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A tea ceremony with roots in sixteenth century Japan lives on in Hawaii. Visitors may experience the elegance of Chao, the Way of Tea, in public demonstrations. Small group sessions are held twice a week in a tea room and garden tucked in between towering Hawaii hotels in Waikiki.
The foundations for Chado were laid by Sen Rikyu (1522-1591) in Kyoto, where the historic complex of tea rooms and gardens has been designated an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese Government. This estate is the home of Urasenke line of the Sen family and the heart of the Chado practice. There are also close links between the Urasenke Chado practice and Hawaii. There has been a Chado Club at the University of Hawaii for over forty years. A beautiful teahouse at the East-West Center was donated by the Urasenke Foundation, as was a tea room in the Japanese Culture Center.
The founder created a comprehensive discipline for preparing, serving and enjoying tea based on Zen principles. Each movement, each element of the tea ceremony is significant. People who study Chado learn about the setting, the etiquette, the utensils, food and even the water to be used. Through this training, they seek to refine and cultivate themselves as human beings.
Before participating in the demonstration, we watched a video that described the various elements of the tea ceremony, so that we could appreciate their significance. Our group was composed of only the three of us traveling together. After watching the video, we went back outside to enter the door to the tea room, first removing our shoes. When we made reservations, we had been advised to wear socks to protect the tatami mats that cover the floor of the tea room.
One woman prepared the tea for another, who played the role of guest. A third woman was seated between them and us to provide explanations where needed, answer questions, and guide us as we attempted to follow the rituals for eating and drinking. The traditional seating is on the floor, but small stools were provided for the members of our party unable to be comfortable in that position.
Our hosts were as gracious as the tea ceremony itself, described as “a timeless formula for sharing a beautiful moment thanks to the agency of tea.”