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Traditional tea-time ritual teaches social poise

Every Tuesday in McCormick Hall, Kyoko Wada offers a glimpse of the beauty and simplicity of Cha-do, the Japanese tea ceremony, as she guides members of the MIT community through this ancient ritual.

Under the guidance of Wada, a tea teacher who has been studying the Urasenke School of traditional Cha-do for more than 30 years, participants take turns serving and drinking tea while learning the details of the ceremony, including the intricate folding of the fukusa (silk cloth) and the arm movements used to whisk the tea, to name just a few.

Although often translated as "tea ceremony," Cha-do literally means "the way of tea." Cha-do is not a religious ritual, but its underlying elements of harmony and of being fully present in the moment come from Zen Buddhism. Cha-do is a meditative practice, and its principles guide practitioners in their daily lives and interactions with others.

"Through a bowl of tea, Cha-do teaches us about how to conduct our relationships with others. Serving and being served tea symbolizes communication with other people," Wada said.


There are rules that govern every movement and behavior during the ritual, from entering and leaving the tea room to handling the utensils; drinking the tea; and appreciating the flowers, scrolls and utensils. The four elements of Cha-do--harmony, respect, purity and tranquility--are expressed in these details. Participants use specified polite phrases to maintain harmony between the host and the guests when tea is served. Practitioners handle the tea utensils with the utmost respect and care, and the host tries to approach each ceremony with a tranquil mind.

"The elegance and manner I acquired from the lesson made changes in my daily life. I now know how to appreciate and handle things that are important to me or to others. Just a small thing like how I handle chopsticks is different from before. Small details of care now are present. I not only learn about tea and relationships with others, but also about Japanese history, philosophy and seasonality," said Mika Kawajiri, the spouse of a graduate student in chemical engineering.


Wada will give a demonstration on Wednesday, Jan. 23 at 12:30 p.m. in the Student Center's Mezzanine Lounge. Members of the MIT community are welcome to attend her weekly lessons on Tuesdays in McCormick Hall from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (drop in any time). E-mail for more information.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 16, 2002.

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