fails to astound me…

The best part was just as I was cleaning up after having done the ceremony, T-Sensei suddenly stops and looks out and realises that there is in fact, the most perfectly bright, round moon gleaming in the cloudless night sky. It is a brilliantly lit moon, that I have never seen before in Berlin. Perhaps it’s something I’ve never quite noticed, not usually looking out of the apartment windows at night in search of the moon. But this one was absolutely spectacular. In fact, the entire day the sun had been brilliant, its glares even harsh as it shone through the rather cloudless blue skies today. It was ever so fitting then, that it should have given rise to this beautifully lit evening moon.

And with that, T-Sensei decided he had to make me a tea in the moonlight. Off went all the lights after a quick preparation of the same equipment (because he would be doing the same tea for me) and a lovely throw together of comfy cushions because as he had mentioned, this was a ceremony in which the guests physically had to be very comfortable. Light after light went off, till only the clear gleam of the moon shone through his balcony window, illuminating ever so perfectly, in slight patches, parts of him as he proceeded to perform the Irekodate ceremony for me.

And though we were in the middle of this crazy crowded metropolis that is Berlin, in that span of time, it felt as if we had travelled back 500 years in time to a mountain hut somewhere in Japan, with only the moonlight to make use of while we enjoyed an evening tea. It was amazing how even the simplest of things became incredibly obvious. The plumes of steam that arose from the iron kettle as he lifted off the kettle lid for the first pouring of hot water into the tea bowl. The almost shrill rattle of the iron kettle as the water was being heated by the fire. The steam that rose from the tea bowl as the first ladle of hot water was poured in, for the first cleaning of the bowl and tea whisk. The slight feeling of fear as he emptied the water out from the tea bowl into the Kensui in near darkness and wondering what would happen if he missed and poured it onto the carpet instead (which of course didn’t happen). Taking the time to appreciate T-Sensei’s consideration as he poured in a slight scoop of cold water into the tea because he felt it was still rather hot to be consumed. That immediate feeling of warmth expanding throughout my chest as I slurped down that first mouthful of thin tea. Sharing our thoughts about how beautiful it was to be using different senses than usual for our enjoyment of tea in the moonlight. Without so much emphasis on using our eyes to see, everything else that depended on touch/smell/hearing/taste was brought into such great relief. Even the boiling of the kettle sounded louder than usual. Feeling like I’d found a kindred spirit of sorts, who understood far better than me the beauty of being in touch with the elements again though we were in the middle of the city. Enjoying the sudden brightness of the white Chakin as T-Sensei folded it back in to the Chawan at the end of the ceremony, for it was the one thing that reflected the so moonlight well against the darkness. That sudden rush of emptiness that arose within my chest as he took his final step out of the tea room and all that was left behind was the Tana along with all the equipment he had carefully placed back on for display. Leaving the tea room in the exact emptiness that it had been in before him. That empty space in the moonlight. 無。

All I can say is, I’m forever grateful to have Tea in my life. Right now and of course forevermore. The fact is that is has made my transition to life in Berlin that much more beautiful. And it has made the transition to winter/my first winter in Berlin that much more tolerable. In fact, I relish this period of winter even more because of the beauty of these winter ceremonies. Once spring comes, changes comes as well. While I do look forward to that, I am incredibly grateful with Now as well. What a lovely start to the month of February.

And just as a point of interest, the books that are now on my reading list for this weekend because they are perfect for Now (as recommended by T-Sensei) are:
In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki
Wabi-sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets and Designers by Leonard Koren
Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts by Leonard Koren
Wabi Inspiration, by antiquarian and art collector Axel Vervoordt who uses the interiors in his castle (yeah, apparently!) to showcase his reflections on Wabi. Was soooo ‘mad’ at T-Sensei for showing me that gorgeous book because there are so many books on my to-read list now and this is just another one that I’m adding to the pile.

It’s funny how I already have those first three books on my shelf but have somehow never come around to reading them.  No time like now to broaden my Tea mind with these.



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