The Japanese tea ceremony: a unique art form

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Professor Mariko LeFleur of Urasenke LaSalle opened her lecture “One Time, One Meeting” on Thursday, March 16, 2006 in Scheur Room, with the statement, “I am not a real professor, I’m just a tea practitioner.” Professor LeFleur’s modesty on the matter was soon made evident as she explained the origins and basic traditions of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. The multimedia lecture included a demonstration of the ‘thin tea,’ the last portion in the four hour ceremony.

The greatest misconception that Professor LeFleur hoped to clarify was in the definition of the tea ceremony: “The tea ceremony is neither ceremony nor ritual, it is an art form.” The translation for the term used to describe the tea ceremony in Japanese is literally “the way of tea,” implying that the philosophies behind “the way of tea” can be applied to one’s life. Mastery of “the way of tea” is consequently a lifelong goal.

Five factors make up the Tea, as LeFleur referred to “the way of tea” in her lecture: the drinking of green tea, the communal experience of sharing tea, the rules of drinking tea, the spiritual philosophy, and the aesthetic elements of the Tea. LeFleur discussed the history of green tea in Japan, explaining that the Chinese who discovered green tea attributed the tea with the ability to strengthen the heart.

The Tea allows its practitioners to benefit spiritually as well as physically. Green tea is a known antioxidant, and the tradition of the Tea allows practitioners to meditate and be still. The Tea’s aesthetic components are reflected in the host’s choices in utensils and presentations, designing the Tea to focus upon a specific theme. As the tea is essentially a gathering, it is the concept of “Ichiza Konryu,” or “one time, one meeting,” the cooperation of host and guests focused on one activity, that is central to the Tea.

It is the discipline of the Tea that LeFleur indicates as transformative on her own life. During the question and answer session following the demonstration, LeFleur reflected that she began studying the Tea in her mid twenties when “I was looking for my identity. I needed some kind of discipline in my life.” The Tea allows one to “become one with the movement so that you don’t even think about what you are doing… Instead you try to understand those you share tea with on a deeper level.” The lecture was part of a series of events on the Japanese Tea Ceremony including an ongoing exhibit at McCabe and a demonstration open to the campus that will take place in McCabe on March 23rd.

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