Today I went to the Urasenke kaikan in Kyoto where students of the Midori Kai (a training programme for foreigners who want to train in tea ceremony) hold their periodical ‘an invitation to tea’ gatherings. This is a very good occasion to experience tea with explanations in the English language. The host was a very charming Chinese lady (I believe her name was Lien) while explanations were provided by an American woman who admittedly spoke very little Japanese. I think this was an excellent choice as it showed how it is not necessary to be fluent in Japanese in order to do tea.
The most interesting part of the meeting was of course observing the other guests. I was sitting next to an young American man who must have planned his visit carefully as he came with a furoshiki out of which he pulled a heavy montsuki (notice we still have 24 degrees over here), which he wore on top of his regular clothes. I don’t know what he used to tie it, but I saw no obi. The guy was dying to show off how good he can sit in seiza, so he immediately took a martial kind of seiza with knees wide open, and hands on his upper thighs – I am no expert in tea, but this posture seemed to be far from the relaxed and aware environment of tea. Obviously he left his bags scattered behind him, so when I entered the room (I was destined to be sitting next to him) I had no place to sit.
Observing foreigners in Japan is a continuous source of amazement/hilarity/reflection/disgust and I hope one day to have time to write about it, maybe in a casual/ironic and non academic way. I myself am one of them. But seriously, this dude was quite something. His way of wearing the second-hand shop montsuki as if it were a bathrobe reminded me of some late XIXth century pictures of japoniste collectors like Louis Gonse, or like the French fashion designer at Villa Kujoyama a few years ago, who added the final touch with chopsticks in her chignon. Japonisme never dies.
In the picture: the beautiful Honpo-ji, the Nichiren-sect temple adjacent to the Urasenke-kaikan