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Men in the Teahouse

Tea Ceremony Serves to Soothe Stress


A tea ceremony lesson in progress.

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The tea ceremony, known in Japanese as sado or chanoyu, has been regarded as an art that is largely preferred by women. In a developing trend, however, a growing number of men are stopping by tea ceremony salons on their way home from work. Classes teaching other Japanese arts, such as ikebana (flower arrangement) and traditional musical instruments like the shamisen, are also attracting more male enthusiasts. The overall picture is of men revisiting the artistic traditions that have spiritually supported the Japanese down the ages.

The Philosophy of SadoThe basis of sado (which means "the way of tea") lies in the simple custom of boiling water, preparing powdered green tea, serving it to guests, and drinking it oneself as well. In its over five centuries of history, the way of tea incorporated the philosophy of Zen Buddhism and came to be imbued with a refined spirituality. Sado has also taken on a highly artistic character thanks to its pursuit of beauty, and old utensils are cherished and handled with great care so that they do not lose their luster over time. The etiquette of sado is detailed and exacting but profound, defying easy understanding.

The philosophy of sado is expressed in the term wakei-seijaku. Wa signifies opening our hearts to one another and being amicable; kei represents mutual respect; sei expresses cleanliness and purity, not only where the eyes can see but also in spirit; and jaku indicates remaining calm in any situation. Wabi and sabi are two well-known words associated with the way of tea. Wabi describes the idea of valuing purity of soul rather than being occupied in material pleasures, while sabi refers to a virtuous state detached from earthly society in which one seeks a simpler, purer, and more sublime way of living. Ichigo-ichie is another famous expression with origins in sado. It means that both host and guest should take part in the ceremony with their whole hearts, keeping in mind that life is ever changing and uncertain and that a particular day's ceremony is a unique event, never to happen again.


A cover illustration from the Hyogemono manga. (C)Yoshihiro Yamada / Kodansha

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Passed down the generations by the practitioners of Japan's various schools of tea, these principles have long served as an important pillar of the Japanese spirit. The interest shown in the tea ceremony by twenty-first century businessmen demonstrates the timeless relevance of these principles.

A Modern-Day SalonKoomon, a culture school in the Nihonbashi neighborhood of downtown Tokyo, offers sado classes for men. Conveniently located for those stopping by after work, it attracts men of diverse professions. Of the many schools of sado, Koomon instructs men in the Enshu school, which, having been practiced by samurai, upholds the pursuit of "living beautifully" in a reflection of the samurai code of bushido ("way of the warrior").

Students at Koomon savor the depth and richness of an art that is worthy of enjoyment by adult men in a serene atmosphere. Participants say they appreciate the classes because they allow them to leave behind all thoughts of work and purely savor the moment while learning about Japanese aesthetics and hospitality. The tearoom is a sanctified space, but at the same time it is important that it be a place of enjoyment. As such, the Koomon tearoom is always alive with conversations about everything but work. Koomon also offers opportunities for foreigners to try out the tea ceremony.


A photo of an ikebana lesson. (C)Ikebana Sessyu-ryu

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Tea-Themed Manga and LiteratureTwo manga featuring the tea ceremony have become bestsellers in recent years. Ocha Nigosu (A Bad Boy Drinks Tea!) is a comedy manga about a teenage delinquent who joins the sado club of his high school and gradually rectifies his ways. Hyogemono (Tea for Universe, Tea for Life), meanwhile, is set in the Warring States period (1493-1573) and revolves around a leading disciple of Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591), a tea master who played a major role in developing sado as it is today. Issues of cultural magazines featuring sado have enjoyed good sales, and the novel Rikyu ni Tazuneyo (Ask Rikyu) by Yamamoto Ken'ichi won the Naoki Prize, Japan's top prize for popular literature.

Learning about the historical and cultural background of sado opens one's eyes to its wonders. As sado developed under the patronage of the samurai, who sought in it spiritual healing and training when they grew battle weary or lost their bearings, it is no surprise that Japanese men are returning to tearooms.

Sado is not the only traditional art that appeals to Japanese men of today. Men are also increasingly taking up ikebana (flower arrangement) and traditional musical instruments, such as the taiko (drums), shamisen (three-stringed plucked lute), shakuhachi (end-blown bamboo flute),and koto (13-stringed zither). Each of these has its own rich history, and the trend to rediscover the spiritual roots of the Japanese in traditional arts looks set to continue for some time. (March 2010)

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