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A taste of Japan in a tea ceremony

A Memorable Place

By Alison Krull

Special to the Sun

Having an uncle stationed in Okinawa, Japan, opened up an opportunity for me to visit a place that I would never have considered a fun and entertaining vacation spot.

To my surprise, this bustling, tropical island offered a variety of new and exciting experiences. Some of these experiences included snorkeling among brightly colored fish, visiting the castles and ruins of kings reigning several centuries ago, being greeted by a multitude of fluttering butterflies at a butterfly garden, and sampling amazing new foods.

Of the many places we visited and things we did, a traditional tea ceremony was by far the most memorable. My aunt and uncle had made reservations for a private ceremony at a local tea master's house. To the Japanese, the serving of tea is a gesture of hospitality. It's far more complex than an average tea party. It's based on perfection and much practice.

Upon entering the tea master's house, we were instructed by a translator to purify ourselves by washing our hands and mouths. Then, leaving our shoes outside, we had to crawl through a little doorway into the house.

We were led into a room of simple design, covered in straw tatami mats as flooring. We were greeted by two women dressed for the occasion in beautiful, traditional kimonos. In the corner of the room, the tea master's daughter-in-law, also a practiced tea master, was busy perfecting the best cup of tea.

Within minutes, she had turned a dry tea powder into a foaming cup of green tea at just the right temperature.

Meanwhile, we were served a small sweet potato cake, a light sweetener for our mouths. Before being served our tea, it was required that we followed a specific routine. First, we had to scoot across the floor on our knees to get the cup the tea master had set down. We then bowed in front of her, a gesture of thanks, before scooting back.

Next we had to say a few phrases, thanking the tea master for inviting us. In less than five sips, the thick, somewhat bitter tea, was fully consumed. A loud slurp at the end indicated that the tea had been prepared well. The rim of the cup from where the mouth touched was wiped with the drinker's thumb.

Before placing the antique cup on the floor, it is customary for the guest to turn it around and marvel at its design.

This marked the end of the tea ceremony, in which much gratitude was owed to the women who invited us. This rewarding experience provided an outsider with an authentic taste of Japanese culture.

Alison Krull lives in Forest Hill.

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