Koike and his wife invited Teaparker and me to their apartment in order to let us experience their (Japanese) way of preparing tea. This happened this spring, just after the events at the Tea Institute at Penn State. This was our last evening in the US, but it seemed we had already arrived back in Asia, as this tea room transported us there much faster than any plane!
While the rest of the apartment is very modern and western, this traditional tea room shows the respect this charming Japanese couple has for tea and its traditions. I should note that Ms. Koike is a Japanese tea instructor from the Omotesenke school. And her husband is now her student! So, she was supervising her husband and instructing us how we should proceed at each step.
Respect for the master and the teaching is essential for the student to learn. In the West, we may feel the rigidity of the Japanese tea ceremony stifles innovation, because you're not thinking outside the box. But in our urge to be innovative often becomes an excuse not to learn the traditional technique in depth. My belief is that great innovation only happens after you have mastered the tradition, not before.
The matcha tea ceremony originally comes from the Sung dynasty and it's very difficult to perform this technique well. So, from my experience, the rigid steps of the ceremony are a good way to guide you through each moment and to make you pay attention to what you're doing. There's a reason for most of the steps. For instance, you are supposed to turn your bowl twice by one quarter. That's because ancient bowls were not perfectly round: they had a front side, a place that was best suited to drink from. Looking for and find this perfect place is what this turning of the bowl is about.
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