Wee tea sage

Wee tea sage

An 11-year-old has mastered the sophisticated art of an old Japanese ceremony

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Tadashi Matsuzawa during a traditional tea ceremony he hosted for YP reporters.
Tadashi Matsuzawa during a traditional tea ceremony he hosted for YP reporters.
Photos: K.Y. Cheng/SCMP
In a city where people are always in a rush, the traditional Japanese tea ceremony doesn't seem to have a great chance to flourish.

Yet a young Japanese student begs to differ. Tadashi Matsuzawa, 11, is a Year Six student at Japanese International School. Born in Ina, Nagano Prefecture, Tadashi moved to Hong Kong as a toddler when his father came here to work.

But the boy did not leave his country's traditions behind. During school holidays, he returns home to visit his great-grandmother, who loves performing the local tea ceremony.

"When I was four or five, I started to learn how to serve tea under my great-grandmother's guidance. I learned how to stir the tea powder and warm water," recalls Tadashi, during an hour-long tea ceremony at his school which was attended by a Young Post reporter and a photographer.

The traditional ceremony normally takes three hours and is performed from noon to 3pm.

It takes place in a built-in alcove called tokonoma, which is decorated with calligraphy and traditional Japanese pictures. A host performs the ritual dressed in a kimono.

He or she kneels on the floor and places a traditional fan in front of each guest's knees with a bow as a sign of welcome.

Following a meal, washed down with Japanese rice wine (sake), the host serves glutinous rice cakes called daifuku - first to men, then to women, and going from older to younger with both groups.

As we munched on our cakes, Tadashi was busy preparing tea for us. He patiently stirred premium green tea powder into warm water.

"I need to make sure the water is warm enough but not too hot: about 70 to 80 degrees Celsius. I feel [the pot] with my hands," he says.

People drink the tea by using their left hand to support their bowl from underneath as they hold it with their right thumb and index finger.

Next came sugarcane candies, followed by a bowl of less-concentrated tea, to conclude the ceremony, which is designed to leave an aftertaste of green tea.

The ceremony changes from season to season.

"In spring, we place cherry blossoms on the daifuku. We use other flowers in other seasons," Tadashi's mother, Megumi, explains.

The young tea ceremony master still needs to hone some of his skills. "I am not used to kneeling on the tatami floor," he admits. "The ceremony takes a long time and I can get sore feet."

Yet sore feet or not, his passion for the ceremony is undimmed. He has even hosted his friends.

"Their mums were amazed that I knew the traditions," Tadashi says. "I also did a ceremony for my non-Japanese classmates. I feel good that I can promote Japanese culture."

The ceremony may seem too trying and sophisticated for young teens, but Megumi thinks it will benefit them greatly.

"Through the ceremony, my son has learned traditional manners and how to show respect to other people," she says.

Tadashi says he has also learned firsthand about green tea's health benefits.

His great-grandmother, he points out, is 91 years old - and still going strong.

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