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…