Its not quite yet 90 degrees on this sticky Philadelphia morning. A slight breeze relieves my skin every now and again, but its more of a tease. It comes and then goes quickly leaving me to the not so tender mercies of summer. I squirm slightly; I still lack the discipline to be able to sit seiza for a full ceremony, even a beginner one like the one we are practicing. Sighing, I focus on the anticipation of receiving the bowl of emerald goodness being prepared for me now.
My love affair with Japan has been going on for quite some time now. Like most Gen-Xers, I can probably trace the roots back to some piece of offbeat bit of animation that distinguished itself from everything else on American TV at the time. Battle of the Planets, Voltron, Star Blazers, Speed Racer, might be the most common titles you hear. My favorite was the genre defining Ribon No Kishi with it's daring sword-wielding and cross dressing princess. But of course, not every Gen-Xer takes it as far as I do.
O-shoban itashimasu (Thank you for letting me join you.)
At some point, I got drawn in by Japan's legends and mythology. I got to appreciating it's ancient stories as well as it's modern ones. Had I been in college when this happened, I likely would have studied the Japanese language formally. But I satisfied myself by buying textbooks, flash cards and learning games to work with on my own. I became interested in Japan's native religion, Shintoism, reading all I could find about it. While that was great, it couldn't give me the full understanding I desired - I felt that would require a teacher (it's one of the reasons that though I like and admire what I've read on Shinto very much, I could not honestly consider myself a Shintoist). The Philadelphia area doesn't have any Shinto temples but it does have a vibrant Japanese cultural society. I had read that formal Japanese tea ceremony lessons were a good way to learn not just a small aspect of Japanese culture, but also that is was a good way to get a bit of insight into the philosophies and mindset that permeate Japan's religious thought. That attracted me. Well that, and the fact I really like tea.
O-temae chodai itashimasu (Thank you very much for preparing the tea.)
It was a little daunting, learning all the motions at first. There seem to be so many of them, but after a while I came to understand that each of the movements has a purpose; the ceremony was designed to be as efficient as possible. It certainly doesn't feel that way at the start! Aside from the hand and arm motions, it takes quite a bit of getting used to sitting in the proper position and then rising gracefully, so as not to shower your fellow students in warm rinse water as you exit. Also, it's not always easy getting up extra early on a Saturday morning to drive an hour into the city. My mother, who has teasingly called me "Bruce Leroy" after the character in Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon, shakes her head at this latest passion of mine. (Hey mom, Bruce Leroy was technically all into Chinese culture, not Japanese 'kay?).
Yes, it is weird getting up early, driving a good distance to consume a boiling hot beverage on days when even my dog would rather be inside. It isn't logical. But then again, what great passions in our lives really are? I almost think for it to really be a true passion, there must be just a touch of madness.
Finally it is my turn to get my bowl. I turn it the way I have been instructed after saying the proper polite lines. The tea looks and smells perfect with it's bit of froth floating on top. I raise my bowl, and although this isn't officially part of the ceremony I always mentally say, itadekimasu (literally, I receive).
This posting is part of the fabulous Mad Tea Party 2013 blog party. Follow the link and take a peek at some of the other amazingly fun postings going on today