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Tea ceremony spreads Japanese culture

Date Posted: 2004-10-07

NAHA CITY, OKINAWA, Japan — The winds are calm, and the water is still as guests walk through Shikina-En Garden anxious to participate in the time-honored tradition of a Japanese tea ceremony. They follow the winding trail throughout the garden and arrive at Udun, or the main teahouse.

Tea ceremonies are held at Udun on the fourth Thursday of every month, according to Kimyko Unten, the host of the tea ceremonies. Since 1999, Unten has performed tea ceremonies at the garden, which was designated as a national place of scenic beauty by the Japanese government in 1976.

Although all the movements and rituals in a tea ceremony require years of study, Unten welcomes servicemembers and families to experience a piece of Japanese culture through tea. Visitors can observe the garden scenery while savoring the unique flavors of matcha, which is powdered green tea.

“The culture of making and drinking tea has various aspects,” said Unten, who has been hosting tea ceremonies for more than 30 years. “In Japan, a highly developed spiritual culture has matured through a bowl of powdered green tea.”

In chado, or the way of tea, the spiritual aspect is most important, according to Unten.

“We are very happy if our guests are able to feel the heart of chado behind the form of drinking tea,” Unten said. “The basic principles of chado are expressed in the words harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.”

A tea ceremony takes place in a Japanese-style setting, with tatami mats, which is straw matting used on traditional Japanese floors, and no doors, giving each participant a view of a beautiful garden, according to Unten. A scroll painting is carefully selected by the host of the ceremony and hung on a wall to symbolize the ceremony theme.

For guests who experience the tea ceremony for the first time, Unten teaches proper tea ceremony etiquette, including entering the tearoom, kneeling and standing, accepting, passing and drinking the tea, and bowing.

After Unten explains the history to her guests, the ceremony begins. Each guest receives a sweet, walnut-sized Japanese treat to balance out the bitter taste of the tea, according to Unten.

“The taste of the treat was most unusual,” said Cathy I. McCain, an Udun guest. “I don’t know what it was, but it was nothing (comparable to anything) we have in the (United States).”

After guests finish their treats, everyone takes a sip from the same bowl of thick tea. Following that, each guest is given a cup of his own thin tea to drink.

Part of the ceremony is to “admire the cups” after drinking from them, according to Unten. The cups Unten uses for her ceremonies have Scripture references and crucifixes engraved on them.

“I’m a Christian, so I like to involve my religion in whatever I can,” said Unten, who is a pastor at the Religious Corporation Okinawa Bible Church here. “My tea ceremony teacher actually gave these cups to me (nearly 30 years ago), so I use them when I teach my students.”

Those interested in participating in a tea ceremony are welcome, according to Unten.
The cost is ¥300 for entrance into the garden and ¥500 for the ceremony.

From Camp Foster, head south on the Okinawa Expressway to Exit 1. After exiting the expressway, turn left and follow the signs for Shikina-En. The garden is on the left of Highway 222.

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