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December 18, 2011

Zen & Tea Ceremony

Two weeks ago, we were lucky enough to attend a free Zen & Tea Ceremony lesson in Kashii. We discovered the class on a flyer at Kokusai Hiroba in the city and decided it was a great opportunity to try some Japanese cultural experiences. I'd only done a proper tea ceremony once before (two years ago) and had never tried Zen meditation, so I was really intrigued and excited...

Mina, Martina and I met up at Kashii Station, after stopping to look at the ¥100 Daiso (see gloves above!) and found the tour guides for our experience. We joined the English speaking group and made our way to a nearby temple.

After getting settled on our individual pillows, the head monk explained the history and practice of Zazen- a form of Buddhist meditation. Zazen is the practice of sitting very still in a cross-legged position and clearing the head of all thoughts, so as to calm the body, mind and soul. Once in this state, one may achieve enlightenment and gain insight into the world.

For beginners, however, it involves a lot of concentration- sitting completely straight and still for a session (we had three sessions- 5, then 10, then 20 mins) practicing calmly breathing in and out whilst counting to ten, trying not to scratch an itch and so on. The head monk explained the disciplinary measure taken for those who move during the Zazen meditation- to be struck by a huge wooden stick, twice on each shoulder.  They assured us that they would go easy on us as beginners!

In the third session, they told us that, if we wished, we could ask to be struck by the stick by placing our hands together and bowing at the monk as he passed us in meditation. The purpose of this in real Zazen meditation is to administer self-discipline when you think that you are losing concentration or becoming lazy in your posture. However, for us it was more about the experience! So I asked to be struck, as did Mina, and although it stung a little it was really cool.

We also made a cute new friend at the lesson- Rong from New Zealand...

After our three sessions of Zazen were finished, it was on to the Tea Ceremony. A guide explained the significance of Tea Ceremonies in Japanese culture, whilst a kimono-clad woman prepared the delicious maccha & sweets...

Because the Zen took so long, there was only time to demonstrate the tea ceremony to 5 people, whilst the rest of us watched. Afterwards, we sat back on our pillows and received the maccha and tea to drink, however we didn't get to go through the process of the tea ceremony. I'm not complaining though, it was a really wonderful experience. 

Maccha is my favourite, and the sweet was beautiful. The hostess said she chose this particular sweet, because it represented the "first frost" of Winter...


A truly wonderful experience, I went home & tried to teach Kamil Zen meditation the following morning!


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