The Art of the Tea Ceremony: Panel at Katsucon
Next to hot cocoa, tea is my hot drink of choice. There’s something comforting about it and I love the fact I can mix and match flavors to create my own combination. As someone who loves tea, I’ve always had an interest in the Japanese tea ceremony. When I saw there was a panel that gave a demonstration I was immediately interested. In my mind, I expected a little tea house set that would emulate what a traditional tea house would look like. I figured it would be great for pictures.
As you’ll see from the picture posted at the beginning of this article, it was not what I expected. It was pretty much just a black stage with the tea ceremony set and a painting. I was immediately disappointed. The ceremony itself was pretty straightforward and you can see it in the video below.
A couple things stood out to me while I attended this panel. The first was the fact that one of the women was sitting very incorrectly. You are supposed to sit in seiza as demonstrated by the woman in the glasses. It kind of took me out of the ceremony to be honest and I began to question these women’s experience. Plus the fact that they needed to read off from a cheat sheet about the history of the tea ceremony and forgot the name of one of the utensils used for the ceremony made me think they were beginners. When they announced they’ve been doing it for over 10 years I was floored. While they go on to explain the ceremony they were demonstrating was a more informal style, it was still a bit off putting.
Still I did learn some interesting information and background on the history. As with most things in Japanese culture, Japan took elements of the traditional tea ceremony from China and added their own flair. Initially it was almost the same, but when Zen Buddhism became prolific in Japan, the tea ceremony slowly changed. It became more focused on the ritualistic aspect of the ceremony and emphasized simplicity over unnecessary decorations. The tea ceremony became a way for people to experience a state of zen not only through the ceremony but from the moment guests arrive to the host’s home. The hosts would mark a trail that would lead guests through their garden not only to admire the surroundings but to reflect on whatever theme the host has chosen for the ceremony. It could be the coming of spring, the impermanence of life or the flow of water.
One tidbit I found interesting was the reason behind the low entrance to the tea house. According to the panellists it is to humble the guests. In essence, everyone regardless of status must bow their head to the tea. It’s a gesture to mean everyone is equal in the eyes of tea, which the panellists proceeded to note was “bullshit.”
Japan is an incredibly hierarchical society and even during a tea ceremony the status of a person is highlighted. The person with the highest status sits closest to the host and receives his/her tea first and then so on. The one with the lowest status must wait last to drink their tea and partake of their snacks. I think a tea ceremony is a perfect reflection of the underlying current of Japanese society and culture.
If Katsucon plans to do the tea ceremony panel again I highly suggest making it more of a production so the viewers can really see what it would look like. Even simple tatami mats would have been a great inclusion instead of just the black stage.