The cherry blossoms of Yarralumla may have already blown away, Japanese Ambassador Yoshitaka Akimoto remarked today —that was their way — but there was always time for a cup of tea.
In a distinctly Japanese springtime act of hospitality at his residence, the ambassador turned on a “performance” of the ancient Japanese tea ceremony, which was, we heard at least 450 years old, going back to when would-be Zen Buddhist monks travelled to China then brought tea back to their own country.
Ambassador Akimoto said he had heard that the tea ceremony had become popular throughout Australia, probably because of its “authentic quality…we get a sense of Japanese life.”
With Anthony O’Brien from the Sydney branch of the Uraseneke School of Japanese Tea acting as guide through the ceremony, guest were shown how to behave, how to prepare the implements, including the multipronged bamboo tea whisk, and above all how to drink the strong green tea being prepared, that, O’Brien predicted, would keep everyone awake until late at night.
Describing the tea ceremony as “a comprehensive art,” he traced the international outreach of this ancient art form back to Hawaii 62 years ago. As well, formal tea-ceremony schools had been going strong in Sydney for 42 years, with branches now in Brisbane, Melbourne and Cowra too.
Japanese connoisseurs in all these locations had had come to understand that “the fundamental concept is how to entertain guests in a friendly manner “.
After explaining the symbols of prosperity that adorned the ceremonial furniture and tea bowls, O’Brien talked up the virtue of the anti-oxidants in pure green tea.
With its combination of culture and philosophy, he advised, formal tea-drinking was “the equivalent of a classical education…you can forget about the outside world.”