Art and Tradition: JETs Practicing Japanese Culture — Tea Ceremony

Art and Tradition: JETs Practicing Japanese Culture — Tea Ceremony

Sado: The Japanese Way of Tea

This is the second in a series of articles exploring Fukushima JETs who practice traditional Japanese arts as a hobby.

Felicity performing sumi demae, the laying out of the charcoal for the fire that heats the hot water. There is also a type of incense placed inside.
Felicity performing sumi demae, the laying out of the charcoal for the fire that heats the hot water. There is also a type of incense placed inside.

Tea ceremony is one of those unique traditions that is iconic of Japanese culture. To master tea ceremony, you must also learn several other disciplines, including how to wear a kimono, ikebana flower arranging, and much more! Like the belt system of martial arts, there are different levels of tea ceremony mastery, and it can take years and years of study and practice in between taking each certification. Also like martial arts, there are many different schools, and practices can vary hugely between them. All in all, this makes tea ceremony one of the most difficult of the traditional Japanese arts to master.

Third-year Aizu Misato JET Judy Pan began studying tea ceremony two years ago. She had this to say about what made her get started doing tea ceremony: “The first bowl of macha I had in Hongo. My tea teachers run the local Japanese tea sweet shop in town. I wandered into their shop on a sunny afternoon and had my first bowl of macha that I actually liked. They were really nice and patiently answered all the questions I had about tea. When I asked about where I could learn tea ceremony, they offered to teach me and I have been learning ever since.”

Although seemingly complicated, there are in fact rules for each stage of the tea ceremony. Felicity Kerkham, a second-year JET in Iwaki, has been studying tea ceremony for over a year. “I love the discipline, following strict steps in order to perform it beautifully!”

For both Felicity and Judy, tea ceremony can be very relaxing. Judy says, “I enjoy the atmosphere of tea ceremony. It is very calming and empties my mind of idle thoughts.” Felicity enjoys learning about wabi and sabi – the appreciation of beauty in simple things and quiet. “Experiencing this is extremely calming.”

Judy performing tea ceremony at a festival in Hongo, Aizu Misato. Hongo in particular is famous for pottery and tea.

In addition to Japanese ways of thinking like wabi and sabi, tea ceremony can also teach about Japanese hospitality for the guest, or omotenashi. “For example in summer, we use green leaves to cover our water pitcher and pour water in a way to mimic the sound of water trickling from a stream. The point is we are trying to cool the guest down with those gestures, even though they are about to drink a hot bowl of tea,” Judy says.

Of course practicing tea ceremony is not without its difficulties. For Felicity, the most difficult part is sitting in seiza, the traditional Japanese way of sitting while kneeling. Many Japanese learn to sit this way from childhood, as it takes practice to not have your feet fall asleep or in fact hurt yourself. “If you haven’t done this a lot since you were young, it’s going to be hard!” Judy agrees, “Holding the proper posture for while making the tea can be pretty difficult at times too; sitting in seiza for a long time is strenuous.”

Judy says the most difficult part for her is the Japanese vocabulary. “Remembering the names of the items/tools we use while making the tea, as well as the names of the flowers as they change with the season.” Even for native speakers, this specialized vocabulary can be difficult to remember!

A sweet shaped like a flower with anko red bean paste inside. They are traditionally served during tea ceremony, with the shape and design of the sweet varying between season.

While practicing tea ceremony can be difficult at times, it can be very rewarding as well! “I love the tea and sweets and the lovely ladies I do it with!” says Felicity. She has this advice to share to JETs who are interested in getting started: “Ask around! Some high schools have tea ceremony clubs where you can learn the basics. Some cities and towns have tea shops that sell the tea and equipment so they would know about classes and upcoming events where you can try it. For me it was a case of a distant connection (another ALT friend was invited by an office worker at her school whose older sister does it!) so just talking to people might mean ‘oh yeah my sister’s husband’s cousin does it,’ which could get you an in.”

Similarly, Judy had this to say, “Ask your schools if they know anybody who does tea ceremony in the area, chances are they will be able to recommend someone to you. You can then ask the teachers to give you some trial lessons just try out how tea ceremony is done before you decide to commit to it. If you are interested in learning, it may be good to start with a friend because the learning becomes more interactive and engaging when there are two of you. There are also lessons just on the proper way to drink tea; and you may be able to see how tea is prepared during those lessons as well.”

Douzo goyukkuri meshiagatte kudasai! Please take your time and enjoy your tea!

FuJET- An Inside Look to the 2014 Hokkaido Trip, Part 11- Ramen Alley

FuJET- An Inside Look to the 2014 Hokkaido Trip, Part 11- Ramen Alley
Japan is big on there “Top 3s” and “Best” places. Ask anyone where to find the best ramen and you’ll undoubtedly be told that you need to go to Sapporo. There you will find ramen alley, a narrow little passage in the Susukino district with 17 different ramen shops lining either side of the alley. 

ramen_alley2So you’ve decided you want to try some ramen at the eponymous ramen alley. What are the different shops and what are they known for? What are their hours? How can I eat all of the ramen to be had?! Check out the map below and the following descriptions to get a quick overview as to what the stores have to offer. (Vegetarians, please note that all of the shops use pork and/or chicken bones in the production of their broths.) Check out the official Ramen Alley website, too!


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FuJET- An Inside Look to the 2014 Hokkaido Trip, Part 10- Food

FuJET- An Inside Look to the 2014 Hokkaido Trip, Part 10- Food
うまいッ! おいしい !
If you have turned on the TV even once during your time in Japan, you’ve heard these phrases uttered by Japanese TV personalities as they dine upon some local delicacy or another. Japan loves their food and Japanese people especially love to brag about what their prefecture is famous for. Going to Hokkaido, one of Japan’s most geographically distinct locations, what is there to eat? Hokkaido is big and has quite a low population density. As such, it has an unparalleled agriculture culture. Hokkaido produces more wheat than any other prefecture and produces 50% of all of Japan’s milk. So, with all this milk and veggies– what is Hokkaido famous for?


Kaisendon-- Fresh seafood bowl
Kaisendon– Fresh seafood bowl

Yeah, we’ve got milk and veggies but Hokkaido also happens to be a giant island with lots of fresh seafood to be found. Hokkaido is particularly famous for uni (sea urchin), ika (squid), ikura (salmon roe), hotate (scallops), and of course– kani (crab). Much of Hokkaido’s seafood can be best enjoyed in don(a bowl)– with the fresh seafood served on a bowl of rice. Such famous bowls include uni-ikuradon (sea urchin-salmon roe bowl), nama-uni donburi (raw sea urchin bowl), and kaisendon (seafood bowl). You can sample all of these bowls at Sapporo’s Nijo Market, where you can customise your seafood bowl– and eat it too. Nijo Market is open from 7.00 to 18.00 for the shops and 6.00 to 21.00 for the restaurants. Also, let’s not forget about the kaki(oyster)! Oysters are in season this time of year and you’ll be able to find plenty of fresh oyster restaurants and stalls. Even though we are staying in Sapporo and there will an over-abundance of seafood available, try and hold off for your kani and kaisendon until you are in Otaru, which is held in far higher regard by foodies for its quality of seafood. Read more

Lemon Tart Recipe


This is a simple and easy crowd pleaser that I thought I’d share with you all! I’ve literally been making this since I was four, so even if you have trouble with toast, you can manage this and wow your friends (as long as you don’t share the recipe!) ~Felicity

3 lemons (or to taste)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 pre-made pie case (or 3 packs of the mini ones) (I get this at Aeon but most larger supermarkets carry them)

1. Juice the lemons and put juice in a largish bowl. Be careful not to get lemon juice in your eye. Also, I think it is better without the seeds in so keep this in mind.
2. Open the can of sweetened condensed milk and empty into the bowl. Opened cans are sharp so take care.
3. Mix well. A spoon is sufficient.
4. Open the packaging of the pie case.
5. Pour the mixture into the pie case. There may be too much to fit in the pie case. Don’t panic. Just eat the leftovers.
6. Refrigerate until it sets.
7. Eat. This is normally accomplished by first cutting it with a knife (careful: sharp!) then passing the pieces to the people eating it on plates.
8. Yum!

Excuse the “Cooking for Dummies”-type method. But otherwise it would be too short! LOL

How to Make Umeshu!

How to Make Umeshu!

by Danielle Markewicz

Making Umeshu 014Unlike some western countries, making your own homemade liquor is not only legal in Japan, but very easy and inexpensive! Once the initial pre-work has been finished, it only requires a little patience before you have your very own delicious drink!

Umeshu (梅酒) is usually translated as plum liqueur or plum wine, and is a sweet drink that even appeals to those who don’t normally like the taste of alcohol. It can be drunk straight, on the rocks, or mixed with soda or tea.


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