Thursday, July 16, 2015

Japanese Tea Ceremony Celebrates Nature and Culture

EunYoung performs her 1st Tea Ceremony - Sakura blossoms frame the cultural presentation 

While it’s true that some could convincingly argue that Climate Change had a hand in keeping this year’s Kwanzan Cherry (Prunus serrulata) trees’ heart-stopping double blossoms well past Mother’s Day, I prefer to think that the Pink Petal retention was due to the fact that we were hosting a cultural event at our Garden State country house: a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony!  
This was an extraordinary double-dip of a sakura matsuri celebration and a lovely ode to spring -- and to the two tea ceremony performers: the professional Tea-Whisk artist and tea master: Satoko Souheki Mori and her accomplished student, EunYoung Sebazco.
Student EunYoung (L) & her Tea Master, Souheki-san, Tea Whisk 

Bill, Mother and I were so honored EunYoung chose our home to preview, or showcase, her first “public” tea ceremony presentation.  

There was much gentle preparation prior to the event, including the day’s schedule for all to travel from New York, full list of ingredients and preparation time, waking up the spring garden, kimono selection, and food and drink preparation, note cards to credit the artisans whose creations are essential to the tea ceremony, including the artisanal sweet makers, ceramic bowl makers and tea sources.
While I will detail the extraordinary elements and details of the tea ceremony, I will humbly allow the images to speak the magic of this cultural art ….
Sakura blossom are nature's backdrop; Peony - Chabana and Poem Paper grace the tea table

The artisans and their contributions:  
Green Tea Powder (Matcha)
Tea bowl (Chawan)
Mother  & pretty tea bowl: Chawan

 by Mako Nishimori,
Japanese Sweets (Wagashi)
 by Chef Fujiko Aoki, Gourmand Awards Winners 2009

Poem paper (Shikishi)
百花為誰開 : Who open for Hundreds flowers
Flower (Chabana)

I learned every tea ceremony has a theme that is displayed: this one/ours was the poem that was displayed on the table next to the tea pot.  

Souheki-san chose the peony for this tea ceremony - and I couldn’t have been more thrilled.  
The peony is my hands-down favorite flower.  The challenge for EunYoung, I also learned, was to find one that we would characterize as perhaps 40% “open.”  
Souheki-san politely explained it is not thought of that way; rather the peony blossom should be thought of as contributing that much of the blossom’s “energy” to the special tea ceremony…
See how much more thoughtful and philosophical it is to look at life like this?

The tea ceremony cultural artists were accompanied by their wonderful husbands, Tom and Junya-San.  Junya also served as the official photographer of the day (but the photos here are mine.)  
And along with the food and drink - (I had to offer saki!), and the glory of the gardens, were the kimono fashions worn by Souheki-san and EunYoung.  So very pretty and almost architectural - and we all learned, very practical -- the napkin can be "stored" in the kimono's folds. So much of the kimono is designed for utility as well as display -- in fact, kimono means, “thing to wear.”  That’s practical!  

EunYoung tucked the napkin in kimono folds over obi 

The Tea Ceremony embraces the elements of Nature and our five senses.  Our home does too… So the setting was ideal - with a backdrop of the water garden’s goldfish and tinkling fountain as soundscape; wrap-around scent of lilac, and the breathtaking glory of the Kwanzan Cherry Tree with it’s double pom-pom blossoms and the blossom’s cascading pink snow that covered the gardens - along with the magical taste of the cherry blossom sweets - and the tea.  
Maria & Judy enjoying tea
EunYoung later wrote: "It was an honor to perform in front of Leeann, and her family and friends.  Thank you, so so much, Leeann. I appreciated every minute during the tea ceremony. Gorgeous pink snow, water soundscape, wrap-around beautiful lilac  scent and lovely people.  Thank you for allowing me to use all your elements in my first tea ceremony. It was very, very special."

Indeed.  It was other-worldly, in fact.  
This simple, exotic, and mysterious cultural event brought such joy to me and our guests.  

I cried - moved by the sheer beauty of it. Along with pride for all EunYoung studies and has accomplished.  She brings pure bliss to us. And all who have the pleasure to know her…

Here are some videos that capture some of the spiritual essence of the tea ceremony:

The Tea Ceremony experience endured long after the event.  I received thank you letters from the guests, noting how it touched them personally.  One of the honored guests, Jean, wrote she was moved to go back and visit their photo album of a tea ceremony they witnessed in Japan. Another guest wrote they gained an appreciation for the season, and the discipline, and the simple, elegance of the ceremony and the heart-stopping glamour of the cherry blossoms. One of my dear, garden design clients, Maria, was moved to purchase a tea bowl ceramic art that EunYoung made in her ceramic art class.  Who could blame her? The artful design and execution is delicate and yet enduring….  

After the two tea ceremony performances by EunYoung and Souheki-san, all the guests were sufficiently seduced by the pretty pink, petal-blossom "snow" - and we followed the kimono-dressed ladies out to the garden.  

It was a dream… I’ll let the breathtaking images speak a thousand words - mirroring the tea ceremony theme of “Hundreds of Flowers.”  

Souheki-san, me, Mother, and EunYoung and Pink Snow! 

As Souheki-san explained at the start of the tea ceremony, nature and the blossoms do not ask anything of us.  Rather they are there for us to look at, to enjoy.  Beauty - in nature - surrounds us.

Guest Judy McLellan, Souheki-san, EunYoung, me, Guest Maria Steinberg & Sakura 

I researched and prepared the following brief history and overview of the tea ceremony so that our guests who might not have been familiar with the customs and significance of the cultural experience. Souheki-san made a few helpful edits.
I included a gorgeous photo of the Kwanzan Cherry Tree as a lasting tribute, rolled it up and tied with a ribbon for our guests to take home.  

Souheki-san, Tea Whisk, & pink snow of Cherry Blossom tree/Sakura

The traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony combines elements of Zen Buddhism into a social context. A bowl of tea is prepared by a host for a guest and shared in the spirit of peacefulness and harmony.  
A discipline nourished and refined by the Japanese since the fifteenth century, The Japanese Tea Ceremony is based on the simple act of heating water, making tea, and offering it to others. Served respectfully with a pure and open heart and received with gratitude, a bowl of tea satisfies both a physical and spiritual thirst.  
When people are invited to a tea gathering, something like being invited to a friend’s house for dinner, they can anticipate sitting on the floor of a small room somewhat secluded from the everyday world. The room will be immaculate; a calligraphic scroll (a thought-provoking phrase, perhaps written by a Buddhist priest) will have been hung on one of the walls; flowers, fresh from the fields or garden, will have been arranged in a vase or basket.
Water, which will be used to make the tea, will be heating in an iron kettle, and a freshly-made Japanese sweets (Wagashi) will be offered to the guests before they receive the tea.
All this is done with the intention of making the gathering as pleasant as possible for each guest. Sitting quietly together, one’s focus gently and naturally comes into the present moment where the uniqueness of each succeeding moment may be appreciated in its fullness.
Harmony (Wa), Respect (Kei), Purity (Sei), and Tranquility (Jaku) are principles fundamental to Zen Buddhism. Practitioners of tea work to integrate these concepts into their studies and their daily lives as well.  
Tea, at first, was drunk as both a medicine and a beverage. Its legendary healing properties, combined with its providing an energetic boost, have made tea the most popular beverage in the world, second only to water.
Originally, tea came from the mountains of Southeast Asia and became widely enjoyed in China between the seventh and tenth centuries. There, shavings from a brick of pressed, fermented and roasted tea leaves were mixed with flavorings such as ginger or salt and hot water and drunk. Although tea was introduced into Japan during this same time, it was a very expensive item. Because of this, its use was confined to Buddhist monasteries and the upper levels of the aristocracy.
Sometime in the twelfth century, the Chinese discovered that it wasn’t necessary to ferment and roast leaves in order to make tea. They found that green tea leaves could be steamed soon after picking, dried, aged for about six months, and then ground into a fine powder. The powder could then be whisked together with hot water to make an equally good beverage, but it was green instead of black.
This powdered green tea, called ‘matcha’ in Japanese, was brought to Japan from China in the thirteenth century, and although it was still expensive, its use soon became a part of everyday life in Buddhist monasteries and over time was widely enjoyed by court nobles and the samurai warrior class.

If you want to see more or learn more about Japanese culture, please contact Souheki-san and visit her and EunYoung at the many cultural events held at Stephen Globus’  NYC Washitsu   You will be equal parts astonished at the exacting, real-world replica of a Japanese tea-house - in a Gotham penthouse near Union Square!  You can also experience Japanese culture in the many exhibits and classes held there, including music, fashion, cuisine, film, fine art, and dance.  Enjoy.  It’s all so glamorous.  

And if you want to host your own very special Tea Ceremony - at home or work - just contact Souheki-san at Tea Whisk!

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