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Tea Master Offers a Glimpse Into a Ritual That's Steeped in Tradition

September 17, 2002|HILARY E. MacGREGOR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fifty years ago, Sen created the first Urasenke tea groups outside Japan. Today there are Urasenke associations in 32 countries. The Los Angeles Urasenke Assn. is the largest and oldest group in North America.

Students of the Way of Tea say it is hard to understand the power of the ritual until one studies it. The preparation of the tea is a form of meditation. Many practitioners say the carefully scripted movements allow them to enter a state of deep concentration much like that which athletes describe when they talk of entering the zone--a place where the individual can find freedom, effortlessness and grace within movements that have been practiced thousands and thousands of times.

Many Americans have been seduced by the Way of Tea. Susan Becker, 53, of Thousand Oaks witnessed her first tea ceremony in a park in Boston on an autumn day years ago.

"The woman folded the fukusa (silk napkin) in such a way it brought tears to my eyes," Becker recalled. "She communicated her heart and soul in the way she folded that napkin." Becker has studied tea for 14 years now. When her father turned 70 she made tea to honor him.

At the convention on Saturday, and again at LACMA on Sunday, hundreds of people partook in tea ceremony. First they ate the seasonal sweets, served on tiny white napkins by kimono-clad women. Then, while the sweetness still lingered on their tongues, they sipped the frothy, bright green tea, with its slightly bitter flavor of sweet, spring grass.

"You have now drunk the tea," Sen said to a small group of guests on Sunday. "How was the taste? You have probably got a lot of energy!"

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