October 1, 2014 ◆ Shuntaro Kondo
I talked about the origin of the tea room (cha-shitsu) in my last article.
I will continue to cover more details about the tea ceremony this time.
A tea ceremony is like a tea party where guests drink tea and eat Japanese confectionaries. However, as it is called, “tea ceremony,” there is a ritual to follow. You cannot envision a true tea ceremony ritual when I suddenly use the phrase “tea party’, can you?
You will recall from my previous articles that traditional tea ceremony practice is referred to as “Teaism”. It originally started as a ritual to tribute tea to God. Therefore, tea masters spent nearly an hour to prepare a single cup of tea. Then, they placed a tea bowl on an altar when they dedicated the tea to God.
The ceremony has been simplified little by little as time has gone by, and now, emphasizes only the part about drinking tea. After tracing these changes and evolutions, current ceremonial ritual exists. Anyone who sees a tea ceremony for the first time, continues to feel the very ritualistic atmosphere even though it’s in its simplified state.
When I perform a tea ceremony or teach at a Teaism class, students ask me, “What is a tea ceremony?” I answer, “A tea ceremony is a mystery-solving game. You, as readers, must think this is strange.
Normally, a tea ceremony is preceded by a host with a “theme.” For example, as a host you can represent a season, such as “sakura” (cherry blossom flower). Alternatively it can be an abstract theme, quoted from Zen. There is a lot of variety. You choose tea utensils and prepare confectionaries to express the theme you decide on.
This is a picture of a tea ceremony with the theme, “universe”. I’ve been working on this over the last few years. I’ve said that a tea room is narrow and dim in my last article. A tea ceremony has cosmology everywhere. Thus, Teaism and the universe have great chemistry.
I met a professor who studied the universe by chance one day. The professor taught the subject at Kyoto University. I hold “Universe Tea Ceremonies” on a regular basis to learn about the universe and Teaism by projecting an image of aurora and the sun in the tea room where the ceremony is being held.
This hanging scroll is the one that I used at the tea ceremony. There are some characters on it. Do you know what it says? Does it look like difficult kanji (Chinese characters)? But, take a closer look. They are characters that everyone knows well.
In fact, it is the formula of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which represents the origin of the universe. (Japanese people always say, “Now that you say that!” upon revelation.) I guess there is a preconceived notion that they are kanji because it is on a hanging scroll.
We express themes and messages, through tea utensils and space. Then, you check the answer of the theme at the end, by describing these tea utensils and confectionary. Then, the mystery of the tea ceremony is solved.
No need to think harder. Find a theme that you want to express, and create it. It is the same as thinking about how to hold Thanksgiving or a Halloween party. It is a tea ceremony and after all, it is a tea party!