Aug 6, 2007

Why study chanoyu?

The reasons are as varied as there are people. There are some who study because they love to dress in kimono; some because they are interested in Japanese gardens, others want to learn kaiseki (Japanese gourmet cooking), some come to tea through Zen or martial arts, still others like the social aspect of gathering with like minded people or the serenity of the tea room. Whatever the reason to study chanoyu, something happens if the student is serious and studies for more than a year.

After about a year of studying chanoyu I began to see how deep it was. My body had begun to get the hang of moving around in a tea room without my feeling like a cow in a flower bed. My ear had gotten used to all the strange Japanese names of things (though I still didn’t understand much when my sensei was scolding me). I could even get through a tea procedure at class without feeling like a complete idiot. I wasn’t as tense about making mistakes or feeling frustrated because my sensei responded to my questions with cryptic answers or ignored them altogether. And even though my feet would go numb from sitting seiza, I was able to not mind it so much.

Little by little, I was beginning to just be in the tea room and observe and absorb whatever was going on between host and guest. Not only that, I was able to contribute something to the experiece. The give and take by both host and guest created something unique and special. You cannot be in small room for hours with people, eat together, drink tea together and suffer together on your knees without feeling some kind of bond.

My focus at class began to change as well. At first I was concentrating so hard on my own progress. I wanted to memorize and master the tea procedures. I was concerned about the pain in my legs. I wanted to gain more knowledge to impress my sensei. But as I became more comfortable, it was less about me and more about us – my fellow students, my sensei and what we created together. At first we just cleaned up our own tea bowl and tea things after our lesson, then we just saw what needed to be done and did it without thought to whose job it was.

Also around this time, I started to come early to class to help prepare things for the lesson. My sensei began to teach me how to arrange the flowers and occasionally let me choose the scroll for the lesson. I started to wipe all the tatami before and after class without being asked.

We all had different reasons to begin to study, but we all were contributing and creating an enhanced common experience, something bigger than just our own individual concerns. Because we had different interests, we became a cooperative team. One student was devoted to making tea sweets and brought her experiments to class to share. One student had a lovely flower garden and brought flowers to arrange. Another student was good at reading calligraphy and would help translate the scroll. I was good at cleaning and so I did.


  1. This is absolutely beautiful.

    Thank you!

    Julia in Victoria

  2. Julia,
    Thank you for reading and taking the time for comment. I hope you find something here to come back and read some more.