THE WAY OF TEA

Ja­panese cer­e­mony schools in Shang­hai tem­per Chi­nese tem­per­a­ments

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - COMMUNITY - By Du Qiong­fang Re­cip­roca­tive ap­pre­ci­a­tion Page Edi­tor: heluyi@glob­al­times.com.cn

The Ja­panese are well-known for their eti­quette in ev­ery as­pect of their daily life, and this deco­rum is also re­flected in the highly elab­o­rate rules of their tea-mak­ing pro­ce­dure, which orig­i­nated in China as early as the 8th cen­tury but has evolved in Ja­pan over the mil­len­nia as its own unique cul­tural art form.

As many younger-gen­er­a­tion Chi­nese are catch­ing on to the im­por­tance of eti­quette in to­day’s global so­ci­ety, the Ja­panese tea cer­e­mony has be­come a popular medium to im­prove their man­ners. One such school that has suc­cess­fully cap­i­tal­ized on this is the Bi­mon (Beauty Gate) Man­ner School in Shang­hai, a Ja­panese-Chi­nese bilin­gual train­ing school that hosts work­shops on tea cer­e­mony, ike­bana (flower ar­range­ment) and ki­mono (tra­di­tional dress).

The work­shop’s founder, Sanae Ot­suka, is a re­spected Ja­panese tea cer­e­mony teacher of the Omote­senke School, one of the most es­teemed tea cer­e­mony schools in Ja­pan. Ot­suka es­tab­lished the train­ing school in 2008, and to date has taught ap­prox­i­mately 600 stu­dents in Shang­hai. Many of her stu­dents come as far as Bei­jing, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Sin­ga­pore to train with her, and some have been at her school for six years.

“When I first started the train­ing school, most of my stu­dents were Ja­panese,” Ot­suka told the Global Times. “But over the past few years more Chi­nese stu­dents are sign­ing up be­cause they are in­ter­ested in Ja­panese cul­ture, or be­cause they want to learn Ja­panese man­ners to im­prove their tem­per­a­ment.”

Ot­suka has been learn­ing tra­di­tional Ja­panese cus­toms such as tea cer­e­monies, mu­sic and danc­ing since she can re­mem­ber, and has been in­vited to present tea cer­e­monies at var­i­ous events held by the Con­sulate Gen­eral of Ja­pan in Shang­hai.

Learn­ing man­ners through cer­e­mony

Aiko Ishida, a Ja­panese who moved to Shang­hai with her hus­band for his work, has been study­ing tea cer­e­mony with Ot­suka for four years. She said it is cus­tom­ary for Ja­panese women to learn the tea cer­e­mony be­fore they get mar­ried. “Although learn­ing tea cer­e­mony is not as com­mon as it was in the past, Ja­panese men will still be happy if their fi­ancées learn de­cent man­ners through the cer­e­mony,” she said.

Twenty-three­year-old Chi­nese na­tional Zhang Ai­jing met her Ja­panese hus­band at a Ja­pane­se­owned com­pany in Shang­hai, where they work to­gether. “My hus­band is Ja­panese so I want to learn Ja­panese man­ners,” said Zhang, who has been study­ing at the school for six months.

But not all the school’s stu­dents have mat­ri­mony on their mind. “I just want to learn some cul­ture about my own coun­try,” said Ayaka Ya­mamoto, a 10-year-old Ja­panese girl living in China for the past nine years.

Ja­panese tea cer­e­mony is a com­pre­hen­sive cul­tural ac­tiv­ity com­bin­ing daily life with reli­gion, phi­los­o­phy, ethics and aes­thetics. Like many other East-Asian tea cer­e­monies, the ba­sis of the Ja­panese tea cer­e­mony is of course en­joy­ing tea. But un­like the Chi­nese tea cer­e­mony, which stresses the tea’s qual­ity and taste, the Ja­panese tea cer­e­mony places greater em­pha­sis on the host’s kind­ness and con­sid­er­a­tion to­ward guests, and the guest’s re­cip­roca­tive ap­pre­ci­a­tion to the host.

The host’s and guest’s eti­quette are dic­tated by a se­ries of com­plex rules and metic­u­lous de­tails of move­ment. Thus, stu­dents of the Ja­panese tea cer­e­mony course must first start by learn­ing how to per­form prop­erly as a guest be­fore they can progress to the level of host.

The train­ing course be­gins with stu­dents in ki­mono kneel­ing on tatami mats and tast­ing Ja­panese desserts of­fered by the teacher, per­form­ing as a host. While stu­dents en­joy their treats,

the teacher pre­pares matcha, a finely pow­dered green tea. When the tea is ready, the teacher care­fully serves the stu­dents.

When guests re­ceive the tea bowl, they can­not di­rectly drink the tea but first must bow to the neigh­bor­ing guests as a form of apol­ogy. As they sip the tea, guests must ro­tate the bowl so that the pat­terns on the bowl do not touch their lips. Af­ter fin­ish­ing, guests should ap­pre­ci­ate and praise the pat­terns on the tea bowl to show their grat­i­tude to the host. The bowl’s pat­terns vary by sea­son.

A life­time to mas­ter

Af­ter stu­dents mas­ter the eti­quette of be­ing guests, which may take months, they can grad­u­ate to learn­ing how to pre­pare the tea. Un­like Chi­nese tea classes where spe­cific in­for­ma­tion about the tea is dis­cussed, Ja­panese tea cer­e­mony teach­ers do not speak much. In­stead, they in­struct through their move­ments. The rules – how to mix pow­dered tea with hot wa­ter us­ing a whisk and how the tea’s qual­ity and the wa­ter’s tem­per­a­ture can af­fect the fla­vor and taste of matcha, for ex­am­ple – are ex­tremely de­tailed and com­pli­cated.

The pro­ce­dure of mak­ing Ja­panese tea takes years upon years to mas­ter, and some peo­ple study it their en­tire lives, which Ot­suka says tends to dis­cour­age her quick-tem­pered Chi­nese stu­dents. “Be­fore they start the course, they of­ten ask how long it lasts and how long it will take them to be able to per­form as well as I do,” Ot­suka told the Global Times.

“Chi­nese stu­dents seem to learn quickly and can re­mem­ber all the key points of move­ments with­out un­der­stand­ing my Ja­panese ex­pla­na­tions, but they al­ways think they can mas­ter Ja­panese tea cer­e­mony in three days just to get the qual­i­fi­ca­tion cer­tifi­cate,” she said.

Photo: Du Qiong­fang/GT

Ja­panese tea cer­e­mony teacher Sanae Ot­suka (in black) teaches tea cer­e­mony to a stu­dent.

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