|Kyomizu Temple, Kyoto, Japan|
|Models of Gion Festival Carts|
The tea ceremony was held in a traditional tea house near the conference center. We took off our shoes and sat on a rug around the tatami mats while an American man who was an expert in the tea ceremony narrated what was happening while a Japanese woman dressed in a pink kimono made the tea. Another woman helped her serve it. Each of us was first served a “sweet” on a square of paper along with a small stick cut into a crude knife for slicing it. The “sweet” was a gelatinous white bar with a red bean in the center (symbolic of the Japanese flag.) It was slightly slippery and moderately sweet tasting. Its purpose was to provide an antidote to the bitter taste of the tea that followed. The tea is made from green leaves that have been crushed into a fine powder and then whisked with hot (not boiling) water until frothy and then served in a large, cereal sized ceramic bowl. One turns the bowl in the left palm before drinking so that the “front” of the bowl faces the host as a sign of deference to him or her. The tea definitely had a strong, bitter taste. What we experienced was only the last 20 minutes of a tea ceremony, which normally takes about four and a half hours and includes a full course meal!
|Flower Arranging Class|
Our group then proceeded to the flower arranging room where we each were provided with a shallow bowl in which there was a “frog” for securing the stems, and three tall purple flowers, three long-stemmed pink roses, and two ferns. The goal of the arrangement was to create “harmony” between all the elements. Not so easy! In the end, when my arrangement was critiqued, it was deemed to be good except that I had left too many leaves on the bottom of the stems.
|Gion Festival cart under construction|
Our stay in Kyoto coincided with the preparation for the annual Gion Festival. This festival originated as part of a purification ritual to appease the gods thought to cause fire, floods and earthquakes. (Our trip was just six months after the devastating earthquake in Kobe, Japan, on January 16, 1995.) As we walked the city streets we passed some of the Gion wagons, nearly finished and ready for the parade. They were surrounded by rows of paper lanterns and tables where you could buy maps of the parade route. For the parade, teams of young men would pull the wagons through the streets of Kyoto. The Gion festival is a highlight of the year in Kyoto. We would miss it because we would be leaving the next day for Tokyo on the express train (Shinkansen).