Japanese tea ceremony a taste of tranquility
February 15, 2010 —
Sunlight streamed into the room through the bambooslatted sliding doors, bouncing off the fine porcelain vases and the gray scrolls of kanji script hanging in the dusky alcoves.
Passers-by who walked into this room could be forgiven if they thought they had been magically transported to Japan. Yet this authentic Japanese tea house lies in the heart of downtown Saginaw.
The Japanese Cultural Center and Tea House, 527 Ezra Rust Dr., is one of mid- Michigan’s lesser-known cultural resources.
Featuring a traditional Japanese garden and tea house, the center offers events throughout the year, including origami and calligraphy classes, and a Japan Festival in September.
The center also offers a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, called a chado, on the second Saturday of each month.
The ceremony is a fascinating and relaxing experience. Attendees already feel they are entering a different atmosphere — a different state of being, almost — as soon as they pull into the parking lot that lies beneath Shinto gates and is abutted by snow-covered garden on both sides.
The modern world seems to drift away as one enters a space where quietness, gentleness and an air of reverence preside.
Saturday’s tea ceremony began shortly after 2 p.m., as it does each month. The hosts of the ceremony were Yoko Mossner and Yoko Geeting, natives of Japan but longtime Saginaw residents.
Mossner was dressed in a lavish, lavender kimono embroidered with interlaced fern frond designs, tied together with a gold, honeycomb-patterned obi sash.
Each of the fifteen patrons — or “my honored guests,” as Mossner insisted — sat in narrow rows on low, flat benches in the du rei (“stand and bow”) room and listened as Mossner told of the history of the center and of the ceremony itself.
The plot of land where the garden sits was deeded to the city of Tokushima, Japan — one of Saginaw’s sister cities — in 1979 after Tokushima’s mayor and a delegation made a goodwill trip to Saginaw.
“As you know, there is not a lot of land in Japan, so they thought it was a great gift,” Mossner said with a smile.
A Japanese architect designed the center in 1980 in the delicate, rustic sukiya-daiku style. Tokushima and Saginaw agreed to split the cost of construction, but Saginaw took many years to raise its half of the bill due to tense economic relations with Japan in the early 1980s.
“Japan was not too popular then in this GM town,” Mossner said.
Finally, in 1986 the tea house was completed. Today it symbolically sits on land that is half-owned by the City of Tokushima, half-owned by the City of Saginaw.
The design of the center is the epitome of elegance and simplicity. The room are sparse, unfurnished and undecorated, save for the scrolls in the alcoves, which therefore take on added significance.
Mossner explained that the scroll in the main room contains a message essential to understanding the ceremony: Wa Kei Sei Jaku, meaning “Harmony, Respect, Purity, Tranquility.”
Harmony is perhaps the most important of these, Mossner said, and Wa means harmony with both other people and with nature in its broadest sense.
“People are like music,” she said. “Each one is a different note, a different personality. But when they are all in tune together, the music is in perfect harmony.”
Geeting performed the rituals of the tea ceremony for the guests, a highly formal sequence of sharp, angular movements that involved a complex arrangement and rearrangement of the tea implements and a slow, deliberate preparation of the tea.
Each movement, Mossner explained, is designed to show the respect the host has for the guest, the guest has for the host, and that both have for the tea itself — a fine, electricgreen powder called matcha.
During the whole ceremony, neither Mossner nor Geeting spoke a word to the other, but the silence and stillness only emphasized the calmness and serenity of the ritual.
After each guest sipped some of the tea and tasted some sweets, Mossner reminded everyone of the purpose of these solemnities.
“We are here to for peace,” she said. “Remember harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility, and you can put the four together to make inner peace.”