Always too much to do in Kyoto and too little time~! This time it was especially memorable being able to explore it with fellow Tea Ceremony lover T, who made it so fun despite the sun beating down so heavily on us. The weather really was quite a killer since most of the time we were walking along the streets outside from shop to shop. Those small winding streets are the best for unexpected discoveries and slow appreciation of little details such as plants, window displays, courtyard gardens, but when it’s so scorchingly hot, the main thing you want to do is escape indoors.
It was one memorable activity after another though, starting with our very first Chakai/Tea Gathering (茶会) organized by Urasenke Tea School, held at the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. Initially we weren’t even sure where it was when we entered the grounds because there was no huge sign advertising it. T spotted two middle aged well dressed ladies headed off in a quiet direction and the thought that they could be attending the Gathering surfaced briefly in our minds, but they seemed to be headed towards some dead end with bushes so we went ahead asking other Shrine staff for directions. Funnily enough, we ended up making a whole big round only to realize that those two ladies she had spotted WERE indeed headed to the Tea Gathering. Tea instincts can sometimes be very accurate it seems. 😉
N-Sensei had incredibly kindly prepared T a letter typed out in Japanese to request that she be allowed in as a guest. With the power of that letter (and since we were able to pay the entrance fee as well ;p), I was able to enter as well and I’m pretty sure the all assumed I was her non-Tea ceremony practising translator of sorts mainly because of… 1. the dark blue and white striped socks that I wore!(Completely did not realize that they would not sell some white tabi socks so didn’t have on hand as well.) 2. the lack of a Sensu or Fan, which is more ceremonial than anything; never opened like a typical fan, but usually used as a symbol of respect between guest and host. Those two were probably obvious hints enough to the rest of the ladies there that I was not very well versed in Tea Ceremony ^^;;; but at that time I was just relieved to be let in with T.
All in all it was a pretty fascinating experience. There must have been 20-30 guests who took their seats against the walls of the room. We sat next to a young male Sensei who had unfortunately for him, been ‘forced’ to accompany and take care of us by his more senior male colleague at the front entrance. It was the first time I was viewing the summer style tea ceremony in a big room/Hiroma. The host does the Temae/ceremony pretty far away actually. Rather than focus on how she did specific movements or the minute details of her Temae, I could only look from afar and appreciate the overall aesthetic of it. The clean, sharp lines that are more apparent in the Summer style Ceremony as the host is seated and facing away at a right angle from the viewer who sits viewing the whole thing straight on. It was a totally different feeling from the usual teaching style ceremony at the museum and even more different from the extremely cozy tea hut atmosphere at T-sensei’s place. After the young host started the ceremony, an older lady (presumably the Sensei) came and sat near her, chatting with the 1st and 2nd guest (the most important guests of the ceremony). I couldn’t quite understand what they were saying but it appeared they were all acquainted and were making pleasantries about people they both knew. In the end, the host Sensei did such a good job of chatting and pretty much blocking the young host the whole way, that it was difficult to focus on the young lady’s Temae. Perhaps that was the whole idea from the start!
The one thing I did manage to take away though, was a somewhat achingly painful reminder of how deep the whole Tea Ceremony is and how the barriers to learning and understanding anything about it are incredibly high. The language really was, and always will be, the main barrier. The host had gone through the usual procedure of explaining more about the utensils used – the origins of the tea bowls, the meaning of the scroll, the incense etc… In the end what we managed to grasp was that the equipment used was centred around Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. Not only was it the birthplace of the host Sensei, it is also the place where one of the important tea masters currently resides… Much more was lost in translation of course. And while it was an experience of a lifetime for sure, it reminded me of how lucky I was to have discovered Chado while in Berlin, under the wings of T-Sensei, himself a non-Japanese, because it allowed me to always be attuned from the start to the spirit of Tea, rather than trying to overreach in a culture not of my own, for qualifications or knowledge rather than appreciation of the thought and intention behind it all.
After that, we traipsed through the Tea district, stopping by tea equipment stores, marvelling at the incredible prices from the window (after awhile when we saw more than 4 digits in the price, we immediately decided to step away~!), and getting some goodies from a second hand tea store. Lunch was at a perfect chance find – Thread Cafe , where we met up with T’s bf F, and enjoyed delicious ice coffee/ice matcha, healthy lunch set with whole grain rice and a multitude of small tasty dishes.
It was such fun going from tea equipment shop to tea shop to tea shop to tea shop with them because usually it’s hard to find people who don’t mind drinking matcha or tea hour after hour. Still top on my list as one of the best places for a delicious iced matcha and wagashi? Marukyu Koyamaen. *_*
Dinner was Tonkatsu courtesy of Google maps + reviews. It happened to be T’s first Tonkatsu meal ever and to my utter disbelief, I found out she doesn’t have an inclination towards fried food! What a dream eh? ^^;; Half the battle against staving off unhealthy foods won. Thankfully, she enjoyed it and it was such a delicious meal.
At night, was so tired I collapsed onto the futon for an early night’s sleep. Once again though, was awoken at about 11pm from a strange whirring noise right outside my room which was the room directly facing the back of the ryokan. Perhaps some sort of automated heater? Automated something or other. Went on for at least 15 minutes, disturbing me from my slumber and making me wish I was back in the quiet, cozy room in Kasen.