Few months ago I attended a Bontemae class at Matcha House Europe, in the barrio of Gracia in Barcelona. Bontemae is a “simplified” version of chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony, but it is still very complex, deep and difficult to perform. It is based on the same principles of the full ceremony only that it is performed in a tray on a table instead of on the tatami at the teahouse.
Our teacher was Nuria, a Japanese Spanish teacher that has been studying chanoyu for more than 20 years in Japan at the Urasenke school. We were five people around the table from which just three of us were students. Together we shared an amazing two-hour class, watching carefully, learning, practising and contemplating the grace of each movement she performed. We learnt how to clean the utensils, how to whisk the matcha, fold the “chakin” (the silk cloth) among other things, and we practised the whole routine at least couples of times. We ate our “okashi” and enjoyed every minute of the class.
One of the things I appreciate the most about the Japanese Tea Ceremony is the level of detail, the simplicity and the complexity of what seems obvious and simple; the acknowledgement of space, surroundings and the ceremony or ritual itself. The respect for everything and for everybody, the feeling of full awareness and what this all mean to you in a personal way.
I treasure every tea ceremony or class I have attended, each one has been unique and has taught me different things. I love the opportunity it provides to connect to the simplicity and the beauty of things, to share just by being there and the way it makes everything so special. It always leaves me a feeling of fulfilment and peace.
I want to finish this post with the phrase Ichi-go ichi-e (一期一会), a concept that I love that is also connected to ‘the way of tea’ that has been translated as “one time, one meeting” or “one encounter; one opportunity”. Meaning, roughly, that every moment is unique and it cannot be repeated the same way…. That always remind how important it is to enjoy life in every way possible.
Thank you Matcha House and Nuria for this opportunity, I hope we can enjoy another class very soon!
In January I went to New York for a few days to run some errands for my family and I took the opportunity to also do some tea related stops for myself. While planning my itinerary, I found a Japanese Tea Ceremony that I had been looking forward to doing again for a long time. The first time I joined a traditional Japanese tea ceremony was in Argentina when I was studying to be a Tea Sommelier and I instantly fell in love with it. I learnt to appreciate Japanese Tea in a different and much more special way… It also made me look for places that hold the traditional ceremony everywhere I go.
So in New York I found Globus Washitsu, a unique space that offers classes and demonstrations of the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony right in the heart of the city. It is hosted by Tea Whisk and its Japanese Tea Master Souheki Mori.
The Chashitsu (Teahouse) at Globus Washitsu was built as a traditional teahouse from Japan and the whole place feels like a little piece of Japan in New York. Even before entering the teahouse you can hear the sound of the water falling, walk through a path of stones and the re-creation of nature, as it traditionally is. So everything was in place to create the right atmosphere to be immersed in the ceremony. I joined the tea service with two students and there we were, the four of us, ready to forget about the outside world and enjoy “the way of tea”.
We took our shoes off, left our belongings behind and entered the teahouse. We sat on the tatami, on our heels and few minutes later, everything began. Souheki brought the equipment and the tea, walking in the traditional way, wearing a kimono and moving graciously and as effectively as possible making everything look seamless and effortless. She sat and started preparing the tea. In this occasion I was chosen as the “guest” during the ceremony so I sat next to her. I also got my tea handed first and even received an extra wagashi (sweet). In the pictures you will see the delicacy of the sweets we had. They were handmade by a Japanese baker and brought directly from Japan. On this occasion we had the Mount Fuji and the rising sun to accompany our tea. Both sugary and delicate, perfect to accompany the matcha tea.
Souheki then talked us through the tokonoma, the tapestry and the ikebana she had chosen specially for the beginning of the year and the ceremony. She also read a poem that was a palindrome, about the first dreams of the year and its meaning in the Japanese culture.
As soon as everything started my perception of time changed completely and our surrounding and objects took on a different meaning. In a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony, everything is there for a reason, has a story or a meaning, nothing is just decoration. You are also there with a purpose, the purpose of contemplation, meditation and tea. You experience that feeling of absolute presence that is so difficult to find and to make it last… I was there, just there. Enjoying the endlessness of time…
The whole experience of being there was special. Globus Washitsu is a real meeting point for people interested or working in the promotion of Japanese culture in every way. I was there sharing my love for tea but surely there is space for everyone. At the end of the ceremony I met Stephen Globus, one of the owners of Globus Washitsu who warmly welcomed me.
I would sincerely like to thank Souheki Mori and Stephen Globus for a lovely afternoon…
I will be back again next year, no doubt!
For more information:
889 Broadway, NY 10003
Between 19th and 20th Street.
By appointment only.