Terrie's Take 855 (Tourism Edition) -- A Respectful Foreign Interpretation of the Tea Ceremony

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Mon Jun 27 08:11:19 JST 2016

* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie 
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, Jun 26, 2016, Issue No. 855

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+++ A Respectful Foreign Interpretation of the Tea Ceremony

Back in March 2014 in Terrie's Take 748 I wrote about Japanese green 
tea, matcha, and how remarkable it is. Not only does the herb have one 
of the highest antioxidant ratings of any natural food, its unique taste 
is spreading alongside sushi, miso, and wasabi - converting millions to 
a healthier, more flavorful Japanese-style diet. It is probably safe to 
say that matcha is also one of the few foods in the world to also be an 
art form and a philosophy - although I suppose that Belgian (or Swiss) 
chocolate might be a close competitor! :-)

My Japan Travel business is experiencing strong demand for custom tours 
and in our one-on-one phone consulting process, we quickly get through 
the hotels and sightseeing must-stays and must-sees, then wind up with 
what to actually do. Customers most commonly tell us that they want to 
do something very Japanese - something which is both memorable and 
artistic. If the customer is a first-timer to Japan, my consultants will 
usually list in order of preference: being entertained by a real geisha, 
having dinner with a sumo wrestler, watching a ninja workout, and going 
to a Kabuki performance. These are all highly memorable experiences, but 
they are also very visual and stimulative - almost theme-park-esque, 
which makes them in fact the exact flip side of the understated core 
persona of most Japanese.

Instead, if you want to capture the essence of Japanese spirit you also 
need arts with a dash of stoicism, nuanced values, and a direct 
connection to Buddhist or Shinto philosophy. These art forms are by 
their very nature less entertaining, but can nonetheless be memorable 
providing the thinking behind them is explained. Noh would be a leading 
contender for a deep dive into the collective Japanese psyche, as would 
Ikebana (flower arrangement), pottery making, and of course the tea 

[Continued below...]

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The Japanese tea ceremony came into being with the return of early 
Buddhist monks from China. Wikipedia says the first recorded evidence of 
tea in Japan was in the 9th century when Buddhist monk Eichu served tea 
to the Emperor Saga. However, it really started gaining popularity in 
the 12th and 13th centuries after another monk, Eisai, introduced the 
frothy green tea preparation method, along with seeds that became the 
start of tea plantations in Kyoto (Uji).

Why Uji? Well apparently Eisai left some of his precious seeds to be 
grown at Kazanji Temple. The high priest at the time, Myoe, recognized 
the value of Eisei's gift and after the seeds sprouted he had them 
transplanted to Uji, where the river ensured a suitable moderate climate 
for successful tea growing. Uji after that became the center of tea 
growing in Japan, and over the following centuries provided much of the 
evolution of techniques and technologies that make matcha such a unique 
product today.

But what about matcha as an art form? Well as you can guess from the 
potted history above, Buddhism played a big part in the dissemination of 
tea drinking around the country. It follows that as the samurai class 
rose in stature, it wanted a culture it could call its own. Following a 
book written by the monk Eisai in 1214, called Kissa Yojoki (How to Stay 
Healthy by Drinking Tea), the cues he offered evolved into a somewhat 
severe but popular aesthetic among the upper classes that honored 
humility, simplicity, imperfection, and emptiness of ego.

The tea ceremony provided a nice stage to demonstrate the ideals of the 
age, growing evermore ritualized and subtle as it evolved. By the 16th 
century tea drinking had become popular all over Japan, and amongst the 
wealthy and cultured, matcha and the tea ceremony became an artistic 
expression of human harmony, purity, and tranquility -- all values in 
short supply during an age when life was often brutal and short. Perhaps 
because it developed as such an understated art form, the tea ceremony 
was able to last another few hundred years relatively untouched, even as 
the world around it changed so dramatically.

But even in tea ceremony, some things have changed, and one of the most 
significant of these has been the arrival of foreigners who are willing 
to so thoroughly immerse themselves in the culture that they have become 
qualified to share the most refined arts with others not born here. One 
such outstanding practitioner of traditional tea ceremony is Belgian 
national Tyas Huybrechts.

Huybrechts discovered Japan as a teenager, both through kendo 
(swordsmanship) and reading Yoshikawa Eiji novels. He eventually earned 
a masters in Japanese Literature and started his tea apprenticeship by 
working at a tea merchant in Uji. Somewhere along the way he realized 
that his life work would be the sharing of the magic of the tea ceremony 
with other non-Japanese. Today he runs a tea ceremony school and 
tea-selling business. I asked Huybrechts to share a few words about the 
tea ceremony and what makes it special.

TT: Of all the things to learn about Japanese culture, why the tea ceremony?

Huybrechts: Of all Japan's traditional spiritual pursuits, none 
synthesizes a greater number of artistic practices than the Tea 
Ceremony. In its fullest form it combines flower arrangement, 
calligraphy, ceramics, lacquer work, architecture, garden-design, 
cuisine, incense use, and much more.

TT: Why create lessons based on traditional tea ceremony, when the macro 
trend is to make Japanese culture more accessible?

Huybrechts: I feel that Kyoto is turning into a big theme park, where 
traditional performing arts and venues have become mere attractions. 
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that visitors miss 
out on the real experiences, the truths, they could otherwise be 

TT: But aren't you in a sense also contributing to the 
over-commercialization of the tea ceremony with your lessons and outreach?

Huybrechts: While there are some Japanese tea ceremony instructors who 
over-commercialize the ceremony by shortening it to just 40 minutes, we 
believe that with sincere intentions and with the credentials and skills 
earned the hard way, that we will be able to introduce people to the 
deepest experiences to be had in a tea ceremony. Yes, this will take 
them more time, but the resulting self-awakening is worth it.

TT: How does this play with other tea masters?

Huybrechts: Having a purist approach, we haven't run into any opposition 
from other tea masters regarding our plans. On the contrary, most sensei 
we speak with actively encourage us in our efforts.

TT: What got you hooked on tea ceremony in the first place?

Huybrechts: Ever since I started practicing tea ceremony I felt a sense 
of peace. I am in a different world, a different state of mind when I am 
in a tea environment, and when I am serving. In a tea environment, 
everyone is equal. Everyone is respected regardless of rank, status, 
gender, or nationality. Constant care is taken in making everyone 
comfortable, and appreciation is always expressed for such 
consideration. I believe that we could all learn something from this 
level of human interaction, if only it occurred on a larger scale.

TT: What is your lifelong goal?

Huybrechts: Through tea-ceremony and sharing a cup of tea, I want to 
introduce the essence of tea ceremony to as many people possible, hoping 
the experience will provide even the slightest of inspirations to help 
change their lives for the better.

You can find out more about Huybrechts and his dedication to the 
dissemination of tradition tea ceremony culture here:

- Official website of the tea-ceremony workshop: http://bit.ly/28ZMlVV
- The Tea Crane (his organic tea web store): http://bit.ly/28XfWBw
- Huybrecht's tea-ceremony activities: http://bit.ly/28Wk4fA

...The information janitors/


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