Monday, April 9, 2012

Letters from Matt #8: Haramachi, Japan: Tea and Toes

 Letters From Matt are letters from my brother, Matt, from various of his domestic and international travels. The letters span decades, and I share them on Living Rootless at intervals, in no particular order. 

11 March, 1993
Haramachi (now part of Minamisoma), Japan

Dear Family,

This morning I went to my last tea ceremony for the next couple of years. One of my students, a 67-year old man, had one of his kimonos altered to fit me and today he presented it to me. He and several others wore kimonos and the ladies helped me get dressed into mine.

The tea ceremony takes place in a very clean, simple room with paper and wood sliding doors, tightly woven straw mats, and a small brazier with hot charcoal and a tea pot sunk into the floor. We sit on our feet like we don’t notice there isn’t any blood getting to our feet. We wait silently while tea – not black tea but a green pasty solution is served to us one at a time. When the person next to me receives his tea he bows to me before drinking it. When I am served mine, I bow to the person on my left. Before slurping the tea down in three (not four) noisy slurps, I must rotate the tea bowl three one-quarter turns. After my slurps, I rotate the bowl again back the way it was.

I then put the bowl back on the floor and inspect it as if it were a wondrous piece of art and not just a very plain looking bowl.

After we’re all finished, I can sit on my side for awhile allowing blood to rush into my feet. I’m invited to stand up and move to the next room, but I decline and say, “I just want to sit for awhile” (at least until I can feel my toes). At another time someone told me that at that moment after the tea ceremony, some people are injured with sprained ankles.

You probably would never have thought that going to a tea ceremony was flirting with danger. Fortunately, I escaped the event with no damage.

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