By Jean Clark
There are several Pleasant Hill residents who have lived or traveled extensively in Japan. Marian Ziebell, Jan Landis, Jeanne Kingsbury and Martha Lammers planned and executed a formal Japanese tea ceremony for interested persons to share their knowledge of this unique custom. The group gathered in the Pleasant Hill Community House entry way as Marian welcomed them and explained the origins and some interesting facts about the ceremony.
In the eighth century, the first mention of a formal ceremony involving the drinking of tea was found. However, at this time it probably didn’t look much like the tea ceremony, which is observed today. The tea ceremony is called Chanoyu in Japanese. It is a choreographic ritual of preparing and serving green tea together with traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea.
Drinking of green tea was known in China from the fourth century. Tea plants didn’t grow in Japan until the first seeds were brought from China during the Tang dynasty (China 618-907), when relations and cultural exchanges between the two countries reached a peak. Legend has it that Daruma, the founder of Zen, discovered the virtues of tea for stimulation and keeping one awake for meditation. He is much revered in Japan.
Jan led everyone into an exhibit area with an arrangement of items treasured by those who had visited or lived in Japan. They were explained by their various owners. After this she led the group to the tokonoma (alcove) where the kakejiku (hanging scroll) was displayed. Calligraphy of Japanese characters usually includes poetry, letters and Zen phrases written by monks. Jan read the Japanese, after which Jeanne translated it into English. An attractive arrangement of bonsai called an ikebana was at its base.
Then the group was led to a semi-circle in front of the tana (utensil stand). Preparing tea in this ceremony means pouring all one's attention into the predefined movements. The whole process is not about drinking tea, but is about aesthetics, preparing a bowl of tea from one's heart. The host of the ceremony always considers the guests with every movement and gesture. Even the placement of the tea utensils is considered from the guests viewpoint.
Martha served each guest a small sweet or savory on a small hachi (bowl) accompanied by a kaishi (mini napkin). Server and guest bowed slightly as a sign of respect and appreciation during this process. Marian prepared the powdered green tea using a chasen (bamboo whisk) in a chawan (tea bowl) using a chashaku (bamboo tea scoop) with hot water. After the hosts served the individual tea bowl bowing appropriately, the guest admired the bowl before sipping the tea. Each bowl was unique with a significance that was explained by its owner. The kaishi was used to wipe out the tea bowl before it was collected by the servers. The servers and several of the guests wore Japanese garments. Hugh Thomforde kneeled on an appropriate pillow during the ceremony.
Jan Landis served 42 years in a Japanese Christian school and college in Sendai, Japan. Martha Lammers and husband, Richard, spent 42 years teaching and preaching as Global Missions’ missionaries. Jeanne Chappell Kingsbury and her first husband, Bill Chappell, were directors of the World Friendship Center in Hiroshima, Japan. Herbie Naumann spent time as a missionary in Japan during the '50s and '60s. She returned with husband, Bill, as exchange teachers in 1987. Bill taught four years of college in Fukuoka, Japan.
The Lammers suggested to Marian Ziebell that she go from Louisville, KY, to teach at the Zenrinkan, a church-founded community center in Morioka, Japan, where they had worked. In her two years there, her students took Marian to five different tea ceremonies. This very friendly, ancient, but unique tradition of tea impressed her deeply.
Others taking part in the tea ceremony either visited Japan or have family members there. The entire ceremony was conducted with a quiet meditative spirit by servers and guests. This left participants feeling truly refreshed in a manner far different from the American “coffee break."