Those tiny lit­tle tea leaves

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos -

Dried, bound, im­mersed in hot wa­ter, and iced— the path of a tea leaf is any­thing but serene. Though the thought of drink­ing tea might con­jure up im­ages of the Queen of Eng­land sit­ting erect in a comfy chair and munch­ing on but­tered scones or Paula Deen giv­ing recipe in­struc­tions in be­tween snorts of the spiked bev­er­age— in Ja­pan, tea-drink­ing orig­i­nated as a much more rev­er­en­tial prac­tice. Tea was first in­tro­duced to Ja­pan by trav­el­ing monks who brought it back from China dur­ing the ninth cen­tury. Though it was re­ceived with moderate pop­u­lar­ity, it wasn’t un­til the 16th cen­tury that tea mas­ter Sen Rikyu gave it the cer­e­mo­nial sig­nif­i­cance it holds to­day.

Chado, or the “way of tea,” is a cer­e­mony with the prepa­ra­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion of tea at its core. From the aus­tere ar­chi­tec­ture of the tea­houses built dur­ing that era to the im­per­fect shape of raku pot­tery used for the drink­ing bowls, Rikyu gave Ja­pan its own tea cer­e­mony. For samu­rai, it served as a med­i­ta­tive coun­ter­point to com­bat. As New Mex­ico Chado di­rec­tor Sak­ina von Briesen ex­plains, “In the 15th and 16th cen­turies, most tea­houses had sword racks out­side of them, be­cause samu­rai weren’t al­lowed to bring in their swords. But be­cause the sword was con­sid­ered their spirit, the use of fans be­gan in place of swords, so they were never without their spir­its.” It’s not clear whether the samu­rai brought the phi­los­o­phy of Zen Bud­dhism to the prac­tice of chado or it ex­isted be­fore the cer­e­mony be­came pop­u­lar with samu­rai in the 16th cen­tury. But the as­so­ci­a­tion of Zen phi­los­o­phy with the prac­tice per­sists to­day.

Most as­pects of the cer­e­mony are de­ter­mined by the time of year in which it takes place. Deep tea bowls are used in cold months; shal­low tea bowls are used dur­ing warmer months (shal­low bowls help the tea cool faster). Ev­ery­thing from flower ar­range­ments to where the tatami (wo­ven straw mats) are placed de­pends on sea­sonal changes.

Though the tea cer­e­mony is revered as a part of Ja­pan’s her­itage, young peo­ple aren’t tak­ing to the dis­ci­pline as their par­ents once did. To­day, most young adults who study chado do so as a mat­ter of eti­quette.

Cour­tesy Palace of the Gov­er­nors Photo Archives (NMHM/DCA), Neg­a­tive No. 087803

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