Friday, December 09, 2005

Geisha, the tea mistress

Today, the movie Memoirs of a Geisha is released in the US. For the occasion, CNN Europe aired a little video about real aspiring Geishas (called Maiko) in today's Japan. They have to learn many skills and lots of Japanese traditions to be able to achieve their goal: entertaining the Japanese man. One of the skills they have to learn is that of the Japanese tea ceremony.
CNN then provided these 2 figures:
- 1000 dollars for an hour with a geisha,
- 500,000 dollars to complete the training in Japanese tea ceremony.

For them, the conclusion was: let's spend an hour with a geisha. She can teach the tea ceremony and it will be cheaper than going to a tea master! While attractive, there are several flaws in this demonstration.

First, with all they have to learn (kimono folding, makeup, tea, singing, dancing...) geishas don't have much time to learn english. You'll have trouble learning the ceremony from them unless you speak japanese yourself. (The same can probably be said of Japanese tea masters, though).

Second, I don't know where they get the figure of 500,000 USD, but it can't just be the teacher's fee. I guess it also includes the cost of the tools, the tea, trips to tea farms, pottery makers, museums... Also, my experience of learning from a Chinese tea master (much cheaper!) shows me tea is the kind of study one starts but never finishes. There is just too much to learn. A geisha may know how to make a perfect Japanese ceremony with all the ins and outs (sorry, this joke was just too tempting!), but she probably won't teach you the historical backgroung, how this technique was invented in China during the Sung dynasty, tea production methods...

Third, it's not because both a visit to a geisha and to a tea master carry a high price tag that you can trade one for the other easily. For 'open-minded', well-paid journalists at CNN, a visit to a geisha may sound like a good deal... but only if you close your eyes on the moral and social consequences of such an action. Imagine how your wife (or mother) would react when you say: "I'm going to see a geisha to learn Japanese tea ceremony. At 1000 dollars an hour, it's really a good deal!"

In conclusion, I recommend that you save both the trip to the geisha or to expensive Japanese tea masters. If you want to start to learn the skill of Chinese teas, the best is to spend an hour reading and practicing the tea lessons I have written in this blog. It's completely free and nothing to be ashamed of.


Steph said...

Interesting comparison! Will you see the movie?

Stephane said...

I'll wait for the DVD.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Stephane
I get the notion that you think one can learn Japanese tea ceremony (or rather, the way of tea - tea ceremony is a western name) during one hour.
Of course, it is not possible. It is something one learns whole life. After few months of learning or one year or sth certainly you can say you learned a lot. But after one hour with geisha? It's like expecting that you learn a language in one hour (even paying 1000 dollars to an experienced teacher it's rather...).
I've been learning and practicing the way of tea these six years (most of it in Japan) and I think I made some beginning :-)

It's very interesting for me that you study Chinese art of tea! I must read more of your blog.

Stephane said...

Hi Anonymous,

No, you must have misunderstood me. My experience with Chinese tea tells me it takes much time. Japanese tea ceremony seems at least as complex as gongfu cha and I believe it's pursuit would fulfill a life.

No, I was just joking that if you had an hour to learn about tea, it would be wiser (and cheaper) to go through the lessons of my blog, instead of forking 1000 USD to a geisha.