Tea Love: Instilling a Love of Tea, One Sip At A Time

Posts tagged ‘Japan’

Special Post – Fukushima Earthquake Rememberance

This post is something special to me.

Back in 2011, I went overseas, from New Jersey to Japan in order to visit my friend Sara, who happened to be studying Japanese as an exchange student at the time.   Sara’s mother, Sherri, and i boarded our flight in Newark, New Jersey, and landed in Narita Airport March 11, 2011.   We disembarked the plane and were walking through customs when the first wave hit – a 4.0 earthquake.   Sure, it was scary.   I remember not knowing what was going on at first and even thinking that it was turbulence from a plane taking off.   But once I saw people starting to duck and cover their heads, it hit me – this is an earthquake.

Sherri and I joined a group that was huddled in the middle of the room, drawing other frightened tourists towards us and covering our heads to protect ourselves.   Fortunately, that wave passed and we laughed it off.   Nothing big at all.   We must have looked pretty silly to those who go through earthquakes on a regular basis.

When the second one hit though, that was about a 7.2 magnitude.   Though Sherri and I did not speak any Japanese, we understood that we had to exit the building.   Watching the windows ebb and flow like ocean waves was a bit terrifying.

Sherri and I managed to leave the airport and stood outside with the others who were stranded.   Sherri, understandably, was worried about Sara, who is legally blind and was taking mass transit to meet us at Narita Airport.   We met a woman who became our angel for the trip, Masana, who stayed with us the entire time, making sure we were safe, cared for, and that we would be able to find my friend.

Finally, Sara, through walking and hitch-hiking, managed to meet us at the airport and found our rag-tag group of friends that we had made – an exchange student named Peter, Masana, mother Maureen who was meeting her daughter Meghan, and Mithras.

Through a series of events involving rolling brown-outs, frightened nights reading about nuclear reactors melting, and even a volcanic eruption, our ten-day trip all around Japan turned into a five-day race, staying with people who were nothing short of angels throughout our trip (I will never be able to give Masana, Peter, Maureen, Mithras, Hiroko, the girls dormitory of Soka University, and Momo the fully proper thank you that they deserve).

And now, I ask for your help.   Though it has been years since the earthquake occurred, the repairs will take nothing short of decades.   Please, consider donating some funds to the various relief efforts to try and rebuild after this devastating disaster.   This nation has been through so much, and any assistance that you can give to help these brave people are most appreciated.

Thank you.

Japan Earthquake – Three Years Later

As some of you are aware, March 11, 2014 marks the third-year anniversary of the now infamous Japanese earthquake, an 8.9 magnitude quake that triggered a tsunami, a volcanic eruption, and a nuclear meltdown.   According to Global Research, Centre for Research on Globalization, “On April 12, 2011 the Japanese government officially announced that the severity of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster had reached level 7, the highest on the International Nuclear Event Scale. Before Fukushima, the only level 7 case was the 1986 Chernobyl disaster…”

People know Japan for their famed tea ceremonies, matcha tea, and amazing atmosphere.   During the 2010-2011 school year, my good friend since fifth grade, Sara, decided to go study at Soka University, immersing herself fully into the Japanese culture and gaining some amazing friends in the process.   Sara’s mother and I decided to go on a visit to see Sara in March.   About ten minutes after Sara’s mother and my plane landed in Narita Airport, the earthquake hit and we went on a wild ride consisting of sleeping in airports, feeling tremors throughout the night, meeting amazing angels who took us in at a moment’s notice, and thanking God the moment we touched down on American soil five days later.

I could go into more detail regarding our experiences, but that might be a post for another day.

I will, however, say that the people we met there were so magnanimous, beyond compare to anyone I have ever met before.   Masana, who stayed with Sara’s mother and me while we struggled to get a hold of Sara via cell phone during the midst of the earthquake.   Not only that, she, along with foreign exchange student Peter, bought us food, drink, and kept us safe and calm during all the events while we were at the airport without any funds to support ourselves.   Hairoko, who housed us during the rolling black-outs that plagued the towns we were visiting.   Momoko, who welcomed us into the Soka University dorm room where Sara’s mother arranged our flight information.   Momoko and her friends also fed us and kept us calm during the disaster.

I still thank them for all of their help to this day, and still look at them as angels for all that they did for complete strangers.

Our Group Of Vagabonds, Eating Breakfast Thanks To Generous Strangers

Our Group Of Vagabonds, Eating Breakfast Thanks To Generous Strangers

Now, three years later, the Japanese government is still dealing with radiation levels.   They now also have to deal with radiation-contaminated water.   People are still missing after all of this time.   The people still need help.

To help the people of Japan, please consider donating to the Red Cross.   The funds aid in long-term recovery projects and general assistance to those in need.

Don’t forget these people.   They still need our help.

A Special Tribute to Japan

On March 11, 2011, Japan was rocked by an earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the lives of thousands, causing wide-spread devastation and pain throughout both the Japanese citizens and those from around the world.

The anniversary is arriving, with many still mourning, missing and in pain.   The psychological effects alone will be reverberating for ages to come.

Admittedly, this has a special significance for me.   On March 11th, I landed at the Narita Airport to with my travel partner, Sherri, visit my friend since 5th grade, Sara, who was studying at Soka University for a year.   Sara graciously planned a full ten-day tour all over Japan for her mother and myself, traveling to different tea rooms, shrines and attractions.   While I had been traveling before, I had never gone to a place with a culture as unique as Japan.

About ten minutes after we landed, the earthquake hit.   Without knowing the magnitude or impact of the earthquake (and, being a Jersey girl, I never even experienced anything like an earthquake before), it was rather exciting yet scary at the same time:

Sherri was greatly concerned for her daughter, while I held all the confidence in the world that she would be fine.   I knew that she was on a train traveling to see us but I knew that Sara was able to adapt to almost any situation and any emergency.   After living in a foreign country for a year, something like this shouldn’t phase her, should it?

However, thankfully, we found a group of people who gathered with us, keeping us calm and directing us in the ways of the Japanese culture.   Masana and I still talk to this day.   She was a complete angel and so patient translating and helping Sherri and myself reunite with Sara.   Peter and I unfortunately lost touch, but he was amazing, offering everything that he could to make sure that we were comfortable.

While I was nowhere near the epicenter, I did see the effects that the quake had on the people around me.   I can only imagine what went through Masana’s mind as she watched the news in the airport, how Peter felt as his home for a year was “attacked.”   I remember talking to Sara about how distressed she was about her home for a year and having to leave so abruptly.

The reason why I post this in my tea blog is because I still have fond memories of, while we were running around and trying to get out of the country, I always made my stops at tea vending machines.   Even while we were tired and impatiently waiting for the train, Sara and Sherri would see me wander off to the tea vending machine, getting some hot tea for now and cold tea for later.   I still have fond memories and probably a few bottle caps of some particular teas I was a fan of.

I ask everyone to please consider donating to these people.   They’re still struggling and any help that we can give to them, I can assure you, would be greatly appreciated.   Right now, I know that the Japan Society in New York is accepting donations and distributing it to where needed.

Thank you very much and thank you to all those wonderful people that helped me, a complete stranger, and my friends along our scary journey, even while their homes were in trouble.

A Photo That Sherri Took of Masana, Peter, Maureen, Sara and Myself at Narita Airport the Day After The Quake

A Photo That Sherri Took of Masana, Peter, Maureen, Sara and Myself at Narita Airport the Day After The Quake

Tea Ceremony: Destination Japan

History of the Japanese Tea Ceremony:

The Japanese tea ceremony is highly ritualistic.   The first records mentioning a tea ceremony was in the eighth century, though it probably did not look like the modern-day tea ceremony.   Buddhist monks came out with a book called Cha Ching in order to teach how to properly prepare the tea and use the tea vessels correctly.   Today, it is thought that this book helped shape the tea ceremony we now know.

Tea was not readily available to all, being mainly a medicinal drink that later evolved into a drink for the noblemen.   Because of the rarity of the beverage, rules and regulations were set on how to drink the tea.   In 1187 Myoan Eisai, a Japanese priest, traveled to China to study philosophy and religion.   When he came back, he founded Zen Buddhism and built the first temple of the Rinzai sect.    Some think that he was the first to start cultivating tea for religious reasons rather than medicinal.   He suggested grinding the tea leaves before adding them into the boiling water, known as matcha tea.

Japanese Woman in a Kimono Making Tea

Japanese Woman in a Kimono Making Tea

The monk met with hostility with the new religion he was introducing, putting him and the tea ceremony at risk.   However, he was able to gain protection from the newly converted Kamakura shogunate and was able to keep writing about the tea ceremony.   He wrote a book called Kissa Yojoki (“Tea Drinking Is Good for Health”), in which he cites various health reasons to drink tea, including curing loss of appetite, paralysis, boils and sickness from tainted water.    Tea popularity grew as more people heard about its amazing properties.   The samurai class specifically loved the tea ceremony and spread the popularity further.

When the Kamakura shogunate in 1333, a new class of people came about called the Gekokujou.   These noblemen were also enraptured by the idea of tea ceremonies and decided to turn it into a type of game with their friends.   The game Toucha challenges drinkers to distinguish between genuine teas and other lower quality teas.   People would place bets and the winners would get expensive prices, adding to the excitement of the tea party.

At first, each person was provided a tea-cup.   Soon, the tea ceremony parties grew from twenty to thirty to even one hundred people at a time.   It would be impossible to provide each person a tea-cup, so attendees would either drink from the same tea-cup and pass it to their neighbor, or they would pass a tea bowl.   This also helps to reaffirm the close ties that attendees have with one another.

Tea ceremonies were scaled down again to be for smaller, more lavish groups in a more simplified setting.   Zen priest Murata Shukou dedicated his life to the Zen-like tea ceremony and offered instruction to those who wished to learn more.   He wanted to serve the tea to his guests, rather than have another, creating an intimate bond with his guests.   Simplicity, sober-looking colors, intimacy and types of utensils were all important to Shukou.   He became the first chanoyusha, a professional teacher of the tea ceremony.

A wabi-suki is also a teacher of the tea ceremony but he also focuses on faith in the performance of the tea, an ability to act with decorum and excellent practical skills.   A meijin has the qualities of a wabi-suki but is also a collector of fine Chinese tea utensils.

The tea ceremony is kept Zen-like and low-key as it was originally designed.   Highly ritualistic, the tea ceremony is both complicated, yet simple.

Conducting a Japanese Tea Ceremony:

In order to conduct a Japanese tea ceremony, one needs to concentrate on steps that are simple in their ideas, yet complicated in their execution.   You will need:

A tea kettle

Tea cups (if serving the tea in cups, rather than a tea bowl)

A tea bowl (if serving the tea in a communal bowl)

A tea bowl containing the unprepared matcha tea

A tea scoop to scoop the matcha tea

Bamboo ladle for the water

Bamboo whisk to mix the tea

Bamboo rest for the tea kettle lid

Cleaning basin for guests

A wooden stand

Tatami mats (straw mats)

A fine silk cloth the cleanse the tea bowl

A tea cloth to clean the items

Decorations for the room (flowers, candles, paintings, etc)

Sweets to munch on

–          Be sure to aspire to a proper tea ceremony.   If you do decide to conduct one, make sure that you are dedicated to doing so.   You will need to prepare everything ahead of time, display any flowers in a way that they compliments nature, evoke warmth during the winter or coolness during the summer, prepare for any rain if you have it outdoors, make an inviting bowl of tea for your guests and attend to them.   Your guests are highly important and should feel as such.

–          There are four principles of a tea ceremony that you should try to meet.   The wa (harmony), kei (respect), sei (cleanliness of soul and body), and jaku (tranquility) should be on your mind the entire time.

–          It is recommended to cure the tea pots and the tea cup that you will be using.   Place loose tea into the tea-pot with boiling water and let it sit for the day.   To cure the tea cups, put boiling tea into a large bowl and put the tea cups into it for a day.   This allows the tea oils to fill the tea cups and tea-pot.   However, a typical tea ceremony is with a tea bowl instead.   We will be discussing how to conduct a ceremony using a tea bowl, rather than individual cups.

–          Find a nice, quiet room to have your tea party.   If you can, have it outside in a garden.   The Zen nature of the garden will compliment the ceremony.

–          While tea ceremony rooms are typically decorated in a certain way, the main idea is to create a warm, welcoming environment for your tea ceremony.   Candles and flowers can add a touch of peace to the room.   Just be sure to keep everything simple.   Your guests will be kneeling, so a tatami mat is encouraged.

–          Prepare the tea room before your guests come in.   You should bring in your tea set, tea pot, a stone basin for guests to cleanse themselves, a wooden stand to hold everything, your sweets you plan to serve, a bowl to hold the matcha, a portable hearth to keep the tea pot warm and a silk cover for the bowl holding the tea.

–          Invite your guests to the tea room by ringing a gong during the day, or a bell during the night.

–          Have your guests wash their hands and mouth using the fresh water in the basin.   Guide them to the mat after they are cleaned.

–          Bring in the tea bowl with the matcha.   You should have the tea scoop resting across the bowl.   Also bring in the tea whisk and tea cloth.   Offer your guests some sweets to munch on while they talk.

–          Bring in the waste water bowl, the bamboo ladle and the bamboo rest for the kettle lid.   Offer your guests more sweets.

–          Use the silk cloth to cleanse the tea container and the tea scoop.

–          Ladle some hot water into the tea pot and clean the whisk.   When you are finished with the process, empty the tea bowl and wipe it with the tea cloth.

–          Place three scoops of tea per guest into the tea bowl using the scoop.   Be sure to lift both the scoop and tea container while doing this.

–          Ladle hot water from the kettle into the tea bowl.   There should be enough water to create a thick liquid with the whisk.

–          Return unused water to the kettle using the ladle.

–          Pass the bowl to your first guest.   The guest should bow when receiving the tea.   Rotating the bowl is a sign that the guests are admiring the bowl.   Finally, the guest should drink from the bowl, clean the rim and pass it to the next guest.

–          After all guests have had some tea, take the bowl and rinse the tea scoop and whisk.   Finally, clean the tea container and offer it to the guests to admire.

Photo Credit:

Let’s Learn Japanese.   17 July 2011.   japanese_tea2[1].jpeg, 3 Jan 2012.   JPEG.

Source Credit:

eHow.   “How to Conduct a Japanese Tea Ceremony.”   eHow.com, 2012.   Web.   3 Jan 2012.

The Japanese Tea Ceremony: Find Anything You Need to Know About Preparing Matcha the Japanese Way.   “History of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.”   Japanese-tea-ceremony.net, 2011.   Web.   3 Jan 2012.

Williams, Sarah.   “A Chinese Tea Ceremony: The Art of Drinking and Serving Tea.”   FoodEditorials.com, 2012.   Web.   3 Jan 2012.

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