Urasenke Journal

Mon

09

Jul

2012

茶道体験教室に参加してーベン・イーファン

茶道体験教室に参加して

シンガポール国立大学 日本語6

ベン・イーファン

去年、私は偶然川端康成の「美しい日本の私」の中国語訳を読みました。「日本の茶道も、『雪月花の時、最も友を思ふ』のが、その根本の心で」と、彼が書いています。美しい風景がありながら、一緒にその風景を楽しむ友達がいません。そのお茶に込めるのは「二度と再会できない」という悲しみか、旧交を温める機会の楽しみか、或いは遙か彼方にいる友との暖かい思い出か。私は川端康成の文章に、茶道の静寂を感じました。

先月Clarke Quay で行われた裏千家茶道体験教室に参加しまし、「わび さび」を追求する侘び茶に新たな感銘を受けました。

十人一緒に見学できるように、茶室は九畳の広間です。にじり口という小さな入口ですから、身をかがめなければ入れません。にじり口に入ってまず目に入るのが床の間です。光に照らされた床には、「和敬静寂」と書いた掛け軸、簡素な花があしらわれていました。「小座敷の花はかならず一色を一枝か二枝かろくいけたるがよし」、「開き切った花を生けてならぬ」と、利休は言いました。日本人の美意識に於いて一輪の花は百輪の花よりも、部屋を明るくし、彩りを添えるとされます。この極めて質朴な茶室を見て、少し川端康成の話がわかったように感じました。

茶道教室では、「一期一会」という言葉を先生から教えてもらいました。「人との出会いを一生に一度のものと思い、相手に対し最善を尽くす」という意味です。客の前できちんと茶碗を拭き清め、二回も茶筅をとおして、きれいな動作でお茶をたてました。もてなしの心が見られました。後で亭主は茶碗を受けとって、茶筅から始めて茶釜の水まで元どおりにしました。一生に一度の出会い。茶会の後は別れです。この場合、何か記念品を贈ったり貰ったりしたいです。別れた友人をすぐに思い出せる物が欲しいです。而も茶道の場合に、茶会の後、亭主は茶室にある全ての物を茶会を行う前の様子に戻さなければなりません。つまり、客と別れたあと、茶室には客が残らないのです。客を思い出させる物もありません。寂しいではありませんか。よく中国の詩に詠じられる「手を 執りて 相ひ看て 涙眼(るいがん)し,竟(つひ)に 語る 無く 凝(とどこほ)り 噎(むせ)ぶ」別れの場面が頭に浮かびました。もしそれが一生に一度の出会いならば、別れは耐えがたいものであるはずなのに、なぜ日本人はそんなに平気でお茶を飲むことができるのでしょう。おそらく日本人にとっては、亭主が心を込めたもてなしの茶だけお客に味わってもらうことが出来れば、充分なのでしょう。「君子の交わりは淡きこと水の如し」。「和敬静寂」の侘び茶が目指しているのは、その淡い精神なのかも知れません。

Mon

16

Apr

2012

Tea-gathering for laymen like you & I ?

Before writing about Chado – the classical Japanese Tea-ceremony, or for that matter, anything that is related to Japan today, one is likely to recall the recent hit of earthquake and tsunami on the 11th of March which caused tremendous losses of life and property in North-Eastern Japan. Meantime, you will also most likely remember that much of the media coverage on the disaster mentioned and praised  the discipline and spirit the Japanese people  displayed in coping with the disaster, something  rarely seen in any other part of the world before.

 

While we express our deepest sympathies to our Japanese friends who suffer because of the disaster, we also salute them for the courage and discipline they have displayed.
But why is it that I mention this in relation to Chado – the classical Japanese Tea-ceremony?
It is because the display of aforementioned discipline and spirit in response to disasters has been inbuilt in the Japanese people as a part of their culture.
Certainly, other factors such as successful national education, regular drills etc. do play a part. Nevertheless, in a broader sense, these can be seen as a form of culture as well.

To gain a glimpse into the Japanese culture, Chado is one of the primarily interesting and important ways. Through presentation of tea, Chado is about cultivating a gesture to show a high degree of respect for people. It seeks a harmonious and calm way towards mutual communication. It helps you acquire a sense of appreciation for good and positive things in life.

One may find the word “ceremony” in the phrase of “Japanese Tea-ceremony”, as a way it is translated into English, somewhat rigid and formal. In fact, it is better to see it as a “Tea-gathering” instead. Since a conduct of Chado should be something very natural, “gathering” should therefore be a better word to describe it.  

With this understanding, one who is a layman like me is able to approach this beautiful culture without too much of worry of what is seen as “complexity” in it.
As an example, I recall that when I had been first exposed to a Tea-gathering in Japan, some 30 years ago when I was an undergraduate studying in a Japanese University, I was taught that after lifting the bowl containing tea presented to me, I was supposed to turn it three times (clockwise or anti-clockwise, I have forgotten) before drinking. And after drinking, I had to turn the bowl three times again in the other direction before returning it. Then, more than ten years later, in Singapore, I again had a chance to attend a Tea-ceremony subsequently. During the process, I began to feel nervous when I lifted the bowl because I had forgotten how I should turn it first, clockwise or anti-clockwise. I felt that I had “forgotten the rule” and was rather embarrassed by it.

Then I had a chance to listen to a talk by a tea master, and learned that the direction in which to turn the bowl is not that important if one has forgotten it. Instead, being natural and relaxed is most important as that was the state at which you could benefit most from a Tea-gathering.

Going on, I further realized that Chadou, the Tea-gathering, as a classical culture of Japan, is also a form of art. It has much to offer and many elements for us to appreciate. The beauty and fineness of movement, handling of tea utensils, condition of the starter fire, etiquette for the preparation of tea, the arrangement of tea room, communication between host and guest etc. are all though performed in a tea room, essences not limited to the tea room but have become an integral part related to one’s daily life.

It makes you a more calm, considerate and elegant person knowing better what respect for people is all about, and how a more effective exchange and communication with people can be achieved.
It is my wish that this culture and form of art could blossom in this land as well. And you and I, even though we are laymen, could easily join the gathering and cultivation, and become better people.  

By Tan Jong Lek
The author is a former President of The Japanese University Graduates Association of Singapore (JUGAS) and the current Vice President of The Japanese Cultural Society, Singapore (JCS)

Wed

11

May

2011

Giving Up Coffee for Tea

If there is anything that I would like to thank green tea for, it would be none another than how it helped me to give up my coffee habit. Here’s what happened.

 

I spent my teenage years in 90’s Singapore, and at that time we had just started to experience the invasion of the American-style coffee chain. Almost twenty years later, Starbucks and Coffee Bean are still popular on this island. It was a revolution from the older generation’s kopi, a cheap, crude blend that was sipped in the streets and markets. Like any impressionable young person, I succumbed to the fashions of the time and became a regular with ice-blended coffee. Its creamy and sugary texture had me hooked and the coffee in the drink seemed to be more of a condiment. Certainly there was some resistance to this trend of seemingly up-market coffee shops. A fellow eighteen year old schoolmate complained that it reeked of ‘Western decadence’, but since I did not like this boy’s haircut very much, so in typical human fashion, I ignored him and dismissed his view as folly.
    
Ice-blended coffee was losing its novelty about two years later. Having fallen into the gloomy days of national service, my taste buds felt more familiar with bitterness instead of sweetness. This was when I ‘upgraded’ myself to Café Lattes. Another two years later, as a European studies student in an American university, I had become more adventurous and had moved on to Cappuccinos, and eventually to Expressos. For those who are unfamiliar with coffee, I was essentially reducing my milk and sugar intake in favour of more caffeine in the cup. By my second year, I was onto Double Expressos.
    
Hot and potent coffee had become a necessity in the cold, wintry days of Illinois. In the spring and autumn, chilly winds could occasionally blow in from the nearby Great Lake, which is so huge that it ought to be more honestly named as ‘sea’. They disappear into the horizon and are pitch-black at night. During the winter, the snowfall could reach up to a foot high on the streets, and we all shared experiences of trudging through dirty snow over slippery roads. Our university professors were professional; they kept themselves away from us as much as they could without breaching their obligations. One of my Economics professors was even Japanese: Professor ‘Pine Mountain’ had a messy haircut and had his doctorate from the prestigious Tokyo Imperial University. Apart from never showing an inch of a smile, he told us something like this:
    
“There is no need for you to worry about your final grade if you have done poorly for your midterm examination. Everyone finishes with a good grade in this course, because those who have gotten otherwise usually drop out of the class.”
I am sure you can understand why I needed something like coffee to keep me awake while I was absorbing all this information around me.
    
However, most of the coffee that was readily available in my part of the US was simply terrible. Even my Italian teachers complained. I am sure the Japanese people would have complained. Not only did it taste terrible, it was consistently served in a poor manner: usually with a plastic or disposable cup from a very forgetful barista. One made me repeat my order three times, but it was difficult to complain, because she was black.
    
Faced with a growing appetite for good coffee and a growing frustration at its inavailability, I was lost in limbo; I just grabbed whatever coffee I could find outdoors and complained to myself how bad it was. I knew that this could not go on forever. Of course I could have bought a mini-expresso machine, but I could not see myself wasting time keeping the machine clean. It was expensive and bulky and it would be a burden whenever I moved to a new dwelling.
    
A tea ceremony master was giving a demonstration at a room in the university hall. It was organized by one of his students. He was from Kyoto, but was now an American citizen. I was curious, and that was the first time I encountered the Japanese tea ceremony. He explained the various health benefits of green tea, but most importantly he said:
“I used to drink coffee too, but when I discovered how it makes our bodies lose nutrients, I stopped drinking it.”

He made it sound really easy, and I was impressed. Having seen his fine white hair and gentle body movements, I believed that he was genuinely capable of such self-restraint. He was also a Noh performer. He was of small build, which was a big relief from the oversized bodies that surrounded me everyday. His mouth was small and could shut properly, and was not the type that opens incessantly to broadcast hot air. My meeting with this cultivated Japanese man was in 2006, before the American-led global recession of the last few years.

Having been thus edified by this man, you would not believe what I did. When he offered me the first bowl of green tea, I turned it down. He had passed around the bowl to the other students, and I refused to share the bowl for hygiene reasons. However, I decided to seek out the tea store on my own and proceeded to procure all the necessary utensils.

For the last four years, I have been drinking maccha-type green tea everyday for my breakfast, and I often carry some with me whenever I travel abroad. I do not drink coffee anymore, except for an occasional cup where the coffee is particularly famous, such as in Vienna.

It is really possible to give up coffee for green tea, but you don’t really have to do it. I just wanted to tell you how nice it is to have green tea in the mornings and afternoons.

Darren Shi
May 2011

Tue

01

Mar

2011

Allure of Chado

For me, Chado is people coming together, the host and the guests, a meeting, a special moment with one another.

It is an effort of the host and the guest, to bring meaning to this special moment, in a natural way, appreciating the changing season.

It is the touch, the smell, the taste, the sight and the thoughts of life, in harmony and peace.

It is a beautiful art of living.

Louis Chong
A member of Urasenke Singapore