Japanese Tea Ceremony - Studying The Tea Ceremony

Studying The Tea Ceremony

In Japan, those who wish to study the tea ceremony typically join what is known in Japanese as a "circle", which is a generic term for a group that meets regularly to participate in a given activity. There are also tea clubs at many junior and high schools, colleges and universities.

Classes may be held at community centres, dedicated tea schools, or at private homes. Tea schools often have widely varied groups that all study in the same school but at different times. For example, there may be a women's group, a group for older or younger students, and so on.

Students normally pay a monthly fee which covers tuition and the use of the school's (or teacher's) bowls and other equipment, the tea itself, and the sweets that students serve and eat at every class. Students must be equipped with their own fukusa, fan, kaishi paper, and kobukusa, as well as their own wallet in which to place these items. Though western clothing is very common today, if the teacher is in the higher rank of tradition, especially an iemoto, wearing kimono is still considered essential, especially for women. In some cases, advanced students may be given permission to wear the school's mark in place of the usual family crests on formal montsuki kimono. This permission usually accompanies the granting of a chamei, or "tea name", to the student.

New students typically begin by observing more advanced students as they practice. New students may be taught mostly by more advanced students; the most advanced students are taught exclusively by the teacher. The first things new students learn are how to correctly open and close sliding doors, how to walk on tatami, how to enter and exit the tea room, how to bow and to whom and when to do so, how to wash, store and care for the various equipment, how to fold the fukusa, how to ritually clean tea equipment, and how to wash and fold chakin. As they master these essential steps, students are also taught how to behave as a guest at tea ceremonies: the correct words to say, how to handle bowls, how to drink tea and eat sweets, how to use paper and sweet-picks, and myriad other details.

As they master the basics, students will be instructed on how to prepare the powdered tea for use, how to fill the tea caddy, and finally, how to measure the tea and water and whisk it to the proper consistency. Once these basic steps have been mastered, students begin to practice the simplest temae, typically beginning with O-bon temae (see above). Only when the first ceremony has been mastered will students move on. Study is through observation and hands on practice; students do not often take notes, and many teachers discourage the practice of note-taking.

As they master each ceremony, some schools and teachers present students with certificates at a formal ceremony. According to the school, this certificate may warrant that the student has mastered a given temae, or may give the student permission to begin studying a given temae. Acquiring such certificates is often very costly; the student typically must not only pay for the preparation of the certificate itself and for participating in the ceremony during which it is bestowed, but is also expected to thank the teacher by presenting him or her with a gift of money. The cost of acquiring certificates increases as the student's level increases.

Typically, each class ends with the whole group being given brief instruction by the main teacher, usually concerning the contents of the tokonoma (the scroll alcove, which typically features a hanging scroll (usually with calligraphy), a flower arrangement, and occasionally other objects as well) and the sweets that have been served that day. Related topics include incense and kimono, or comments on seasonal variations in equipment or ceremony.

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