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edible traditions

The Way of Tea The winter practice of the Japanese tea ceremony By Marta Madigan • Photography by Ryan Benyi • Styling by Bridget Henry


irst you boil water, then you make a perfect bowl of matcha— green powdered tea—and drink it. It may seem simple but the Japanese tea ceremony takes years to study and a lifetime to master. There are different schools, different seasons, different occasions, and different ceramics used for different consistencies of tea. Regardless of all those variables, sharing a wonderful moment remains at the heart of sadō, the way of tea.

Beauty in Simplicity A faintly pink camellia in half-bloom and three green leaves bend from an unglazed earthy vase. This chabana—a simple floral decoration for the tea ceremony—graces the tea room during the first half of winter. Flowers connect people to nature and bring the season indoors. According to Sen no Rikyū, one of the founding fathers of sadō, flowers should be arranged as they are in the field. “This means you can only use the variety that blooms near you during a particular month,” explains Maya Ishii, an Urasenke Tea Ceremony Society member. “You should try to make your chabana look natural,” she adds. Next to a single flower or a few branches of willow usually hangs a prominent scroll that displays an artistically calligraphed Zen phrase or a

Opposite: The traditional presentation for the Japanese tea ceremony, sadō, the way of tea. The bamboo whisk whips the matcha green tea powder into a fine foam and the minature mountain of matcha is symbolic of the tea ceremony’s Buddhist origins.

painting or a combination of both. For hatsugama, the first tea ceremony held in January, an art piece with Japan’s beloved pine tree motif whispers longevity and good fortune. Hanging scrolls play an important role in Japanese tea gatherings. They not only accentuate the ascetic design of the tea room but also give pause for thought.

Spiritual Exercise The Japanese tea ritual is deeply rooted in the philosophy of Zen Buddhism. Harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility—the four principles of sadō—lift participants to a higher plane of virtue. “When in the tea room all guests are equal,” says Mark Hykes, a Japanese translation grad student at Kent State University and an Omotesenke school of tea practitioner of nine years. Putting everyone on the same status enables the harmonious atmosphere of the ceremony. Hospitality and a great attention to each detail offered by the host show respect to the guests who, in turn, display appreciation for the host’s efforts. Mutual respect and gratitude reinforce the feeling of harmony. Purity refers to cleaning utensils, one’s body and mind. “The host cleans everything and thus cleans himself and his guests making them pure,” Mark explains. Before entering the tea room, guests wash their




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