A busy Japanese Tea Ceremony at Arts First Weekend

by Lingbo Li

Last Saturday's Art First Weekend featured a very different kind of art: the art of Japanese tea ceremony, sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Chado Society. Officers Yan Yan Mao '10 and Peter Bernard '11 ran the 45 sessions, where they guided 8 guests into a tea room attached to the East Asian Languages building on 5 Bryant St.

The tea room itself was very small, tatami-floored room, relatively unadorned except for a nook where a calligraphy scroll and a sprig of lilac hung. Attendees had all taken off their shoes, and when I tried to enter without socks, I was given a spare pair.

The tea ceremony is general for 1-2 guests, Mao explained as she and a helper demonstrated. The process is a cultural art form that requires serious study: everything from how to enter the tea room, how to walk on the mats, who to bow to, and how to clean the equipment must learned to exacting specifications. Guests were instructed to remove jewelry before entering the tea room, not only to avoid nicking the equipment, but also as a symbolic sign of economic leveling.

Later, Bernard described the tea ceremony as a series of highly ritualized motions, each imbued with meanings. Guests had to crawl through a small space to enter the tea room, he explained, to ensure that they weren't brandishing swords. (A remnant of wartime Japan.)

Afterwards, Mao whisked matcha (green tea powder) and hot water to prepare tea for the guests. Attendee lifted bowls of green tea (made very weak, Bernard noted) directly to their mouths, as is the custom, and nibbled on Japanese sweets.

It was a busy day for Mao and Bernard that had started at 11am. By the time 3:15pm, the last tea ceremony demonstration, came around, Mao had to turn away more curious onlookers.

See also: archive, Lingbo Li