Sadou is the traditional Japanese art of tea ettiquite.
Last Wednesday, we went as a class to experience it. Sadou is very precise and meticulous. The extreme deliberation and awareness it requires is meditative. For me, the experience was an awakening, eye-opening and transformative.
Experiencing sadou is really something else. From my understanding and limited experience, I found sadou steeped in tradition and cultural identity, with a backdrop of religious history. Serving as a host for the 2-4 hour ceremony requires many years for mastery. It is an artform that reminds one of the rich cultural heritage of Japan. In class, we looked a little at the history of sadou which I found fascinating.
I could try to summarize the history for you, but that would be in a later post. For now, I’ll just tell you about Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He had a golden tea room which is pretty $wag mone￥. He also has a wikipedia page, and one of the things that blew me away is that he is a playable character in Pokemon Conquest, which is a new Pokemon game apparently. Here’s a link to some gameplay footage to a kid on YouTube talking about the game and about how sophomore year of high school is catching up with him. I don’t blame him, if I were taking 3 APs while making Pokemon gameplay videos getting over 20,000 views on the side, I’d be pretty stressed too. ( Environmental Science, World History, and Calc BC, this kid’s a boss)
Non sequitur aside, experiencing sadou really brought back memories I have of poojas that I experienced as a Hindu growing up. Poojas, which I would describe as Hindu ceremonial offerings and meditations, are today really an adherence to an age-old practice that has a profound meaning to some, and little to no meaning to others. For a long time, I was in the latter group, due to the fact that 1) I don’t understand Sanskrit and therefore also did not see the point to these long drawn-out ceremonies that involved painfully sitting on ground for hours without breaks, and 2) I was brought up as an Indian-American which, as the stereotype goes, can be a extremely confusing experience. It might not be clear how sadou is really connected with any of this, so bear with me for a bit.
Reason 1 is fairly self-explanatory, no kid, let alone human being, likes sitting on the ground without fidgeting around for long periods of time. Granted there are breaks, but there could also be more breaks. Reason 2 is about the fact that growing up in West San Jose, which has a good amount of ethnic diversity, funnily led to an experience that was fairly devoid of any cultural diversity. This is because I find, at least from my experience growing up, that my outside life did not find culture or heritage important or even relevant. The way culture was defined in our textbooks and in our conversations with our teachers and our friends was with a ‘secular’ attitude, which meant that culture was really something people did quietly at home. I don’t mean to sound completely over the top, but to be frank, it was definitely easiest to be either Christian or Athiest in my part of the country, at least in terms of being able to discuss religion and culture. At least, if you wanted to discuss religion, because those were the two groups that were the easiest to understand. But then again, most of the time we didn’t want to discuss religion or culture so it was okay.
My mom (and dad) was someone who understood this, but didn’t feel like giving up any of her cultural heritage after moving to America. Instead, she decided to do something different. Whenever we would celebrate or perform a holiday or ceremony at home, she used invite all of her friends, from all backgrounds and ethnicities to open their eyes, even if it was just a little, to a new experience. This worked on some, but didn’t work on many. In middle school, she would even ask me to invite any of my friends over, and while I did so on a few occassions, I often thought of it as embarrassing, because I didn’t really want to share who I was at home with my friends. It was just easier and less awkward to keep those two worlds separate (or at least as far apart as I could).
Okay, so sadou. I guess one thing I should mention is that the place where we experienced the tea ceremony was a high school in Tokyo. They had an entire room dedicated to it, with all of the equipment and everything, it was the real deal. I learned that it was very normal for high school students in Japan to join some kind of cultural group, whether it be kendo, archery, martial arts, or sadou. In some of these groups, there are inherent ties to tradition and religion that I think are well understood and acknowledged among the youth. From the discussions that I have had with my host family, however, the luxury of these cultural practices are also fading away in Japan.
For me, the physical act of coming to Japan and experiencing sadou for the first time was something that created a profound shift in me and my attitude towards culture and religion. One of the things we learned about sadou was that the most important aspect of the tea ceremony was to establish a connection and sense of closeness between the host and the visitor. This hospitality is in abundance, not only in the extremely thought-out furnishings of the tea room, but in all of the places I have visited so far in my time in Japan. It is certainly what I love most about Japan.
Now I can understand that religion, tradition, ceremony, and culture are not everyone’s cup of tea. However, for myself, I have made it one of my goals to learn and experience as much as I can about the culture and tradition of others, while I am here in Japan, and after returning home.