Learning the Tradition of the Samurai Tea Ceremony in NYC

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NY Japion

Tea Master Yoshitsugu Nagano teaches the Samurai Tea Ceremony Class, where students learn about the tradition, history, and formalities of a Japanese tea ceremony.

Read the original story in Japanese at NY Japion

Translated by Rebecca Suzuki

The Buke (samurai) Tea Ceremony, or the Ueda Soko School, originated in Japan’s Hiroshima Prefecture and has been around for 400 years.

To continue and spread its traditions in the U.S., Tea Master Yoshitsugu Nagano teaches the Samurai Tea Ceremony Class, where students learn about the tradition, history, and formalities of a tea ceremony. Classes are offered every Wednesday at Globus Washitsu, a venue for Japanese cultural events in Manhattan, and the tea ceremonies take place once a month.

“In the weekly lessons, the teacher goes over the importance of each step in the tea ceremony, and they bring peace to my spirit,” said student Nao Yoshida. “I get nervous at every monthly ceremony, but when I see how happy the guests are, I become motivated for the next one.”

This fall, Mr. Nagano and his students invited outside guests to their monthly tea ceremony. First, they gave a brief summary of the event.

“Today’s tea ceremony will take hours. During the first two hours, we will have some sake and food, and during the last two hours, we will enjoy the tea,” Mr. Nagano said.

The theme of this ceremony was “Otsukimi,” or “Moon Viewing,” a perfect fit for the autumn season. The guests enjoyed tsukimi udon noodles with quail egg.

“Otsukimi is for cherishing the moon and appreciating the year’s harvest—it’s an event filled with tradition,” Mr. Nagano explained, using a live interpreter to translate for guests who didn’t speak Japanese. For many in attendance, it was their first time eating tsukimi udon and sitting in seiza-style, with their legs folded underneath them.

After this, the class moved to the adjacent tea room. Everyone watched silently as Mr. Nagano poured hot water into the green tea and mixed it with a tea whisk. In a quiet room where the only sound was the water trickling from the wash bin at the entrance, each guest enjoyed the tea, one by one.

A participant from another tea school asked about the bowls used for the ceremony, which were different than those she was accustomed to using.

“Ueda Soko School, which has a 400-year tradition in Hiroshima, has its origins in samurais having tea in between their daily combats. The bowls tend to be simple in design because they were widely used by samurais,”
Mr. Nagano explained.

After the ceremony, a Q&A was held. With matcha gaining popularity in the U.S., many participants asked not only about the tea itself but about its background. Other questions about the Ueda Soko School and samurais were raised, with the group’s first-timers particularly curious.

“I’ve always been interested in Japanese culture such as karate, and that’s why I decided to participate in this ceremony,” first-time participant Elias Bonaros said. “I had a great time thanks to the teacher’s hospitality and I was able to learn a lot about the history of tea. I would love to participate again.”

Mr. Nagano said that’s why he offers his classes and monthly ceremonies.

“I would like people to see the beauty of the Japanese tea ceremony, and for them to have a moment of tranquility in a bustling place like New York,” he said.

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