Day 5: Tea Ceremony

I spent a lot of time listening today, and less time writing down notes, so I might have lost a few things; however I thought it best to be perfectly in the moment. The jotting of notes is done by a future-self, as that is the purpose of note-taking: to be read later; Amae-san talked about how in tea ceremony, the host must be wholly dedicated to each cup by staying in the present. Any cup made by a past, or future, self will not be good because those people are not in the room.

We started off the day with a collection of spring water. We stopped by a shrine and met Amae-san, where he talked a little bit about Shintoism, and nature worship and appreciation. We then took a bus to a sweets small sweets shop. I believe the management and upkeep of old cultural traditions in itself is quite impressive, but I was quite surprised when as we were leaving, Amae-san told us the owner had a gotten a PhD studying Heian food. In my head, I seemed to have tacitly believed that this person made sweets because his family had been for some time. And it could be possible! But the PhD signals a reinvestment of time and energy beyond that of growing up and assuming control of the family business. Though I am sure many people love their family’s business, it just shows how even in modern times people still tap into ancient cultural traditions completely of their own volition and heart–this being the case with many of the artists we have visited too.

I really enjoyed the collecting of water and sweets. This once again comes down to being present. I think I made somewhat of an extended effort to anchor myself in the present today because it’s something with which I often have trouble. Even when we meditated with Amae-san before the tea, my mind kept wondering to other pressing matters in my life.

From the actual time in the tea room, Amae-san said two things that really got to me, and will definitely be in my head as I do whatever it is that I do (something in art).

The first was: “leave your weapon at the door.” As I had some background knowledge already, I knew that samurai would leave their weapons outside when enjoying tea ceremony; however, when Amae-san used it, he was referring to tea ceremony experts in the present, and by extension, in my opinion, all forms of pretension. I think people sometimes accumulate knowledge with the intent to use it as a weapon: the proving of a superior intellect or deeper reading of certain texts. For one, that attitude seems to lack all virtue and goodness; I think in situations like tea ceremony where, despite its bourgeoise leanings, its about earnest communication between people on the same level, the handling of knowledge like a sword takes all the beauty out of knowing anything at all.

The second thing he touched on that got to me was the way him talking about the many different ways he does tea ceremony. This actually came up in connection to this idea of leaving your weapon at the door. Tea ceremony is a performance piece on the part of the host. Similarly to Noh, and even some Western performance, ichi-go ichi-e forms the basis for this practice. Every aspect is highly curated, from the pieces on the alcove to the selection of bowls, for the guests, by the host.¬†Amae-san talked about how he uses more radical practices, often with these tea connoisseurs. In the end, the way handles the instruments and the way he creates the setting is the core of tea. The tea ceremony is the creation, and sharing, of life; it is the assembly of all of the elements. I remember in Ayami and Louisa’s presentation they had a quote that sounded something like, “when I am drinking tea, I am taking in the whole world” (that’s not correct but I could not find the actual one). I think it is kind of hard to not look at that skeptically, but after hearing Amae-san speak about his practice, I understood the speaker’s sentiments. Besides the performative aspect, Amae-san repeatedly talked about how this practice is a “human” one. In this iteration, it has taken on a Japanese form, but the sharing of a hot liquid as humans is one that has existed and persists. I would like to take this kind of mindfulness into other areas of my life.

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