Tea Time

Posted by on Dec 15, 2011 in Kyoto, Travel Volunteer Journey | 5 Comments
Tea Time

“Fancy a cuppa?”
“Ooh yeah, I’d love one.”
“How do you take it?”
“Milk and two, ta.”
Then Person A slinks off to the kitchen, tosses a generic tea bag in a cup, drowns it in boiling water, stirs it around briefly, hauls it out, plops in the two sugars and milk, then takes it back to an extremely grateful Person B.

Thus the Great British tea ceremony. To our unending shame, we fought wars and enslaved nations to ensure we could enjoy it. And we do – millions of times every single day, consuming the highest amount per capita in the world.

Perhaps because of this extremely high frequency, it’s become a very casual affair. Actually, save for the folk who pay through the nose for afternoon tea at a posh hotel, tea drinking in the UK is completely lackadaisical.

The process couldn’t be more different in Japan. With over a millennium of history, the traditional way of presenting tea has evolved into a very particular ritual. Ideally, the ceremony should take place in a dedicated room, and follow an iron-clad behavioural pattern that would make the average obsessive compulsive blush.

I can’t pretend that I memorised exactly every part of today’s ceremony – even if I had, there are a number of regional and personal variations – but there’s a lot of bowing and cup turning before any tea is drunk. Actually there’s a lot of bowing and reverence before you’re even allowed to take a bite of your preceding sweet, which is typically something very sugary to counteract the bitterness of the tea.

All that said, there is something incredibly elegant about the whole thing. In fact, until it came time to stand up, I was so caught up in the process I had quite forgotten about the faltering circulation in my legs as my arteries were crushed on the tatami mat.

Katy, with two working knees and a good deal more patience than me, suffered no such problems. Actually, she loves the tea ceremony – its delicacy, its refinement – having first enjoyed it at school when a visiting Japanese lady in a kimono demonstrated the practise to the school. As a wide-eyed 10-year-old it was the most exotic thing she had ever seen.

It’s all designed to show respect to guests, who, having bowed/crawled to get into the ceremonial room are all said to be equals (something that is almost immediately contradicted by one visitor becoming the “main guest”). However, the most important thing is the tradition which, in Kyoto’s historic eastern district, is abundant.

As we’ve travelled around the country, we’ve tut tutted at the statistics that say 90% of first-time visitors to Japan only visit Tokyo and Kyoto. Having seen some frankly unbelievable natural beauty, met so many warm, welcoming people, and eaten a preposterous amount of delicious food in other parts of the country, we’d built-up an opinion that 90% of people are wrong. By joining the madding crowds, they are missing out on the bigger picture of Japan’s diversity.

Unfortunately, our rebel spiel is now out the window. It’s hard to say it in an interesting way, but the truth is that Kyoto is a fantastic place to visit. Having seen literally dozens of temples and shrines over the past few months, we’re on the verge of being burned out, but there’s nothing quite like the array that’s on display here. The size, the scale and the sheer number of places of worship is unbelievable – over 1,600 temples, and over 300 shrines. Just as Tokyo made tittering fanboys of us, so Kyoto has left us towing the company line: this place is amazing, the sense of history overwhelming, blah blah, etc and so on. Seriously though: come here.

Aさん: “紅茶はいかがですか?”
Bさん: “はい、是非お願いします”
Aさん: “どのようにご用意しましょうか?”
Bさん: “ミルクと砂糖2つでお願いします”

で・・・Aさんはキッチンに行き、ティーパックをカップに入れる。そしてお湯を沸かし、さっと混ぜ、ティーパックを出して、角砂糖を2つとミルクを入れてから、Bさんのところに持って行く。

これがイギリスでいうところの“お茶席”だ。時には戦争までして守ってきた紅茶の習慣、私達イギリス人は1日に何度も楽しんでいる。そう、イギリスは世界で一番紅茶を消費する国なのだ。毎日当たり前のように飲んでいる紅茶、私達にとっては日常の一部であり、とてもカジュアルなものだ。もちろん高級ホテルのアフタヌーンティを楽しんでいる人たちにとっては違うかもしれないが、イギリスで“お茶を飲む”とは特筆すべきことではない。

だがここ日本では全く事情が違うようだ。数千年の歴史を経て、お茶を出す方法はより儀式ばったものに変化していったのだ。お茶席はその為に設えられたお茶室で、伝統的な手順に従って行われる。

今日初めてそのお茶席に参加させてもらった身分で、全てを知っているかのように語る事はできない。まぁそれ以前に私が覚えているのは、とにかく何度も礼をしなければならない事と、お茶を飲む前に何度も茶碗を回すと言う事ぐらいだ。更にお茶を頂く前に、お茶の苦さを忘れるくらいの甘いお菓子を頂くのだが、その際にも何度も礼をしなければならなかった。その一連の流れはとにかく上品で洗練されている。すっかりその作法に見とれていた私は、足がしびれているのを忘れていた程だ。

もともと足のしびれに強いケイティは、その優雅さを堪能したようだった。彼女が初めて茶道を目にしたのは10歳の時、着物を着た女性が学校を訪れその作法を見せてくれたそうなのだが、それは当時の彼女にとってはもっともエキゾチックなものだったらしい。そしてその洗練された上品さに、彼女はすっかりほれ込んでしまったのだ。

お茶席は相手を敬いもてなすという場だ。そして茶道の世界ではお迎えする側も迎えられる側も平等の立場であると言う大前提がある。その伝統は最も大切なものとして受け継がれているのだ。

初めて日本を訪れる人の90%が東京と京都にしか足を運ばないという。私達は来日以来、豊かな自然とその美しさ、あたたかい人々、日本各地で楽しめる豊かな食文化を体験させていただき、東京と京都しか訪れない90%の人のことを“なんてもったいない”という気持ちで見てきた。彼らは“損”をしている!と・・・。

だが私達の意見が決して正しいとは言えないという事を今回痛感した。ありきたりな決まり文句のようだが、京都は素晴らしい場所だった。私達は日本各地で多くのお寺や神社に足を運んできたが、1600のお寺と300の神社があるというここ京都で目にすると、それはやはり違って見えた。東京が私達の“オタク魂”を呼び起こした場所だとすると、京都は私達を“政府観光局 京都支局員(?)”にしてしまった街だ。なぜなら私達は“京都はすごい!”とつぶやき続けているからだ。

何はともあれ・・・京都 訪れてみれば分かります!

5 Comments

  1. nonoxp
    December 15, 2011

    I wish I took part in a tea ceremony in Kyoto I visited during 3 days, full of snow, which was lovely. The only problem is that you need a life time to see all the temples. Your autumn pictures make me want to plan another trip.

    Compared to the monster that is Tokyo, I felt so much more peaceful village-spirit in Kyoto with all the full black-tainted city. Did you have the chance to see Gion or Kiyomizu temple ?

  2. Ele Cooper
    December 15, 2011

    That last photo is truly beautiful, as are they all. So glad to see (and read) that you guys are having such a great time! Ele x

  3. Lislander07
    December 17, 2011

    Wonderful pictures…
    Those words and pics make me feel visiting Kyoto!
    It is true that there are so many places to see there.

  4. Iris (Izumi) Chiyoma
    December 18, 2011

    I am happy to know you enjoyed Kyoto very much. Please take care of yourselves. Hope to see you in Kyoto someday. Thank you and thanks to the Travel Volunteer Project team!

  5. Kavey
    January 12, 2012

    For most visitors with very limited amounts of time, it doesn’t really make sense to miss out Tokyo and Kyoto in favour of a handful of the other (beautiful) places you’ve visited… and they can’t do it all.
    But those who fall for Japan’s charms will surely return again and each time, see a little more of the country.
    You have been fortunate beyond words to have the chance to see so much of the country in one trip.
    I am finally planning my first ever trip and of course, re-reading many of your posts for reminders about things that will appeal most.
    But with just 17 nights on the ground (more than most visitors) I know I must limit myself so as not to rush around too much or fail to appreciate the places we do visit.
    So far, my itinerary focuses on Tokyo and Kyoto, of course, with side trips to places like Nikko and Nara, I am also including Takayama, Osaka, Hiroshima and Miyajima amongst others. But I just can’t squeeze in more without sacrificing enjoyment and am looking forward to the time we will spend in Tokyo and Kyoto.