All About Okinawa
Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony

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One thing you'll want to do if you ever go to Okinawa (or Japan, for that matter), is to go to a Japanese tea ceremony. Many of the tour offices on base offer tea ceremony tours, or if you're lucky, you'll get to know some local people who can arrange for you to attend one.

Back in 1995, members of the Japan District Pilot Club, located in Naha, invited the Welfare Women's Association from Kadena Air Base to participate in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Fifteen Americans and seventeen Okinawans met at the private home of Sadako Nimoto, area coordinator of the Japan District Pilot Club. Five of the Americans were dressed in traditional kimonos, then everyone sat on tatami mats while a welcoming speech was made.

tea.jpg - 11664 Bytes Since time was short, the tea ceremony was done in two hours instead of the usual four, so that everyone still got a good idea of how an actual tea ceremony works.Each movement during the ceremony had to be precise and carried out in a certain way, as each motion had a meaning to it. It was also explained that to take part in a tea ceremony meant that a person could attain harmony, respect, purity and tranquility between God, man and nature; the tea ceremony gives people a chance to relax and put their worries behind them, to think only of peace and good things.

The tea ceremony teacher explained that appetizers and sake would appear first. As each tray was placed in front of each person, the person receiving the tray bowed in thanks at the same time as the person giving them the tray. The appetizers consisted of white radishes, a pickle, carrot, mushrooms and a very thin egg "omelet" wrapped around sweet and sour rice. The sake had small flecks of gold at the bottom that signified friendship and good feelings, and was sipped while eating the appetizers.

tea4.jpg - 8312 Bytes The actual room where tea ceremonies are usually held was too small for this group, so four people at a time were allowed in the room at one time. After walking through a beautiful rock garden, each person crawled through an opening into the small, but cozy room. There was an altar and each person stood in front of it, then knelt down, placed their hands on the floor in front of them, and bowed so that their head touched their hands.

Back in the room where the tea ceremony was going on, cakes were being brought out. Again, each person bowed as the cake was placed in front of them. Molded to look like a shisa lion, the outer layer was a thin crust, similar in taste to ice cream cones, and the inside was sweet bean, which tasted a lot like the cream in Oreo cookies. Now it was time for the tea. The teacher showed everyone the type of bowl they'd be drinking out of (soup bowl size), then demonstrated how to drink the tea.

Each person received their bowl of tea, bowed again, then picked up the bowl with both hands. The bowl was turned two times to the left, then the tea was sipped. All the tea had to be consumed, as it would be an insult not to finish it. After drinking the tea, the bowl was placed on the outside of the tatami mat, then turned so that the decoration on it faced the teacher. Then each person lookd at the bowl "with feeling," almost like meditating.

About the tea itself: It's not like the tea you're used to. It's thicker, green in color, and has a layer of foam on top. The taste was like unsalted pumpkin seeds. It was said the tea was supposed to make you beautiful and feeling healthier. Although the taste is unique, it's really not that bad, and heck, if it's good for you, well, it's good for you.

The Pilot Club then presented the Americans with mementos of the tea ceremony -- powdered green tea wrapped in beautiful paper (to use in baking) and a handkerchief that depicted Shuri Castle.

If you get a chance to take part in a tea ceremony, don't turn it down. And don't forget to bring your camera.

Getting dressed for the tea ceremony

Each guest was dressed in a traditional kimono for the tea ceremony, seen below in steps one, two and three - the final results.