Why not enjoy the tea ceremony while in Kyoto? It's not only about sitting on your knees in Japanese rooms!!
Without a doubt chado, or the "tea ceremony" as it is commonly referred to in the West, is the essence of Japanese culture. Wabicha, a simple, rustic way of serving tea was perfected by SEN no Rikyu, in the Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama period. A master of the tea ceremony, his influence on the spirituality of the Japanese and his asthtetic sense serve as a basis of Japan's beauty of style, art, and hospitality, that continues even to the present day.
Kyoto has flourished as a sacred place for the tea ceremony since its inception. Tea was originally brought here from China and there are many tea shops in Uji that are centuries old. The three Sen families, Omotesenke, Urasenke and Mushanokojisenke that can trace their lineage all the way back to Sen no Rikyu are all headquartered here.
For those sightseeing in Kyoto taking part in a tea ceremony is a must-do! There are many private tea gatherings throughout the year hosted by the traditional tea families. But there are also many gatherings for the general public which are very popular. They are often held in temples and shrines with traditional tea rooms with tatami mats. But a tea gathering can be enjoyed without having to sit on one's knees!
A teacher of the Japanese tea ceremony from Canada!
"The Way of Tea is something to enjoy," says Randy Channell Soei. He is a tea ceremony master from Canada qualified as a professor of the Urasenke tradition.
After traveling around Asia to studying the martial arts, he came to Japan to learn Kendo and Iaido. When he was training in Matsumoto, Nagano, he was introduced to the tea ceremony and immediately became a student of it. Originally it was a cultural balance to his martial training but gradually tea took over his life. He moved to Kyoto to attend the Urasenke technical college from where he graduated with a teaching certificate.
How about having tea at Randy's café?
Randy Sensei lectures and teaches the way of tea all over Japan. His main lessons are held at Nashinoki Shrine and his café, ran Hotei. It opened in 2007 in the Sanjokai Shotengai Shopping Arcade, a street running east-west, slightly south of Nijo castle. The café built in the Meiji era strives for an East-West atmosphere and was renovated with the image of Taisho Roman meets Art Deco style in mind.
It was originally opened for letting people become familiar with not only tea as a drink but also the way of tea. Randy Sensei has his own original matcha (powdered green tea) that you can try. He has produced seven kinds of this special matcha.
The café also serves coffee and regular teas with a small food menu with curry rice, soup and quiche. For dessert there are cakes and Japanese confectioneries. A few of the drinks and desserts use Randy Sensei's tea. Two of the more popular items are a matcha tofu cake and an original matcha soda.
According to the rank of matcha one chooses the price ranges from 850 ~ 1250 yen including a sweet. (The one in the photo is a thick tea named "Nichigetsu no Mukashi", this set is 1250 yen.) In the photo the sweet and tea are shown together but in the café, according to the proper manner, the sweet is served first then the tea. The sweets, that often reflect the seasons, come from several traditional sweet shops in Kyoto. The one featured here is titled "Sunset." The sweet enhances the natural sweetness of the vivid green of the tea and together with the aroma of the finely ground leaves of the matcha one should achieve a calmness of mind. The bowls selected add to the overall serving as well.
Matcha tofu cake for 1000 yen with a favorite drink. The unique taste and scent of the soybeans precedes the sweetness. The exclusive, full-flavored matcha used for the cake also accents the aroma and slight bitterness.
On the second floor you can experience the tea ceremony using tables and chairs...."Ryurei shiki"
There are other things to enjoy besides the café menu at "ran Hotei". One can participate in a tea ceremony experience on the second floor.
(3500 yen for about 1 hour. Available by reservation for two or more guests.) So, is there a tatami-mat Japanese room at the top of the stairs? No, the second floor is a western style room with a wooden floor where Randy Sensei serves tea using a table and a chairs. In Japanese it is called "Ryurei shiki". Is it not necessary for you to take off your shoes and to kneel on hard tatami mats. There is also no dress code.
Though sitting on your knees is traditional in the tea ceremony it is difficult and many cannot do it. In 1872 Kyoto hosted a World Expo and the Grand Tea Master of Urasenke at the time developed a style using tables and chairs to show the heart of hospitality of the way of tea to the visiting dignitaries from overseas. The "tenchaban" as the table is called, can be used in a formal setting and maintains the manners of a proper tea gathering.
In this dignified atmosphere, Randy Sensei makes tea in a quiet flow and serves it to his guests. He also explains the order of a formal gathering and shows the techniques to prepare tea in either English or Japanese. Though somewhat humorous his teachings are proper and informative. Being taught Japanese traditional culture by a foreign teacher... it is a little strange feeling, but there are some non-Japanese who are more familiar with the traditional culture of Japan than many Japanese people nowadays. If we become humble enough to think that we must know more about the roots of our culture, it may be meaningful to participate in a tea ceremony experience.
It is all right to become interested in the tea ceremony through an informal experience, just as it is okay to appreciate fine tea in a nostalgic cafe. "Don't get caught up in the ceremony of it, tea is enjoyable!", Randy Sensei says. According to him, you can enjoy both tea and the way of tea comfortably at "ran Hotei".