THE WAY OF TEA
Japanese ceremony schools in Shanghai temper Chinese temperaments
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.
Japanese tea ceremony teacher Sanae Otsuka (in black) teaches tea ceremony to a student.