Ikebana is the traditional Japanese art of flower arrangement. It’s also called kado. It started from early Buddhist flower offerings. By the 15th century, ikebana was a popular art form. The traditional style is to arrange flowers, branches, and grass in a shallow vase.
【How the flowers stay in place】
The flowers are not just placed in the vase. They’re pushed down firmly onto a metal block called a kenzan, which has very sharp needles to hold the flowers and branches in place.
There are about 3,000 Ikebana schools in Japan. The most famous schools are Ikenobo, Ohararyu, Sogetsuryu, Koryu, and Enshuryu. The basic concept of the flower arrangement is quite similar, but each school’s, sensibility differs slightly. The difference does not determine which school is better than the others — each person’s personal taste judges which he/she likes.
Chanoyu is “tea ceremony.” It’s a traditional way of drinking matcha, powdered green tea. The host prepares host tea and serves it to the guests. The pleasure of the ceremony is not just drinking tea — it’s also looking at the subtle decorations in the tearoom and garden, and subtle appreciating the host’s hospitality.
【History of Chanoyu】
The tradition of the tea ceremony started around the 12th century, when tea seeds were brought to Japan from China. In the late 16th century, the tea ceremony master Sen no Rikyu refined the ceremony more to the style we have now.
Simply put, you first put matcha powder into a tea bowl and pour in hot water. Next, you stir till the tea is foamy. The stirring tool is called a chasen. It’s made of bamboo and works same as a whisk, so it’s called a “bamboo whisk” in English. If you have tools for tea making, it’s easy to make matcha at home.
There are many recipes with matcha powder, like matcha milk, matcha cookies, matcha pound cakes and so on. You should check them on the web.
【Etiquette at a Japanese Tea Ceremony】
1. Receiving and eating Wagashi
At first a Japanese sweet is served. You put it on a piece of paper called an okaishi, then eat it. You should eat all of it — don’t leave anything. Keep the okaishi to the side.
Try this, eat sweets first, then drink your tea. This will make the taste of tea better. This sweet is called wagashi, a traditional Japanese sweet.
2. Drinking tea
Next, the tea is served. You bow to the server. Then you accept the tea bowl with your right hand, support the bottom of the bowl with your left hand, bring it near you, and rotate it clockwise twice, about 90 degrees in all. Make sure the picture painted on the bowl is on the side, not in front of you. Finish the tea in a few sips.
3. After having your tea
After you finish drinking, lightly wipe the rim of the bowl where your lips have touched with the tips of your right thumb and index finge. Clean your fingertips with the okaishi, the same paper you used for the cake. Rotate the bowl twice, this time counterclockwise, and put it down on the tatami in front of you. This time, make sure the picture on the bowl is in front of you.
【Enjoying Tea Casually】
Of course you can enjoy matcha in a casual way too. You don’t need to worry about the details of formal style when you have it at a café or your house. You can eat sweets whenever you like. You can hold the tea bowl with both hands. Just relax, and enjoy your tea.
Shodo is brush and ink writing, usually called calligraphy in English. The tools you need for shodo are an ink stone, an ink stick, a brush and paper.
【History of Shodo】
Shodo originally came from ancient China. In the old days, good shodo skills were a sign of sophistication. If your handwriting skills were very good, it meant you were trustworthy. Parents expected their children to spend a lot of time on shodo.
Sumi is ink used for calligraphy and suibokuga. There are two types of sumi. Stick-type sumi is soot mixed with gelatin to harden it. It’s ground on an ink stone with water to make ink. Liquid sumi, called bokujyu, is made with soot and chemicals.
A suzuri is a container of sumi ink. It’s also called an ink stone. Suzuri is not just a container, but part of the ink making process. You add water to the suzuri, and rub the ink stick on the surface. That makes ink.
A fude is an ink brush. It’s made with the hairs of an animal, for example a horse, a sheep or a raccoon dog. Different kinds of animal hair are used for different types of brushes. The hairs are inserted into a bamboo tube, which becomes the handle of the brush.