Jul 30, 2007

Tea Ceremony, not just for Geisha

In America, there is the stereotype and fantasy of geisha girls making tea for men. But in the beginning, women were not allowed to practice the tea ceremony. In this 400 year old tradition, it wasn’t until a hundred years ago that women were allowed to study and participate in tea ceremonies. At one point, samurai were expected to study yin pursuits such as tea ceremony and flower arranging to balance the yang pursuits of sword practice and calligraphy. Even now, most of the highest ranking tea masters and teachers are men.

During my tea training, I have had both men and women for sensei and I have always studied with a mix of men and women. I feel lucky in this regard because the energy in a tea room with men is different. While the training is the same for men and women, there are subtle differences in how men sit, stand, walk and move in the tea room. Unlikely as it seems, tea is a physical pursuit, and a few adaptations to procedures have been made to allow women to study.

When I was in Kyoto, whenever we went to formal tea gatherings at the grand tea master’s house, we were always served by the men – tea masters in training. It is quite an experience to see a man in kimono, like the grand tea master, conduct a tea ceremony. It’s the combination of strength, skill and gracefulness and yes, it is quite attractive.

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