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Japan Buddhist Temple Tea Ceremony

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Published on Nov 7, 2010

I filmed this video at a demonstration put on by tea ceremony teachers in Shizuoka, Japan. The event was held at a very old Buddhist temple located in the hills near the community of Mariko. All of the people in attendance (with the exception of myself) are either tea ceremony teachers or students. I apologize for the jumpy, poorly edited nature of this video which was shot while I attempted to take part in the ceremony. The video is also incomplete as my battery ran low and I was unable to video tape a second ceremony held in another room.

Tea gatherings such as this are called "chakai" in Japanese while the ceremony itself has several names including, "chanoyu", "chado" and "sadou" (the last name is often used for ceremonies performed by Zen Buddhists). The name of this ceremony is often translated as "the way of tea". Some important points to note in the ceremony include the very careful and refined movements of the woman making the tea as well as her tools and methods of use. Another important aspect of the ceremony was the way the hostess and guests took time to admire the seasonal display of art and flower arrangements in the little alcove at back and how the guests were careful to admire the beauty of their tea bowls after they had enjoyed their tea. Watch how each of the women is careful to turn her bowl twice while handling it in order to ensure that the front (most beautiful) part of the bowl is facing away from herself and towards her host/guest. I love this aspect of Japanese culture which seeks always to honor others.

After the tea was consumed the hostess and guests discussed the history and beauty of the tea utensils and other pleasant conversation.

The true origins of tea are lost in pre-history. However, some interesting legends do exist to explain how humanity came to acquire this culinary treasure. One Chinese story tells how a famous herbalist was preparing medicine next to a large tea plant when some leaves did fall into a pot of boiling water. Upon sampling the brew and realizing the stimulating benefits, the herbalist then added tea to his list of medicines. Another story gives credit to the Indian sage Bodhidarma (aka Daruma) who is the recognized founder of Zen Buddhism. Daruma-san is thought to have achieved enlightenment only after meditating for seven years straight without blinking or moving his eyes. At one point during his long vigil Daruma apparently became so overcome by fatigue that he tore off his eyelids and threw them to the ground. The eyelids are then thought to have sprouted into China's first green tea plants.

Buddhist priests are normally credited with introducing tea to Japan during the 6th century where it was first popular with priests trying to stay alert during long sessions of meditation. Tea was later adopted by the ruling and military classes where elaborate ceremonies for the preparation and serving of tea were developed and refined over many centuries. The Japanese tea ceremony is today appreciated as one of the most beautiful and intriguing of the traditional Japanese arts. Tea is certainly one of the defining elements of contemporary Japanese lifestyle; important in family and social settings and providing catalyst for a wide range of art forms, from ceramic and iron ware, to bamboo craft as well as the very act of drinking. And while practitioners of the tea ceremony may spend a lifetime mastering the art of tea, Japanese from every walk of life do appreciate on a daily basis the delicious flavor and invigorating effect of this most important drink.

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