During a Japanese tea ceremony, remember to slurp the last drops of tea from the bowl.
Among all the etiquette and quietude of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, the slurping might seen out place, but it’s a more than acceptable way of saying thank you.
“Nosily drinking the last of the tea means that the guest has enjoyed it,” says Shirai Yayoi, a tea master for over 50 years.
Over that period she has perfected all the elements of “chado” that when translate to English is closer to “tea-ism” than tea ceremony. It’s more apt, too, as all the training of a tea master and the rituals of the ceremony date back to Japan’s medieval samurai society and are underpinned by four principles from Zen Buddhism: harmony, tranquility, respect and purity.
So while the experience should be relaxing and spiritually balancing for the guest, they have an active part to play in the experience, says Shirai-san that includes appreciating the taste of the “matcha” (green tea from ground tea leaves), holding the tea bowl correctly and even taking time to examine it (properly done by placing elbows on knees and bending forwards).
The daughter of tea master, Shirai-san followed in her father’s footsteps after university by training at a school for five years in the Tokyo tradition of tea ceremonies.
Each region of Japan has its own form of chado, a legacy of Japan’s feudal system; women were only allowed to train in the way of tea after the Meiji Restoration in the mid-19th century that ushered in gradual social change.
Today, tea masters in training in Japan are fewer than twenty years ago, but away from the dedicated academies, many high schools in the country still offer courses as extra curricular activities. There they can learn skills and manners that are still appreciated in modern society, says Shirai-san.
But for Shirai-san it has been a lifetime’s vocation. For the last year has practiced her skills in a glowing paper orb - a radically minimal but modern-designed tea room located in Macau’s Okura Hotel.
Shoes are left outside, but within it every tiny element is considered, from the choice of flowers (depending on the season or mood) to the position of the kettle and bowl. Each ritual by Shirai-san is executed with a grace and precision – the way she crisply snaps a napkin produced from insider her kimono before wiping the top of the tea jar is quite mesmerizing.
If you think it all sounds a bit too formal, the health benefits of a cup of green tea are worth remembering; it’s an excellent source of antioxidants and touted as helping to prevent all manner or ailments, including lowering cholesterol. It also has a lower caffeine content than coffee, so a better choice for to if all you want is a refreshing cuppa. If that doesn’t convince, mediate on the words of wisdom from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “Tea is the elixir of life.”
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