One of the things I am very fortunate to be able to join as the spouse of a diplomat is WIB or Willkommen in Berlin, a club for Diplo-spouses and prominent ladies residing in Berlin. I am happy to say that I was accepted to be part of the Dinner is Served group. The very first activity of the group was a Japanese Tea Ceremony hosted by the Japanese Embassy. The group leaders together with the Japanese Diplo-spouses organized an amazing event, where we learned about the beautiful custom of the Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony. We were honored by the presence of Japanese Tea Masters, all the way from Japan, who have been practicing their craft for more than 30 years.
Willkommen in Berlin Dinner is Served Activity Group: Japanese Tea Ceremony
Our hosts mentioned that it is unusual for a Japanese Embassy to have a Japanese Tea Room, however this building used to be the center for Japanese-German relations so it has this beautiful and serene facility, with tatami mats, bordering zen garden, etc. I absolutely love these stools. So chic! They explained the different aspects and tools of the Traditional Japanese Ceremony to us. We also watched a video to watch a complete ceremony, which explained the different meanings and step by step process to us. In the tea room, the same meaningful elements could be found. We were given a cheat sheet of what to do when we received the tea from the tea masters. The tea master prepared the tea and when tea was served we followed the lead of a Japanese lady. I didn’t realizing that bowing would be so difficult or remaining in the kneeling position like the Japanese tea masters was not easy at all… I felt like my legs were going numb! They make it look so easy and effortless with the technique they are using and a lifetime of practice! I felt like a total cow myself haha.
Every movement in the ceremony is graceful and deliberate. Every element is chosen carefully by the tea master depending on the season and occasion. Eeach bowl given to us had a different design, symbolizing the different months of the year. This was my cup, with drawings symbolising boys month which is in May. (I hope I recalled this correctly? If there are any Japanese readers, please do let me know.)
When I received the tea, I bowed down to thank the tea master, I picked it up and held the bowl on top of my left palm, while supporting it on the side with my right hand. I turned the bowl clockwise twice until the design of the bowl was facing outward, so I did not drink on the side with a drawing. We slowly sipped our tea (a small slurp is allowed at the end), then turned the bowl twice counter-clockwise so the desing was facing our way again, before laying it back on the floor.
The bowls were collected, with more bowing and then we were served some traditional sweets. The wooden pick that you see below is traditionally made with a fragrant wood, which the tea masters usually carves themselves right before the ceremoney so guests can enjoy the lovely fragrance from the wood. (How thoughtful!) Guests use it to cut and spear pieces of the cake to eat. The candy is eaten by hand. The tea master then showed us the fragrant incense that they use. Different fragrances are used for different seasons and occasions. The tea masters takes pleasure in choosing all the many different subtle elements of the ceremony based on the different rules that have been passed down hundreds of years. I was truly in awe of…
- the grace, careful and precise movement of the Japanese Tea Masters
- the dedication to which they practice their customs and traditions
- the deep and symbolic rituals within the tea ceremony which are as nuanced, complex and beautiful as japanese culture itself
After the ceremony in the tea room, we put our shoes back on and we were served more tea and refreshments in a room looking out the lovely gardens. Roasted green tea…and my favorite Roasted Rice Tea called Genmaicha. It has this yummy addicting nutty flavour because it has roasted rice inside it too. It is also called “Popcorn Tea” because during the roasting process some of the rice pops and it looks like popcorn. I am so happy I bought some from Papaya Supermarket before leaving Jakarta to bring to Berlin because I am really addicted to this tea. Mine might not be as fresh as the one served in the Japanese embassy, but I love it anyway.
Delicious Japanese sweets and green tea ice cream. YUM.These are some unofficial photos that I snapped after we did the group photo. Too bad my camera was entangled with my arms after I had put my coat on, or I would have asked to have a group photo taken with it.
Thank you to Sabine und Edeltraud and the Japanese Embassy Ladies for the wonderful first activity for the WIB Dinner is Served Group! Looking forward to more lovely activities.