In the middle of a beautiful garden in Japan’s Yokohama, harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity were cherished with sips of authentic green tea amidst the cherry blossoms.
Compiled by Matthew Mok
While participating in the annual hanami parties (traditional Japanese flower viewing festival) in Japan recently, I had a quick lesson from a tea master on how to prepare for a Japanese tea ceremony in Sankeien Garden, Yokohama.
Step 1: Keep calm and prepare away
Observe the utensils around you—the boiling clay kettle, a wooden ladle, a thick brush, Japanese green tea powder and an empty tea bowl to pour the green tea into later on.
Whatever you do, go slow and steady…
Step 2: Scoop from the heart
Fill the tea bowl with two tiny servings of green tea powder and smear them evenly inside the bowl. It’s important to do this to ensure the powder does not clump (or be prepared to serve guests lumps of green goo).
Step 3: Pour some love
Holding the ladle, scoop a round of piping hot water from the kettle. As your ladle nears the bowl, circle the edge in an anti-clockwise direction and slowly pour the water into the tea bowl. Pause for dramatic effect…before proceeding with your second scoop of hot water. The water should fill just a quarter of that big tea bowl.
Step 4: Whip it like there’s no tomorrow!
My tea master tells me to whip the mixed green tea concoction faster and harder with the thick brush in hand, though my mind was adamant on keeping the calm and maintaining my poise — a somewhat surreal and conflicting moment! “Whip it like an omelette!” she stressed to me in Japanese (thanks to my Japanese colleague who played translator throughout the entire process) and kept nodding her head in encouragement.
After a few minutes of “whipping the omelette” with much vigour and strength, my first ever authentic Japanese tea ceremony is then completed and my handcrafted green tea is ready to be served! I have never felt so proud (and so authentically Japanese) at the same time.
So how do you really enjoy drinking the green tea, as per tradition?
Firstly, you are encouraged to ‘be one’ with your harmonious surroundings. That’s easy because Sankeien Garden boasts beautiful ponds and rows of sakura trees in full bloom as Japanese carps swam gently in the brooks – a befitting atmosphere to easily conjure up peace from within.
Please consume the sweet cakes before drinking the green tea. I believe it’s a way to neutralise your palette when the tongue comes in contact with the smoky, slightly bitter taste of green tea.
Next, pay attention to the front of the tea bowl — it’s always facing you when being served by the tea master. Remember to avoid drinking from the front of the tea bowl. Place the bowl on your left palm and use your right hand to turn it clockwise very slowly. Drink the tea in three or four sips.
To accentuate the experience, wipe the rim of the tea bowl where you drank with your thumb and forefinger slightly. Then, wipe your fingers with a hanky or any personal items you deem as “pure” – a lip gloss perhaps?
After finishing the tea, place the bowl in front of you and turn it clockwise or counter clockwise and face the front of bowl towards the tea master. Bow to each other with deep respect.
Amazingly, I felt a deeper sense of serenity during the entire ritual. Whenever I drink of cup of coffee or tea in the morning at home, I will always remember this very simple but unusual tea ceremony.