In my last article, I mentioned that tea ceremony is a mystery-solving game. A theme is always chosen in each tea ceremony. Participants find hints about this theme hidden in tea utensils and confectionaries, and have to guess the theme. While on the topic of mysteries, I will talk about the mystery hidden in the way of drinking matcha (抹茶) this time.
First, let me briefly summarize how to drink matcha.
A tea bowl is used to drink matcha. So, unlike a teacup, there is no handle on the tea bowl. Thus, there is a special way to hold it.
1. Pick up your tea bowl. Make sure you use your right hand.
2. Place the tea bowl on the palm of your left hand, and rotate it twice clockwise.
3. Please drink (with 3-4 gulps).
4. When you’re finished drinking, rotate the tea bowl twice counter-clockwise before placing it back on the original location.
Very simple, isn’t it?
Yet, there was one strange action, wasn’t there? You rotated the tea bowl before and after drinking matcha. Even many Japanese people don’t understand this action. Why do we have to rotate the tea bowl for drinking matcha?
This is one of the iconic actions of Teaism. The keyword is “aside.”
In Confucianism, when you drink alcohol with an elderly person, you turn their face aside the front of the senior and drink, hiding the mouth. Zen is deeply connected to Confucianism. Teaism also contains some concepts of Zen, so there is some relationship with this idea.
I moved away a little from the subject. Anyway, everything has its front side. For us human beings, it is our face. For tea bowls, the front is the most beautiful part, where pictures are painted as shown in the photo.
A host selects tea bowls, based on the preferences of the guests invited. Then, guests honor the preparation from the host by rotating the tea bowl. Why? The most beautiful part of a tea bowl is its face. So it is rude if you put a mouth directly on it, isn’t it? You also turn aside your face the front when you hug and kiss, don’t you? They are the same concept. So we should rotate the tea bowl aside.
However, one of my friends, a potter, said something interesting. As a creator, he wants a drinker to drink matcha while seeing the most beautiful part of the tea bowl. I understand it is a natural thing for a creator, however, in the tea ceremony, we do this the other way.
Well, let me give you a little challenging question at the end.
Where do you think the front of this tea bowl is? It looks the same on all sides. But take a good look at it. Do you notice any small differences of color and pattern? So, where do you think the front of this tea bowl is? The answer is simple. Anywhere is good. The front is the part, where the host thinks is the most beautiful. In other words, it should depend on the aesthetic sense of the host.
This time I talked about a little deep Teaism knowledge. If you have a chance to drink matcha somewhere, rotate the front of the tea bowl a little bit. I am sure your host will be surprised!