It’s nothing short of a miracle. I no longer drink coffee in the morning, only green tea or matcha. I was drinking coffee just socially on occasionally too, but even then I noticed the dehydration and jitters the coffee caffeine gave me as well as fatigue from its effect on my adrenal glands. After switching to matcha tea, I’ve never felt better and have benefited from its many medicinal qualities.
So it was a pleasure to join WANOBI-Beautiful Japan Executive Director Yuko Sangu and guests for a demonstration of making a chasen, Japan tea whisk, and chashitsu, tea house culture experience and tour WANOBI held at Master Craftsman Tango Tanimura’s Wahokudou studio in Takayama, Ikoma City, Nara Prefecture in conjunction with Camellia Tea Ceremony of Kyoto earlier this month. WANOBI had put on a fabulous chashitsu exhibition at the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum in Kobe this summer, which I couldn’t attend.
So this tour I knew I couldn’t miss! Because the art of making matcha is more than drinking tea; it’s a mindful practice to awaken you to the beauty of everything around you in the present moment and make you feel alive and joyful.
Because of the mindful and contemplative process of tea ceremony experience, I was able to recall vividly my experience rather than just another fleeting tourist consumer moment in Japan but could appreciate the deeper aspects of the culture. It also made me very relaxed, refreshed and happy!
Tango Tanimura is a member of the Tanimura family who have produced tea whisks for more than 500 years in Takayama, which has been the center of tea whisk manufacturing for just as long, according to WANOBI’s English explanation.
The Tanimuras are one of only three remaining families of 13 tea-whisk-making families that were granted surnames by the Tokugawa government during the Edo Period (1603-1897).
To prepare great matcha, a fine tea-whisk must be used. Cheap imports from China are 70 percent of tea whisks sold in Japan, Tanimura said, and just don’t compare. If the tea whisk is in plastic, you know it’s from China and not a Japanese artisan-crafted instrument.
The key to the beautiful mindfulness that awakens your senses to the now is the fact that an artisan such as Tanimura made it. It’s an heirloom piece of art, not some mindless factory-made instrument that displaces its workers, rather than honor them as they age and grow in skill, as Japanese artisans do.
It’s the same attitude as handcrafted Japanese artisan pottery and tea bowls. You drink from a work of art and that energy emanates from it. It has meaning, purpose and great beauty.
Tanimura selects the bamboo, some of which may be gleaned from 150-year-old Japanese houses. The colors may be dark or light bamboo. Through an intricate and skillful process he creates the whisk by hand but also uses a simple machine his grandfather invented to split the chasen into its fine tines, a process that before the modern era was used by candlelight shadows to guide the artisan where to cut.
After the demonstration, Atsuko Mori, owner of Camellia’s Tea Ceremony in Kyoto and dressed in beautiful kimono, demonstrated and instructed in the art of tea ceremony in Tanimura’s tea house. A man who wore a kimono received the seat of honor at the front of the tea house. The process is a fine ritual that is memorable in its simplicity in this era of high-tech entertainment.
First we drank tea that was prepared and served along with rabbit-shaped wagashi, Japanese sweets, to honor the rabbit in the moon this fall season. Then we learned to make tea with the tea whisk. Hot water should be 70-80 degrees, as boiling water will destroy the medicinal aspects of the tea.
My favorite moments were the wabi-sabi of the unmatched variety of tea bowls and selecting one to make tea in. I love sitting on the floor cushion and soft tatami mat. (You can sit on a stool if you wish.) I can still see the steam of the water rising as it was poured into each cup, and the sound of the water pouring as it was such a quiet and calming atmosphere, and out the window the beauty of the garden was visible.
I relished the passing around for closer viewing the many objects used in tea ceremony that also reflected the season. It had been unseasonably hot for September, yet in the tea house living with the season and not air conditioning it is important, to live in nature and really feel the climate (and work to protect it and realize the problem of climate change in that effect.)
I loved the camaradarie and unity of drinking tea together, bowing in respect and honoring each other. I learned from Yuko that in tea house culture, everyone is equal. Samurais had to leave their swords and wealthy people their fine accouterments at the teahouse door.
Of course it was such a great delight in this beautiful setting to drink mindfully the delicious tea served! Feeling the bowl on my finger tips to drink its rich taste, as well as whisking the tea up into a frothy were memorable delights.
Also the sheer beauty of the tea house was mesmerizing. Flowers, vases, and an ink-painted scroll called a kakejiku that guests marveled at that had been painted by Itō Jakuchū 伊藤 若冲 (1716-1800) were part of the traditional tea house decor.
Afterward, I purchased an heart-shaped chawan made by Cermist Yutaka Ono, one of Tanimura’s dark bamboo chasens and some fine-grade matcha from Hoshi Tea in Fukuoka, Kyushu as a present for my husband’s birthday that was coming up.
I felt it was worth the price because I was purchasing delicious tea as well as an heirloom art piece chasen and chawan that can be cherished each day we prepare and drink tea for each other as well as be passed down for generations. I was also supporting the artisan tea cultivation, arts of traditional Japan and these artisans who keep us all in awe with the beauty their work produces. And to me Japan is beauty; and beauty is peace.
No wonder WANOBI is called Beautiful Japan. It really is!
Follow WANOBI- Beautiful Japan on Facebook or Instagram to see more amazing traditional Japanese artisans and art as well as learn of more tours and experiences that go beyond the ordinary of anything you’d experience on your next trip to Japan.
And try some Japanese matcha or green tea! Your health and happiness will thank you for it!