On the evening of 25 September, at the end of an average day at Eton, something truly special took place in the Gladstone Library.
Organised as part of the events programme celebrating East and South East Asian Heritage month, a team of tea experts, decked out in traditional Japanese dress, gifted us a demonstration of a tea ceremony 1500 years in the making.
Who could have been better to lead this performance than Fukui-san, a master of this art. and her son Nao, of our very own Common Lane House?
In total transfixed silence, the room watched as Fukui-san carried out the various stages of the preparation of matcha, while we were informed about the ceremony’s origins in Buddhist monasteries and the drink’s help in achieving Zen.
First a greeting, then a purification of the utensils, followed by the addition of water to powder, then the whisking – it’s all in the wrist. After the tea was prepared, she was joined by Nao who received the tea with a bow, and after turning the chawan (tea bowl) slightly, drained the contents and thanked the host.
Not to be forgotten is the second purification, which cleans and returns all the utensils to their former resting places.
Before we knew it, half of the room was assigned to making the tea, and half of the room awaited – with the all-important accompanying sweets – their bowl. Under the watchful eye of the team, water was added to powder (with admittedly some quite non-Zen spillages)!
Whisk mastery, imitated to varying degrees of success, led to green bubbly bowls of matcha, which were then ferried by the hosts to their chosen recipients. After a repeat of the whole ceremony with the groups swapped, everyone had at least had some tea and more importantly an amazingly enriching hour.
Talking to Fukui-san revealed that she had been a student of this craft for around 30 years, more than double the lifetimes of some of the audience, and that she is still learning.
With a few more sweets taken for the road, the crowd went to dinner more learned and no doubt happier for having shared the experience.