Tea with Samurai

I am a big fan of matcha tea and have been practicing the Japanese tea ceremony for over 25 years. I teach the Japanese tea ceremony in my tearoom in London, and it’s my aim to introduce Japanese culture to people through the Japanese tea ceremony. 

 The Japanese tea ceremony was developed in the 15th century as a Zen ritual and transformed into the comprehensive art it is today in the 16th century. The tea ceremony includes gardening, interior design, decoration, calligraphy, poetry, kimonos, flower arranging, ceramics and of course tea. We use all five sense to enjoy the art of our surroundings and the taste and fragrance of the tea. 

 In Europe traditionally women held the keys to the tea caddy, so tea is historically linked to ladies. In contrast samurai in Japan practiced the tea ceremony with great enthusiasm. Very high-ranking samurai such as Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi were famously obsessed with the tea ceremony, and built zen gardens with tea huts, and collected many tea related art pieces. The 16th century was a time of war in Japan, and the life of a samurai was far from peaceful – in fact Oda Nobunaga was assassinated by a former ally in a brutal coup. While much of the art collecting was high-ranking samurai wanting to show off their wealth and good taste, practicing the tea ceremony was a way of finding a peaceful environment and mental balance. The tea ceremony showed them the contrast between a life of war and peace, light and shadow, action and stillness. 

 I used to work in a fast-paced and often aggressive environment in Tokyo. I found that practicing the tea ceremony weekly in my teacher’s tea hut was essential to keeping some balance in my life. After many years, I still remember the smell of tea and incense in the air of the tearoom. In fact, it is a treasured memory and has influenced me and my outlook on life. 

 We all have stress. Whether it’s due to COVID, the inflation rate, fear for the future or something else entirely. In Japanese we say ‘ichigo-ichie’ – each meeting is a once in a lifetime event. I truly believe that each meeting and each moment is precious. Perhaps, we don’t need to be active and try our very best all the time. We can enjoy the serene stillness with a cup of tea and remember to be kind to ourselves and also to others.

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