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Japanese tea ceremony presented at DIA, a contrast from English afternoon tea

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This is not your English grandmother's afternoon tea.

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Last Sunday, the Japanese Women’s Club in association with the Japanese Consulate of Detroit demonstrated the rituals of the tea ceremony at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Unlike any tea event in Western culture, this ancient ritual was created, according to the DIA website, "as a way to appreciate a quiet moment in time while protected from the chaos of the world."

In beautiful, bright colored-dress, three women acted out the Japanese tea ritual under the narration of a representative from the Japanese Consulate. In the Japanese tea ceremony, the hostess invites a guest of honor and any additional guests she wishes to include. For Sunday's demonstration, there was one other invitee in addition to the guest of honor.

According to James Norwood Pratt's, "New Tea Lover's Treasury", the origins of the Japanese tea ceremony date back to just before the year 1200 when Japan's interest in tea was renewed by Esai, a monk, returning from China after studying Buddhism and Zen. Esai is credited with writing the first book on tea in Japanese.

The tea ceremony evolved from what Pratt categorizes as three distinct stages: "medico-religious", luxury, and finally aesthetic - its end result combining all three. The ceremony is much more about the ritual than the tea, which is matcha, a powdery green tea that is mixed with hot water to create a frothy concoction with a bamboo whisk.

In the ceremony, the guests pay homage to not only the tea, but the hosts wall hangings and tea accessories. Very little talking takes place. It is a time to reflect and meditate. Unlike the Victorian creation of afternoon tea, which celebrates excesses in food, dress and table accouterments, the Japanese tea ceremony is sparse in settings and conversation.

A tea ceremony with years of history, the DIA demonstration gave visitors a glimpse of what this intricate event involves, taking them from the Rivera Court to a Japanese tea room in a condensed version lasting less than one hour. Certainly not the scone and clotted cream event of British influence, but lovely in its simplicity and meditative powers.

The DIA featured the Japanese tea ceremony as part of its Samurai: Beyond the Sword special exhibit running from March to June 1, 2014. For more information on this special exhibit, see the DIA website.

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