Saturday, June 18, 2011
A Japanese Tea Ceremony in Paris
Wa (harmony). Kei (respect). Sei (purity). Jaku (tranquility). These four fundamental ideals serve as the basis of the Japanese tea ceremony and would have been helpful for me to know before my visit to the Musée Guimet on Thursday. Emotionally keyed up from making my way through the large union demonstration in front of the museum, adrenalin was still rushing through my body when we were invited to follow our Japanese guide to the Buddhist Pavilion. Since we had already been told that guests were not allowed to take photographs during the ceremony, I asked for permission to take notes. The guide, who was probably beginning to loose her patience with all of my questions, turned to study me and exhibiting the wisdom of her ancient culture said that I should sit and simply observe.
Following our guide as she gracefully traversed the pool of water by stepping from one large stone to another, the stress of the past days fell from my shoulders as we crossed the imaginary line separating the real world from the spiritual world. Our guide invited us to sit on the bench to remove our shoes and cautioned us to watch our heads as we entered the low door of the pavilion, where we seated ourselves on tatami mats and waited soundlessly for the ceremony to begin.
After ritually cleansing each utensil, our host prepared matcha, powdered green tea, using graceful and precisely choreographed movements. Listening to the gentle whispering of the bamboo outside and the soothing sounds of the tea whisk as our host frothed the tea, I gratefully acknowledged the necessity to sit and fully appreciate the subtle pleasures of the moment. For the tea ceremony proved to be the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of the modern world, just as it was when masters prepared tea to calm the nerves of the samurai and to help them forget the atrocities of battle.
Helpful hints: The tea ceremony at the Musée Guimet, which is a shortened version of a traditional ceremony, lasts about 30 minutes and is followed by a 20 minute video explaining the sequence of the ceremony and the equipment used to make the tea. I believe that the video is in English, but our host turned the volume down and explained everything to us in French. If you would like to watch a tea ceremony while you are in Paris, it is necessary to reserve in advance.
6, Place d'Iéna