Tea Ceremony Lessons/Hiking at Nachi-san waterfall

Trip Start Jun 27, 2009
Trip End Jun 25, 2011

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Saturday, August 26, 2006


finally-after an extensive application process at the local electronics store, and 10 days of waiting, the modem has finally arrived. it was so easy to hookup, everything was in color coded pictures(which was good since i obviously can't read the directions) and then all of a sudden I was online!

now im writing from the comforts (or not?) of one of my tatami rooms. This week was good, after the fireworks Tuesday night, Nick and his wife took us to his tea ceremony teachers house. We had expressed interest in taking tea ceremony lessons, so he took us to watch a class and see what it's all about. For those of you who don't know much about the tea ceremony, here are a few facts:

The tea ceremony (chado or sado) is the ritualized preparation and serving of powdered green tea in the presence of guests. A full-length formal tea ceremony involves a meal (chakaiseki) and two servings of tea (koicha and usucha) and lasts approximately four hours, during which the host engages his whole being in the creation of an occasion designed to bring aesthetic, intellectual and physical enjoyment, and peace of mind to the guests.

To achieve this, the tea host or hostess may spend decades mastering not only the measured procedures for serving tea in front of guests, but also learning to appreciate art, crafts, poetry and calligraphy; and learning to arrange flowers, cook and care for a garden; at the same time instilling in himself or herself grace, selflessness and attentiveness to the needs of others.

The ceremony is equally designed to humble participants by focusing attention on the profound beauty of the simplest manifestations of nature, such as light, the sound of water, the glow of a charcoal fire-which are emphasized in the setting of a rustic tea hut-and also manifestations of the creative force of the universe through human endeavor, for example in the crafting of beautiful objects.

Conversation in the tearoom is focused on these subjects. The guests will not engage in small talk or gossip, but limit their conversation to a discussion of the origin of utensils and praise for the beauty of natural manifestations.

The objective of a tea gathering is that of Zen Buddhism-to live in this moment-and the entire ritual is designed to focus the senses so that one is totally involved in the occasion and not distracted by mundane thoughts.

People may wonder if a full-length formal tea ceremony is something that Japanese do at home regularly for relaxation. This is not the case. It is rare in Japan now that a person has the luxury of owning a tea house or the motivation to entertain in one. Entertaining with the tea ritual has always been, with the exception of the Buddhist priesthood, the privilege of the elite.

However, ask if there are many people in Japan who study the tea ceremony, and the answer is yes, there are millions, men and women, rich and poor, belonging to a hundred or more different tea persuasions, in every corner of Japan. Every week, all year round, they go to their teacher for two hours at a time, sharing their class with three or four others. Each takes turns preparing tea and playing the role of a guest. Then they go home and come again the following week to do the same, many for the their whole lives.

I have no idea why I was first intrigued by doing this...probably because I wasn't aware of how hard it was, and I thought it seemed intriguing in 'Memoirs of a Geisha.' we were thrown into this very nice tatami mat room with 4 junior high students who are also studying tea ceremony. They giggled as we entered the room in our white sports socks and had a seat in 2 chairs that were placed in the room especially for us gaijin (foreigners). We watched as the one boy, Kenta, played the part of the host, while the 3 girls played the guests. The lessons are taught like this, with individual instruction given to the person playing the host, and the group rotates through each position. We watched in awe at the attention to detail that must be given to the seemingly most insignificant things like the placement of your left hand while your right 2 fingers and thumb are scooping hot water out of the boiling pot. Even how many steps you take in each tatami mat matters, and the direction in which you walk over them! I thought, there is NO way I can do this! I am wayy too clumsy and big to handle such delicate items in such a calm and serene ceremony.

After watching Kenta serve me tea, the teacher motioned me to come sit and start to make the tea. (Thank god) She did the first steps, so I started at the step where you scoop 2 medium sized scoops of tea leaves into the cup....she corrected pretty much everything I did, which was to be expected because I was going off of what I saw Kenta do ONCE. The steps are so insanely intricate I won't bore you all with the details, just picture me doing this and you should get a good laugh. I know Lily and Nick were :)

Until the next lesson....

Thursday morning I met with the a representative (usually either the principal or ALT supervisor) from each of the 8 schools at which I'm teaching. We sat in a board room style room and I listened while my supervisor talked to them, I think about how the ALT position is supposed to be a TEAM teaching position, and he reiterated that the ALT is an ASSISTANT. Then each school told my supervisor in Japanese how I would get to each school (train, bike, bus, principal gives me a ride), what time I needed to arrive each morning for the teachers morning meeting, whether or not lunch is provided, how many classes I would be teaching during each visit, and what time I could leave every day.
I'm kinda nervous about starting to teach, mainly because I'm at 8 different schools all around the area. I don't remember one from the other since we only visited each school briefly last week. 2 of the schools are sending a teacher to pick me up at the train station on the first day which is very nice though! I was told that at each school I will be giving a short speech (in Japanese) on the first day to the whole school! Thank god some schools only have 10 and 20 students! haha, but one school has 400.

Friday after "work" I drove my car up to the Nachi waterfall! Lily and I are really excited to have cars, we definitely feel like we're living a more normal life with a cell phone, internet and cars now. Driving is ok, I'm used to it after only a few short trips. Turning is still tricky though, I really have to keep reminding myself to turn into the LEFT lane!! My car is great though, cd player, big spacious, and the AC works SO WELL. Nachi-san is the tallest waterfall in Japan and only a scenic 15 minute drive away into the mountains. We parked and followed the people down 133 steps to the base of the waterfall (interestingly enough the waterfall is 133 meters! coincidence? i think not!) The whole area where we were has been considered a place of religious inspriation to many since ancient times. It contains several shrines and temples, the most important being the Kumano-Nachi Shrine, the final destination of the pilgramage of Kumano-san-zan. The pilgramage, which visits 2 other shrines in the prefecture, used to take the monks one month on foot.

There were lots of people at the base of the waterfall, paying offerings to the shrine, and lighting incense. We paid 300 YEN to hike up a little ways for a different view that put us a little closer to "Nachi-san." Before you begin walking up this set of steps there are small shallow bowls placed next to a natural spring of "holy water". Since we can't read any of the signs we watch what people do then follow their lead - they placed a small coin into a tray, took the bowl and filled it with water from the spring and drank it. I read later that legends say that if you drink the holy water from Nachi-san you will live a long happy life :)

We continued hiking up the hundreds of stone steps that make the Pilgramage road until we reached the top where the famous 3 tiered pagoda is. It was such a beautiful view from where we were! We drove home and got ready to have dinner with some adults from an english conversation course we teach in the spring.

Saturday we met the ALT's from the town near us (Rose and Megan) on the 9:30am train for Shirahama. We finally were going to meet the other JET's from Wakayama! Sara got on the train in Susami around 11:30 and we arrived in Shirahama around noon. We met other people at the train station from Australia, New Zealand, Britan and the states....and reunited with our good friends from group B. We all jumped in taxi's and headed to the beautiful white sand beach. When we got there we threw our stuff down and ran for the ocean, it was so nice, perfect temperature and no jellyfish! After a short swim and some football in the water, American style, Sara, Lily and I walked across the street to SUBWAY! Yes, Subway! Apparently we came at a good time because the subway had just opened 3 weeks prior to our arrival. It was difficult to convey my usual order to them but we got it figured out. They serve potato wedges instead of chips, and they dont have cookies though! It was so nice to have a good American sandwich on the beach. We hung out at the beach all day and around 6 Sarah, Sara and I headed for the onsen (hot spring) on the beach. We paid 300 YEN ($3), put our stuff in a locker and off we went - our first onsen experience. The water was SOO HOT it took a while to get used to. A Japanese grandmother had her 1 year old grandson in the water up to his chest and he wasn't crying!! It was unbelievable, I don't think I could've done that. We changed and met everyone back at the beach and the people with cars started shuttling the 45 or so JET's to Pete's house. Pete was hosting the party for the night and is a JET who lives nearby in a big house. We had lots of fun, barbequing all sorts of food on the grill, watching fireworks and getting to know the other new JET's, and the 2nd and 3rd year JET's. Everyone was really nice, we all get along really well.

We took an early train home in the morning, and got back just in time to go to my predecessors going away party at the beach. He's a musician and had sort of an afternoon of performances by friends he's met, his students from one of the local elementary schools, and then his band played last. The funniest part was right when we got there this Japanese couple was performing "Cecila." I'm going to try and upload the video clip. haha

I just got back from eating Italian food in Kushimoto. The restaurant is a favorite of 2nd year JET's Katherine and Win, so Lily and I drove there tonight and met up with Katherine, Win, Justin and Tony for delicious salads, pasta and pizza.

OH! I made my first order to Costco online (its called the Flying Pig)! They deliver right to your door in 2 days. I got a little carried away so I had to shorten my shopping cart list, but I ended up with 2 Sealy Pillows (WITH NO PACKING PEANUTS THANK GOD!), guacamole, tostito's, salsa, and EINSTEINS BAGELS!!! I am so happy and can't wait for it to be delivered on Thursday.
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