Friday, June 5, 2009

Japanese Tea Gathering at Duke Gardens

By Nancy Hamilton

We recently enjoyed our first traditional Japanese tea gathering with school children at Duke Gardens!

Seventeen kindergarteners from E.K. Powe journeyed to Duke Gardens (on foot!) and joined us in the teahouse in the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. The children were fascinated with the entire experience, which started with their entry through the very child-friendly crawl-through door (nijiriguchi). This innovative entryway is a special teahouse feature that encourages the idea of equality in the teahouse, as each guest must lower himself or herself equally to enter. The children embraced this idea wholeheartedly, as they had no problem squeezing through two at a time.

They gathered in anticipation around the tatami, where our host, Kazu Okada, would make tea for them by drawing special items from a tea box prepared especially for the day. After the box was opened, there was a collective wave of surprise as the children took pleasure in each unique item as it was removed from the box: a shiny lacquer tea container; a slender bamboo tea scoop; a teabowl with crackly white glaze; a bamboo whisk; a small, white folded linen.

Ms. Okada placed all these items in their proper places on the teabox lid, which was now functioning as a tray. The children remained entranced as she purified each item with a colorful cloth.

Then the host proceeded to the tea-making by placing powdered green tea in the bowl, adding hot water and whisking it to a bubbly froth.

The children learned proper tea etiquette from our lead guest, Kako Gagnon, who coached them through how to hold and drink tea from a bowl.

The children each received their own small bowl of tea, which they were eager to hold...and some even enjoyed drinking!

The students were quick to notice the flowers in the alcove, including the iris flower displayed in observance of Children’s Day, which the Japanese celebrate on May 5. The leaves of the iris flower are added to Japanese children’s bathwater on this day as a way of honoring their vitality and hoping for continued strength in their growing years.

The children certainly added vitality to our tea gathering with their open curiosity and joy at sharing a new experience.

Duke Gardens also hosts traditional Japanese tea gatherings for adults. The next are scheduled for Oct. 21 and Nov. 11, two per day. Seating is limited. Call 668-1707 for information or to reserve a spot.

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