BY: GEORGE COTHRAN
BETHANY, W.Va – On October 14, 2014, Bethany College held The Way of Sencha Tea Ceremony in the Weimer Lecture Hall. The event was sponsored by the Handa-Bethany Education and Culture Exchange Organization, as well as the Bethany College Japanese Outreach group with the support of a grant from the Japan Foundation. The event began with an introduction from Fujiko Sawtarie, a professor at Bethany College. Tea master Fumiyo Iwadachi began her presentation by discussing the importance of tea in this day and age. Green tea has become more popular now due to enhanced global exposure and published research about the health benefits of the drink.
Sencha, also known as leaf tea, has some history in China as well. In the 13th century, Eisai brought Matcha tea into Japan, which was a new culture at that time from the Sung Dynasty. By the mid-13th century, drinking tea had become a custom that grew to popularity among aristocrats and samurai, later becoming a habit of the general public. It was by the mid-16th century that the Tea Ceremony became an essential part of Japanese culture, thanks to Sennorikyu. Sencha tea was brought to Japan by Ingen in the mid-17th century, which was borrowed from the Ming Dynasty.
A normal procedure for preparing Sencha involves a series of carefully followed instructions. First, the person preparing the tea must pour freshly-boiled water into a tea pot. The water is then put into separate cups, followed by five grams of tea leaves placed in the tea pot. The water in the cups is placed back into the pot once the tea leaves are warm. After ninety seconds, the leaves will expand and the tea is placed back into the cups. It is important to change cups while pouring, as the color of the tea will first be light, but become darker as the tea is poured. The tea must be poured to the very last drop; this is called “The Golden Drop”, which is considered the best part of Sencha.
Another part of the ceremony is eating something dry and sweet. Since some tea may have a very strong taste, eating something sweet is the best way to make the taste more tolerable. Two types of sweets are normally placed on a plate and are consumed after the tea is gone. During the ceremony, five members from the audience were invited to sample the tea, and consume the sweets. The Tea Masters assistant delivered the tea and bowed to the first guest, since the first person served is considered the most important guest in a tea ceremony, and the other guests were bowed to afterwards. Following the initial presentation and ceremony, the entire audience was invited to try the various teas and sweets.
Tea Master Iwadachi said that using loose tea leaves includes “manners and spiritual concentration. This is the way to make and serve delicious cups of tea.” What made her want to teach students internationally about Japanese tea ceremonies? “Japanese tea culture was introduced here, however it is biased towards the Matcha tea ceremony. We want to inform people in America about the other kinds of tea ceremonies, such as the Sencha tea style”. The Japanese Outreach group will continue to find new ways to attract students by teaching them about different aspects of Japanese culture.