Japanese Cultural Center – Tea House & Tea Ceremony

After strolling through the gardens at the Japanese Cultural Center yesterday, my Mom, sister and I proceeded to the Tea House to take part in the Tea Ceremony.

Awa SaginawAn was designed by renowned architect Mr. Tsutomu Takenaka and constructed in 1985 as a collaborative effort between the City of Saginaw and its sister city Tokushima, Japan. Its foundation rests part on American soil and part on Japanese soil. It is treasured as one of the most authentic tea houses in North America.

Designed by a Japanese architect, the exterior was built by a local contractor. The interior was finished by four Japanese contractors working directly with the architect.  A few interesting facts:

  • There were no nails used anywhere in the interior. Everything was planed and fitted.
  • No paint was used. The material of the walls is natural and has a sandy, stucco type feel to the surface.
  • The ceiling of the Tea House is hand-woven cedar.
  • All the wood is natural and unfinished and includes trees that were fitted into the walls, brought from Japan.

We took our seats shortly before the ceremony was to begin after first being encouraged to take photos, that included a few selfies. (Girl’s Day Out documentation)

Our hostess came in at 2:00 beginning with a brief yet fascinating history of Tea Houses (this one and Tea Houses in Japan) and Tea Ceremonies.  The type of Tea Ceremony we were attending was established only 400 years ago by the 11th Grand Tea Master in 1872 for the World Fair in Kyoto Japan. To introduce the world to Tea Ceremonies, it was determined that the traditional kneeling on Tatami Mats would be too painful and awkward so they provided benches. This is how we were seated. Traditional Tea Ceremonies in Japan, in Tea Houses or Tea Huts, go back many years and the number of Tatami Mats are descriptive of the size of the Tea House (2 Tatami Mats, by example would be a small Tea Hut) and participants would kneel throughout the duration of the ceremony.

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Our lovely hostess was a wealth of knowledge
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Born in Japan, she came to the US in 1957 when she married her husband, a Saginaw Michigan native.

The Tea Ceremony is based on four principles, Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquility. Tea leaves are picked by hand in May, steamed, dried and ground into powder for Tea Ceremonies (not brewed as the type of tea you’d drink daily).

There is a hot water pot with a bamboo ladle and a cold water pot should the temperature of the water need to be adjusted. There is a lovely process of cleaning and preparing the tea bowl before the guests. Then using a long implement, tea is measured into the tea bowl and whisked into the steaming water.  The whisk is fashioned from a single piece of bamboo.

Each movement was slow, deliberate, silent and reverent.  Our hostess was assisted in the ceremony by two ladies in Kimonos, one who served the other. The Tea Bowl in which the tea is prepared is highly prized. With a lovely design on one side only, the bowl is turned as it is served so that the guest may admire the design. The guest then turns the bowl and slurps the tea from the plain side of the bowl. The “slurping” is considered a sign appreciation indicating “it was good to the last drop”.

Historically, Tea Bowls were so revered that a Shogun was known to take it as his only possession upon retirement and the value was such that often a Tea Bowl was given in place of land.

The ladies served each of us, delivering the sweets first, one person at a time.  Then bringing our tea, one at a time.

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The sweet on the left, Yokan, is made from a sweetened red bean paste, the consistency like a firm gelatin. (I thought it tasted like dates) The one on the right had a much more complex name and is made of a cookie type crust over a sweetened white bean paste. I thought it tasted a bit like shortbread.

For more information about the Japanese Cultural Center, visit their website at:

http://www.japaneseculturalcenter.org

Did you miss part one of my Girls Day Out?  Click here to go to the first post:

https://spencesgirl.wordpress.com/2015/07/12/japanese-cultural-center-the-gardens/

For a short video of the Tea Ceremony:

https://spencesgirl.wordpress.com/2015/07/12/the-tea-ceremony-at-japanese-cultural-center-a-short-video/

4 thoughts on “Japanese Cultural Center – Tea House & Tea Ceremony

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