SARATOGA, Calif.—Neat and clean tatami mats line the floor of a small room. A scroll with calligraphy hangs on a wall, and below it are a carefully arranged flower basket and a 700-year-old wooden incense container.
The setting, though simple, creates a pleasant environment to have tea.
Ryosuke Ueda is a tea ceremony student at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, California. He has been learning how to hold a Japanese tea ceremony from a teacher for 10 years. From setting up to serving to cleaning, he takes care in every step of the procedure.
Ueda told NTD Television he’s gained a lot of life lessons through the entire process.
“Sort of the basic teachings of honing the five senses, enjoying the moment,” he said.
He said those skills are helpful in the workplace and in daily life.
His mother studied tea in Japan. Her interest in the tea ceremony started after her relatives invited her to Kyoto for tea. After that, she gave Ueda basic lessons and he continued his lessons at Hakone Gardens.
Ueda demonstrated a summer-themed presentation at Hakone Gardens on July 7.
The guest sits in one corner of the room and is served a tray of sweets. Then the host goes back to the kitchen to bring out the necessary utensils before sitting down to prepare the tea.
First, he makes sure the waste water container on his left side is aligned to his knees. Then he lays the ladle on the ladle rest.
“The next thing is to grab the two main things, which [are] our tea bowl and the tea container. And this is where I start to purify the utensils,” Ueda explained. “The first one is our tea container, because that’s the most important thing. And we use a silk purple cloth.”
Then he purifies the tea scoop. Next, he pulls up a white cloth soaked in water.
“This is where we raise the white cloth, and this is sort of evoking the sound of a brook, a brook fall itself. And then we fold it and lightly squeeze,” he said.
The cloth is used to clean the bowl. After that, the tea preparation begins.
Ueda uses the ladle to scoop hot water from the kettle to the bowl.
“And then using hot water to pair with the whisk so the whisk is properly warmed up, and also you have to check to make sure that all the little pieces of bamboo [are] fine.”
He throws that water out in the waste water container, wipes the bowl, and starts scooping powdered matcha tea in. He said temperature control is especially important to make thick tea. In this demonstration, he made thin tea.
He adds water in and mixes it with the whisk until it’s foamy.
“Because it’s using powdered tea, so that we are properly getting all the powder mixed with the water and it’s in the right consistency,” Ueda said. “And in our tradition, we make sure that the matcha itself is fully frothy. Other traditions will prefer it differently, and that reflects their traditions itself.”
The guest first eats a sweet before drinking the slightly bitter tea for the perfect blend.
The host picks up the bowl and scoots forward towards the guest, turns the bowl twice clockwise so the flower pattern faces the guest, and serves.
“So you’ll grab it with your right hand on the side, and then you put it onto your left hand. And then you give one bow, and you rotate twice clockwise, and then you consume,” he explained.
The guest wipes the edge of the bowl with their fingers and then wipes their fingers on a napkin.
Then the guest scoots toward the host and rotates the bowl twice clockwise to return the bowl for the cleanup procedure.
In Japanese, the guest will say, “Please continue with the cleaning process.”
Ueda then cleans the utensils and the bowl with hot water.
He appreciates the slow process and takes the time to observe his surroundings.
“We’re always moving by the millisecond so much that we don’t take the moment to pause and then contemplate everything, even just silent observation. And that’s what tea is,” Ueda said. “Whether it’s a span of 20 minutes of a short gathering or the length of a few hours for a formal gathering, it’s the process of just sitting there quietly and observing the host or what they’re doing, observing the objects.”
The rigorous yet delicate ceremony helps Ueda find peace.
“There’s consistency,” he said. “In this world … we’re so unstable that you want something consistent. And tea was the one thing that was so consistent, that gave me grounding.”
The decor and utensils are from Ueda’s personal antique collection.
The bowl for the guest to drink from is from China’s last dynasty, the Qing Dynasty. The water pot is from China’s earlier Ming Dynasty, making it about 500 years old. But the oldest piece is the thin tea scoop, which is 1,400 years old.
It is customary for guests to inquire about the age and origin of the host’s tea utensils.