Perhaps one of the most well-known aspects of Japanese culture that we recognize today is the famous sado (“Way of the Tea”), or the Japanese Tea Ceremony. This ceremony, which showcases a deeply spiritual and physical tradition of Japan, dates back to the early 12th century and is rooted in Zen Buddhism. The development of the tea ceremony branches into three different schools of tradition, one of which will be portrayed in the tea ceremony performed at Pembroke Springs Retreat this season. The tea used in the ceremony is matcha, a plant originating from Southern China. The leaves of the plant are ground into a fine green powder used to brew the tea, which has a stronger taste than the green tea in tea bag form. Matcha tea also has more caffeine, as a result of the plant being grown in the shade. Both the resulting additional caffeine as well as theanine (which has a calming effect) create a wakeful calm in the drinker, which is why Buddhist monks in earlier Japanese history would often drink matcha tea right before meditation.
The matcha tea plants originally came to Japan from Tang China (7th-10th centuries) via a Buddhist monk named Eisai. In Japan, the monks would drink the tea and thus have a calm focus for meditation. This specific kind of tea involves placing the matcha powder in a bowl, adding hot water, and whisking the two together into a foaming green tea. This process serves as the basis for the tea ceremony, which evolved over the centuries. Following its use in Zen Buddhism, matcha tea was used for medicinal purposes, then became a drink of noblemen and the samurai warrior class. Finally, as the tea ceremony became more established, three different households that carry the traditions emerged as a result.
The three households, known as sansenke, all descended from tea master Sen no Rikyu, or simply Rikyu, the most profound influence on the tea ceremony as we know it today. Rikyu studied tea and Zen from a young age and became a master of tea in his late 50’s. He was a tea master for and thus a close confidant of Totoyomi Hideyoshi, the Japanese daimyo who unified Japan following the Warring States period. As a master, Rikyu further developed the method of the tea ceremony as well as the various tools used to conduct it. The households, or senke, branched from three of his four great-grandsons, whose descendants have practiced and handed down the tradition of the tea ceremony. Those three schools of the tea ceremony are Omotesenke, Mushakoujisenke, and Urasenke. The last one, Urasenke, is the tea ceremony tradition that will be performed at the bed & breakfast.
The Urasenke household iemoto (head of the house) carry the name of Rikyu’s great grandson Sen Soushitsu, but the teahouse where Urasenke tradition began was built by Soushitsu’s father, Sen Soutan. This teahouse was built near the Sen residence and was named Konnichian (“Hut of this Day”) thus making the full tradition title Urasenke Konnichian. The teahouse and the Sen residence, now an estate, are in Kyoto, Japan, headed by the 16th generation of the Urasenke tradition, Genmoku Soushitsu.
Our lovely Kazue is a master of tea ceremonies, having studied for 17 years. In honor of Girls’ Day which is on March3rd, our Hina Dolls will be on display and we will begin the first in a series of teas. She will be demonstrating “Urasenke” for our reserved B&B Guests on Sunday, March 5th. We feel very thankful that we are able to share such a special part of the Japanese culture with our Guests by our Friend in the Pembroke Springs Family.