Three cups of tea
Encounters with Japanese Tea Ceremonies on the Kyoto Intensive Seminar+
The photos will be in the publication
In October 2018 I joined the Intensive Seminar+ of the Centre for Research in Japanese Garden Art and History, which is part of the Kyoto University of Art and Design. I attended because I wanted to engage is a serious study of Japanese Gardens and an opportunity to visit gardens in expert company. I must say that the Seminar vastly exceeded my expectations and I felt privileged to attend. The talks, activities and visits gave me many interesting frameworks to structure my ideas and organise my knowledge of Japanese gardens.
As part of our programme we attended three different tea ceremonies. Anyone interested in the generality of Japanese gardens has to be interested in tea in Japanese culture. Even before Sen no Rikyū formalised tea ceremonies, and their associated gardens, gardens were often designed for entertaining guests, and as an enthusiast for infusions of Camellia Sinensis I endorse the celebration of drinking tea with friends.
Our first encounter was in a tea house constructed within the grounds of Kyoto University of Art and Design. We were told we would have an experience of a Sencha tea ceremony. Tea comes in two main varieties in Japan: matcha which is finely powdered green tea and would be familiar to anyone who has participated in a tea ceremony (or bought a Japanese variety of a popular chocolate wafer biscuit), and sencha which is unformented leaf green tea- the kind most commonly taken and is also sold in a refreshing cold bottled form at every street corner.
Tea ceremonies follow the ways of “Schools”, who each have their own philosophy, methods and apparatus for making tea, and on the way it is served. People devote many years to perfect their understanding of any given school. These schools all are developed from the rules originally set down by Sen no Rikyū over 400 years ago. Having a Welsh background I can understand how minor differences in interpretation give rise to schisms and new schools. The first School we encounter was based around Sencha tea, The Ogawa School of Sencha. Our ceremony was lead by Ogawa Koraku, head of the Ogawa School of Tea since 1973, in an unbroken line, from father to sun for 150 years.
As well as being differentiated by the use of Sencha tea, the Ogawa school is different because it centred on bringing tea drinking closer to nature and drinking tea in picnics outdoors. Hence the equipment used in Ogawa tea ceremonies is different from the more traditional tea Schools, which in turn alters the various order of doing things and the “skills” involved. The tradition is relatively modern having been established in the 19th century in during the Meiji restoration.
What is surprising is when the tea arrives there is barely enough tea to cover the bottom of the bowl - three drops. It is followed by a second cup with slightly more(just) tea along with a mochi sweet and then finally a full cup of hot water to quench the thirst. Apparently the tea, which is certainly flavoursome, is to nourish and harmonise and not for satisfying one’s need for a drink. Esoteric and intellectual - tea as part of a search for truth
Our second cup was under quite different circumstances. We were in the company of Mr. Tokushirou Tamane, the Head Gardener of Kinkaku-Ji, the garden of the Golden Temple. We had been given privileged access to parts of the garden far from its normal madding crowds. We sat in the head priest’s house looking out on a garden built and designed 40 years earlier by Mr. Tokushirou Tamane and Professor Makoto Nakamura, and we were taken trough a guarded gate to do the complete stroll around the temple lake. The stroll ended by the tea house where we were served mocha tea and another mocha cake. Although the whole afternoon was auspicious beyond my imagining, this tea ceremony was one of the continuous tea ceremonies provided at Kinkaku-Ji all day and every day as part of the admission ticket. An experience for experience collectors.
Our final tea ceremony was held on the beautiful surroundings of Jiko-in on the outskirts of Nara. This temple is set on a hill and its garden captures the scenery of the valley and on to the distant hills with carefully layers hedges and nearby trees. There are exquisite and venerable pines, and the karikomi clipped Azaleas were perfect. Every tokonoma had refined ikebana and its enclosed courtyards the epitome of perfection. We sat cross legged, waiting for tea, on mats in a room whose shoji were drawn to reveal the garden. We were addressed by the officiating priest. “There are no rules for how you drink your tea or eat your cake. You may do as you like, as long as you enjoy the surroundings”. He is one of the kind hearted.
1 Quite small Welsh villages might have six or more different non-conformist chapels with slightly different interpretations of worship
2 In an earlier article I cite Zen priest Muso Kokushi’s reasons people have for making gardens. He describes four reasons which in short are:
There are those who have no particular liking for landscape but they, themselves wish to be admired.
There are those who are collectors of things
There are “kind-heated” ones. They like a pretty garden as a place to read poetry and nourish their hearts with a garden view.
There are also people for whom a garden sustains their search for truth- a garden for enlightenment.
Hi guys this is the text minus the pictures of article 1
These are links to an article ........ . The article discusses the Royal
Academy Exhibition "Painting the Modern Garden, Monet to Matisse" from
the perspective of someone with an interest in Japanese Garden design.
This article appears in Shakekei vol 22 number 3, available from the UK Japanese Garden Society.
We started with Song dynasty inkwash of mountains in China and we end with a Lancashire garden influenced by Shiegemori. Such were the slides at the 2015 National Meeting of the UK Japanese Garden Society at Calderstone Park in Liverpool on October 17th. We had four talks, one from a Japanese cultural historian and three from professional Japanese garden makers. It was an educative experience - and made me reflect on my own garden and practice. There were four speakers: a Japanese cultural historian Yoko Kawaguchi who provided some historic background that could be discerned from historic images of Japan; and three professional Japanese garden builders ( Howard Healey , Robert Ketchell and Graham Hardman ) who offered tales and examples from their practice. The theme for the day was “where do I go from here?” What was there for the amateur garden maker to learn?
The iris is a lovely plant but in Bron Ceris it has to fight hard for space. I still have plenty of room for more plants but finding a good situation for iris is hard. They need direct sun to bake the rhizome, they flower for a couple of weeks and then hang about with their pointy leaves for the rest of the year. They do not retire gracefully.
The spot with the irises will be re-thought. I will prune some of the branches of the laurel. The spot is too good for the pachysandra, which can go elsewhere. This leaves me with new and exciting questions. I will want to plant this area in a way that makes full use of the large rocks emerging from the ground and are in the wall. Excuse the profusion of weeds- the next few months tidying will happen.
Although some of my previous hard landscape work has been altered, most safe-to-fail experiments in Bron Ceris garden concern planting both in the choice of material and their juxtaposition. Tree preservation orders and an uncooperative neighbour resulted in my growing interest in shade gardening. I am fortunate in having Crûg Farm 15 minutes away - so finding shade plants and advice is not a problem - however when I get there I have a child-in-a-sweetshop syndrome. I also already have some stuff to transplant. In the immaturity of the shade garden ground cover is key - therefore one major experiment is planting and plant combinations.
Ground hugging plants, moss substitutes (I have some Japanese pretensions) and year-round green have all been considered. Obviously some plants take time to get established and form colonies however after one year there are some plants that have shown their worth. These plants are in irrigated dry shade. I might add in my Z9 climate much of the planting I describe is fairly evergreen anyway.
A clear success has been Mitella x inamii- ground hugging palmate green glossy leaves with silver veins has more than quadroupled its space without damage from slugs or whatever and looks very attractive
Using a different scale, I have also planted some hardy geraniums- which have remained in leaf throughout the year. G. nodosum “Svelte Lilac” has formed its 45 cm clump as advertised in 1 year and will lift and separate to cover more space. The blotched leaves of G x monacense have also done equally well and its intermittent, almost black flowers were interesting - although I have regarded both plants as having foliage interest. A friend has also supplied an unnamed variety which was termed G. toughasoldboots.
Pachysandra terminalis has done OK as expected- but its really boring - but next year I might try P. axillaris 'Crûg's Cover' - I am warned that gets rampant in our north Wales climate - but its shiny leaves are very tempting.
Ophiopogon formosanus and O.japonicus have bushed out and are particularly good at the edges of paths as they will flop over the sides of the edging.They look like lush grass most of the time with formosanus having a broader leaf.
Close to the ground I have wondered about moss-substitutes for a Japan inspired pathway. I have left some soil open in the hope that moss will appear. Two obvious substitutes: Soleirolia and Sagina Subalta have done well.
Trying to ensure that I do have a record of what is going on and when changes happen is probably as important as more thoughtful pieces. Hence the bullet point nature.
A trip to Crûg Farm and bought:
This is to fill up a bit more of the Shade garden. I am also planting out the Thalictrum rochebruneanum that I have grown from seed. I have also recently planted Musa Lasiocarpa near the “bus shelter” and I have moved a pot containing Canna Russiflora nearby. I have also recently planted some anenome nemorosa, ompholoides, some pulmonaria and Houttuynia cordata (possibly harlequin or chameleon). Transferred the cyclamen from the “winter”containers. Most of last years planting doing well.
Double throated sunbird on an Aloe Arborescens.
What was the garden like before all the work? The garden we took over from the previous owner was, in estate agent parlance, “well stocked”. There was a profusion of conifer: thuja, Castelwellan, dark brooding firs, and creeping junipers. There was a profusion of evergreens- oleanders, grisellas, laurels, a variagated ficus japonica, privet, pittosporums and eleagnus. Flowers seemed to end with June. There were Fosrythia, flowering currents, Chaenomeles, berberis darwinii, and a nice 3m tall ceanothus which went well with the neighbouring variagated eleagnus. The crowning glory was two laburnums - roughly half way down and in opposite borders. In season there was blossom on 8 semi-dwarf apple trees (M25) . A Genista Lydia was leggy, and there was a calistemon, which was totally underwhelming.