Day Five: Tea Ceremony

January 14th, 2017

One of the days I was most excited for was today since it would be Louisa and my turn to interview the subject of our presentation, Mr. Dairiku (Derek) Amae! As a student of tea ceremony at the Urasenke school, and knowing Mr. Amae also studies at the same school, I was very interested in what he had to say.

We started off by taking a brisk walk to the shrine at which we were to meet Mr. Amae. We ended up being a little early, so we were able to stop by the famous tea shop, Ippudo. I was more than thrilled to stop by the famous shop, and I treated myself to some shopping there, and I am really excited to make my mom some matcha from the shop when I go home during spring break. Perhaps I will even be able to make tea for friends at school after spring break! I found the shop to be an inviting place and really appreciated the help of the employees. I was amazed to see the line of chasen that demonstrated how the utensil was made. It’s the most beautiful and fascinating process, which all comes from a single piece of bamboo.

The steps of creating a chasen!

We then made our way back to the shrine where we met Mr. Amae, gathered spring water from the shrine, paid our respects, and then set off! We then visited a sweets shop where Mr. Amae picked up sweets for our tea experience for the day. Mr. Amae mentioned that he has even designed his own sweets and the shop owner helps him realize the designs.

Carl and Mr. Amae carry the precious water. The labor of this reminds us how scarce of a resource water truly is.

Afterwards, we arrived at Mr. Amae’s house, Totousha, where we cleaned the floor. I really appreciated this first act because it required us to recognize where we were and on what we were about to sit. I also love how it had a duality of cleaning the tatami mats, but also of cleaning ourselves before interacting with the world of tea!


Then, Mr. Amae talked to us about zen meditation while heating the water. Hearing him talk about breathing and how breathing out first is important, and how this all relates to the Japanese kanji characters for breath made me think about how Mr. Amae appears to be connected even further deeper to the philosophies of tea.

The world is truly a small place. Mr. Amae partially grew up in Hawai‘i and even attended  (for K-6) the school I had attended! In fact, his second grade teacher is the person who introduced me to tea ceremony at only six years old!

I am inclined to try to not write too much in this journal for fear of going into too much detail about what I might be discussing at the presentation. Overall, I was really impressed by the dedication Mr. Amae has to his art form and his passion. He is clearly working hard and grappling with the tension between modernity and tradition — in other words with the globalizing push and the conservational pull. He also discussed the “swords of intellect,” versus swords that old Japan used to have. I am intrigued by this thought, especially coming from a place like Williams where it seems everyone has read everything!I was disappointed there was not a full, real ceremony. I think that seeing someone drink a bowl beautifully is what drew me in fully.

It seems that the through-line in Mr.Amae’s thoughts and work continues to be the ever-existing tension between creatively pushing the art away from from the pulling of modern calls for a more accessible tea ceremony. I hope to further push this inquiry in my further readings, watchings, and listenings!

We ended the day by visiting the Kyoto National Museum and seeing the vegetable nehan by Ito Jakushu. I loved going through the museum to look at each piece and try to enjoy that moment in time. The paintings were absolutely beautiful, but it’s hard to believe that someone from so long ago had painted these works. Since the third floor was closed to install a new exhibit, I hope to go back soon!

Today, while a light day in terms of scheduling and moving around, was also a day of quiet contemplation. While yesterday had moments of quiet learning, today I have been simmering Mr. Amae’s words in my head and trying to figure out how to explain to others what he is trying to do. I think I will continue to deeply think about some of the things he mentioned until the presentation date!

The view of the garden at Totousha.


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