Last night, I turned in at a nice and early 10:00 p.m. As a result, I woke up this morning at a less nice and early 3:50 a.m. I dozed on and off, cobbling together about another hour in catnaps, before sitting bolt upright at 8:15 a.m. with the realization we had a tea ceremony to attend!
Akemi’s mother teaches tea ceremony and, once a month, hosts a special event for her students. And the odd daughter-dating foreigner.
We walked into a vestibule, removed our shoes, then walked through the partition to an adjoining room where Akemi’s brother, Haruhiko, dressed in a men’s kimono, greeted us. Akemi’s brother is awesome. Every time I see him, he never patronizes me with that sloooow enunciation usually reserved for equally sloooow foreigners. Instead, he speaks to me in rapidfire Japanese, no doubt assuming/hoping I’ll eventually learn. I love his optimism!
I was asked to sign my name and, even though I haven’t practiced since last year, I availed myself nicely.
The house is older with a very low ceiling. According to Akemi, it was designed this way to discourage guests from engaging in sword fights – which is a shame because I was really feeling the urge. Instead, I kept my head down and said my hello’s to the gathering, then followed everyone to an open garden, donning the world’s most uncomfortable sandals enroute and almost sliding off the stone path into the tiny fish pond.
After crossing the garden, we ducked into another room where ten of us were seated in a semi-circle. I tried kneeling like everyone else but only lasted some five minutes before my knees gave out. I opted for the slightly more comfortable but uncomfortable nevertheless cross-legged sit.
Tea ceremonies are surprisingly complex affair and I like to think I did alright for a Canadian who had never taken part in one before. We were presented with a bowl of wagashi (Japanese rice sweets) and I was instructed to help myself – in very intricate fashion.
I had to take the chopsticks with my right hand, then adjust them at the midway point with my left hand, then use my right hand to transfer the wagashi to the tiny serving paper I’d been given.
After eating the wagashi (Akemi informed me I didn’t have to eat everything but I wanted to be extra polite so I ensured there were no leftovers), I was presented with a bowl of matcha (ceremonial green tea). I had to bow, pick up the bowl with my right hand, set it down in front of me, then set it down to my right, then set it down to my left and exchange bows with the person sitting beside me, then pick up the bowl with my right hand but slip my left hand underneath to support it, then rotate the bowl two or three times (this was a point of some contention), then drink. Once finished, I rotated the bowl counter-clockwise and set it down.
While we sipped our tea, various antique plates and bowls were passed around for our inspection. Akemi was understandably anxious every time I picked something up and palpably relieved whenever I’d pass it safely off to my neighbor.
Another round of matcha, then we retreated back through the garden in our unwieldy sandals, and back to the main room where Akemi reconnected with old friends and neighbors while I feigned a rudimentary understanding of the conversation.
While Akemi’s mother, brother and sister greeted the next round of tea ceremony students, Akemi, her father and I went to lunch at Uoi, a popular eel restaurant. We got there early to beat the line – but had to stand in line anyway because we were TOO early:
Then took our seats at the counter and enjoyed one of the greatest unagi meals I’ve ever had.
Apparently, Tokyo and Osaka unagi-yas prepare their eel differently. One slices from belly to back while the other cuts from back to belly (not sure which). Also, one steams their eels before grilling (again, not sure which).
Tasty eel guts!
Sweet eel with rice.
Sadly, no unagi ice cream. 🙁
After we were done, one of the chefs took us on a little tour of the “unagi room” where they keep all the eels.
The eel are kept in stacked pails that are continually showered with a steady stream of cold water.
Our affable guide, host, and chef. It was super kind of him to offer to give us the tour.
On our way back to the hotel, we stop off for a snack. Pictured: me with my matcha latte and chocolate cream donut. Not pictured: me after I dribbled matcha latte down the front of my jacket and then inadvertently dusted that with powdered sugar.
Who wants to ride the Ferris Wheel? Not me!
Where Springstreen got his start.
Whale watching in Osaka.
Hey, it’s the Lupin live-action movie! I’ve got to convince Akemi to go with me!
breathtaking harrowing view from out hotel.
The hotel garden.
Sassy hotel model.
I leave you with this informative tutorial on proper bowing etiquette…
19 thoughts on “September 14, 2014: Japan Day #3 – Tea, Eel, and Leg Cramps!”
I met some Japanese Nik Kershaw fans on Friday at one of his gigs and as I expected they were so polite and charming. They even gave me a bag of Japanese sweets! had some of the strawberry chocolate ones and some Banana ones so far…. the only thing I have a problem with is they come in these prymid shaped bags that are full of air and the only way to get in is to burst the bag and hope the contents stay in… Any ideas in how to get into these things? 😀
How lovely, the tea ceremony, thanks for sharing, its nice to see traditional. The eel, well, I think I will pass, just something about it,,hmmm. How was that train ride? I hope you are getting your share of desserts for the trip. Didn’t know whales are red, but I have only seen a few. You seem to get the high up rooms, I bet they just want you to have a terrific view of it all. Party on!!
So charming! I would love the tea ceremony. Thanks for taking us along!
Thanks for sharing your day with us Joe! But now I have a taste for Japanese sweets. For now I’ll settle for some green tea.
I spent my Saturday at a Native American powwow watching dance competitions and helping support the small business owners. Yeah, I bought more jewelry.
I need to learn not to visit your blog whilst you’re over in Japan.
My stomach is, quite literally, growling as I read this!
*grabs bowl of cereal*
Stupid boring cereal. Booo!!!
Thanks to Akemi’s mom, brother and dad for appearing in the blog. 😀
The tea ceremony sounds lovely and thank you for sharing it with us.
Ew on the eels, but yay on the chocolate donut.
Hi to Andria. Hope the kids are behaving for you. 🙂
The tea ceremony sounds fascinating (the eel lunch, maybe not as much). Did you have to go through the bowl turning process (on picking it up) every time or just the first time?
Great to Akemi’s family! Akemi turned out so cool, I’m certain she has an equally wonderful family.
On Friday night, there was a great display of the Aurora Borealis here and I managed to find a nice dark spot to observe. I got a couple of decent long exposure shots that came out fairly good:
Wished I had taken my wide aperture lens though.
Anyway, here’s a great video from the Mt. Washington Observatory in NH, an area that as you know, I visit frequently!
You are killing it Joe! These are some excellent entries during what seems to be a very busy vacation!
Thanks good you do a very good work in the Tea ceremony. 😉
Your detailed culinary tours leaving me so hungry, today ends in a Japanese Sushi restaurant ordering, eel, udon and gyoza, etc off coursse. No sake for me Kirin. The waiter was leaving until I told him that’s just for me then take the other orders. 😛
Now I am more relaxed. >-I
P.S. Dont order a Moscow Mule in Germany without explaining what you want or you can find a lot of cucumber or other unexpected vegetables into your glass.
How cool. Holy Hanna you’re in Tokyo already??? There will be some weird food purchases right??
Great entry – I lol’d at the whole ‘almost slipping off the path into the pond’ thing. I kinda sorta wished that it had happened. But then you made up for it by sharing your powdered sugar-coated dribble story. 🙂
A special thanks for sharing the tea ceremony with us. I really want to go to the Japanese tea room up in Philly for the ceremony there, but just haven’t been able to find the time. Maybe some day…
@ Sparrowhawk – Sounds like fun! When I was a little girl (4-years old) on a family trip out west we drove past a large pow-wow gathering…and I hung out the window of the car and, patting fingers to lips, made that ‘woo-woo-woo’ Hollywood Indian war cry.
Mom was NOT pleased. 😛
“The house is older with a very low ceiling. According to Akemi, it was designed this way to discourage guests from engaging in sword fights…” Probably also to discourage tall westerners from staying too long.
If those eels get loose, it’ll be a horror movie!
“Where Springstreen got his start.” Joe are you drunk?
Sassy hotel model. Yep, you’re drunk.
My English students did a tea ceremony for me at their home. Complicated, but not quite as fancy. Very nice.
Mmmm, grilled eel. So yummy. Usually got it in summer at the street stalls.
I leave you with this informative tutorial on proper bowing etiquette…
from what i recall from a travel to japan talk (done by a wife & husband that had traveled there 20+ times) at anime expo in 2009 is that men keep their hands at their sides when they bow & women are to hold their hands like that top-middle picture. that’s for more “formal” bowing. there’s an “everyday” bow, that’s kind of a quick head-nod, for when you check out at a grocery store or when you pay at a restaurant and for general interactions.
@gforce: Those are amazing pictures and an incredible video. Thanks.
@das: The powwow was great fun. There were no “woo woos” and the MC encouraged everyone, black, white, brown, yellow or red or any color combination to get up and join the inter-tribal dances – they were kind of warm-ups for the dancers getting ready for their competitions. And all of the singers and drummers were great. They had groups from several different tribes and clans and they took turns performing for the dancers. Some of them got a little tricky with breaks and pauses in the songs – just for the fun of it.
It’s been a long time since I last checked in! This is totally off-topic to your post, but I realized some of the regulars here might get a kick out of the latest article I did for io9: the cryptography in SG:U Human. Any bets on how long it’ll take for crypto-junkies to find and break the embedded coded messages now they know they exist?
Of course, the discussion section is doubling as group mourning over the franchise’s ending. I’m offering them links to your SG:A movie concepts & SG:U 3rd season ideas as the digital equivalent of a hug on a bad day.
@gforce, thanks for the shots of the aurora, which I could have seen it.
That eel looks delicious grilled with rice. When we tried to bow in Japan it would make everyone laugh, but it’s better than inciting rage. I don’t know if we ever did it right but people seemed to get a kick out of our attempts.
Ok, wait a minute, hold on…..there are entire restaurants with menus completely devoted to eel? Do they do both unagi and anago or just unagi as you showed? I prefer unagi for the bolder flavor, but I’m fine with either. Man, I’ve got to get to Japan at some point!!!
Akemi’s family sound wonderful. My friend Louise had to perform a tea ceremony before she got married and I was invited to attend (spectator only). I was a bridesmaid in her wedding. It was really beautiful. I’d skip on the eel. But the donut sounds good. Nice view at the hotel (interior and exterior).