Who knows how long my current series on visiting Japanese temples will continue? Anyway, by chance I had a great experience that gives me an excuse to move over to the 'tea' side of this blog! The other day, I took two visitors to see the famous Honmoku Sankeien garden. It was once the estate of a wealthy silk trader, a man who was interested in the tea ceremony and old architecture. So he made an impressive collection of tea pavilions, temples and villas to decorate his huge garden. It is now owned by a foundation and is open to the public for a fee. So, in preparing to enjoy all this, we stumbled on a rest pavilion that included a tea ceremony experience. The building was very modern, with big windows looking out on the greenery and a pond. A tea master, (who was a woman--it still kinda bothers me to use 'master' for a woman, but 'mistress' is completely wrong, so I will compromise and refer to her as 'Sensei.') There was a set up for 'nodate' style tea ceremony, normally served outside. There was a bright red umbrella and benches covered with red baize, the usual for nodate. I bought three tickets and we sat at the very front to watch our Sensei at her craft. There were nice sweets decorated with a scene of the garden's famous pond, boat and three-story pagoda, said to be specially made in Kyoto. As we finished our bitter foamy bowls of liquid jade, the room was mostly empty. So Sensei said 'Would you like to try?' She let each of us make another bowl of tea, doing her best to guide us through the elaborate procedure, dealing with our clumsy unfamiliarity. She was very friendly, although fairly scant English ability. She pointed out a calligraphy plaque mounted on the umbrella pole, with a very simple flower arrangement of white hydrangea. There was also a little picture of a bird painted on the plaque below the calligraphy. Sensei told us that it was common to see this bird, called a 'kawasemi,' around the ponds in the garden. I realized afterwards that in addition to doing the calligraphy, our Sensei probably painted the bird picture too. (By the way, kawasemi is a riverine bird that looks a bit like a kingfisher--translating the names of animals, plants and so on is a tricky business, so I won't even try!) I forgot to ask her name, but she told me that her tradition is 'Edo Senke' which means 'The Edo (=old name for Tokyo) branch of the Sen tradition.' 'Sen' is Sen no Rikyu, considered to be the founder of the tea ceremony.
The pix show a bowl of liquid jade, a small sweet (each person got two, but I ate one before I took the pic), and Zoe making tea.