#10 - Becoming a Tea Ceremony Master in Japan

- with Tyas Sosen -


Paul 0:00

Hi Tyas, welcome to the show!

Tyas 0:02
Hello Paul, thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be able to chat with you on the show. And I'm looking forward to it.

Paul 0:11

Thank you very much. I know it's already late on your side in Kyoto. So thanks for taking the time to do this. Just before we start to briefly introduce yourself. You are a Belgium citizen you've been living in Kyoto Japan for for quite a long time now. And you are specialized in a very specific industry that a lot of people kind of know about but don't really know the details, which is tea.

You source and sell tea online. you organize tea ceremonies, you are actually a certified master in tea ceremony and you organize these for tourists, of course in Kyoto, but also for Japanese people from what you were telling me a bit earlier. And that's a wide topic, I mean tea, we drink it, but most of the time we don't really know much about it. And to have a chance to talk to someone like you who really knows everything about the craftsmanship of this, it's really a privilege and a pleasure.

So thanks again for taking the time to do this today.

Tyas 1:17

Thank you for the beautiful introduction. Indeed, I'm working with tea. And ever since I set foot in Japan, I've been studying the tea ceremony which is what caught my interest in the beginning because it was more an interest I had about Japanese culture as a whole and tea ceremony fills up all the gaps and gives you most of the information you can get about Japanese culture. So for me tea ceremony was really interesting. And from learning tea ceremony, I also got interested in what is Japanese tea in a whole because in tea ceremony, we use matcha, the powdered form of tea, but there are many other leaf kind of teas, which after a while also caught my interest and I specialized in further.

Paul 2:10

Before talking more specifically about tea and all the surrounding of this field, could you please let us know how long you've been living in Japan and how you you came to Japan, what interested you in Japan?

Coming to Japan

Tyas 2:25

I think it's my 13th year in Japan. And so I came to Japan 13 years ago, been living here ever since. In the beginning, it was a broad interest in Japanese culture that brought me to Japan. In Belgium, when I was around 16 years old, still in high school, I got an interest in Japanese fencing called Kendo and through Kendo, I learned more about this country I've never heard of. This very exotic culture called Japan and I immediately was struck by all the beauty and the different arts that were available in this cultural tradition.

And so I decided to study Japanology, Japanese studies in Leuven in Belgium. And through studying there, I was able to come on an exchange to Japan for one year

Paul 3:26

Was it in a university?

Tyas 3:28

Yes, I came on an exchange to Kansai University in Kyoto, which is where I later also got my master's degree.

Paul 3:36

I was reading online in a previous interview you gave, that you got interested in Kendo, but even before Kendo, maybe at the same time, you read a book called Miyamoto Musashi from Yoshikawa Eiji, is that correct?

Tyas 3:51

Yes! It's actually mostly Miyamoto Musashi who inspired me to discover more about Japan. And made me want to go to Japan once.

When I was young, I didn't have the intention to go and live in Japan. But I just wanted to see it. And that was at a time when I started out doing kendo in Belgium. And my teacher at the moment had this translation of the book Miyamoto Musashi by Yoshikawa Eiji. And it was a Dutch translation actually, which was very easy for me being 16 years at that time, and not very skillful in any languages. So I read the book in Dutch. And what struck me most was the way Miyamoto Musashi himself, the famous swordsman, lived his life, being an outsider of society and staying completely true to his believes and his thinking about how he should live his life. And most of his life he lived in isolation, but in alignment with his larger spiritual self.

And in the book there were a lot of depictions about Japan, the country, the nature, the different cultural arts, etc. And it's that book actually that triggered me to discover more about this country.

Paul 5:18

That's very interesting, because that's exactly the same book that got me interested in Japan as well.

Tyas 5:23


Paul 5:24

Yeah, I'm very happy to find someone else in that situation because that's quite rare, I think. I don't want to make big assumptions, but most of the time people get interested in Japan through the modern arts, and the modern entertainment like manga, like anime and everything.

I was like, in your case, I got this book during one long summer, I was bored and my dad gave that book to me without thinking that would trigger everything that happened later in my life...

Tyas 6:05

That's sometimes the small things that do it.

Paul 6:08

Exactly, exactly. And I was fascinated at that time exactly, as you said, by the polymath, what we call now a polymath, the polymath aspect of Musashi and with retrospec now, we can really consider him as the Japanese Da Vinci in some sorts because he was an expert in many arts, he was interested in everything. He had the ear of the mighty, of the Shogun and all the daimyo around. And yeah, it's great.

I really recommend anyone interested in Japan to read that book.

Tyas 6:44

Definitely. I do have to say the Dutch version is not in publication anymore, so they're difficult to find. For anyone who's speaking Dutch and wants to read it in Dutch.

Paul 6:55

I'm sure there are a lot of ways online to find rare scripts. Okay, so you came to Japan during your university then you mentioned that you did your master at Kansai University. What happened during that time?

Discovering Tea Ceremony

Tyas 7:12

I got my Master at Kansai University which is after I studied in Japan for one year at the same university during my bachelor's degrees. And during that one year, it was my first time in Japan, it was my opportunity to learn more about the culture. And I tried to learn as many different arts that I could at the same time in order to get a broad view of the Japanese culture. So by taking many classes in say No theater, Tea Ceremony, besides Kendo I also practiced Karate and Jodo, which is the way of the staff, played around with a bit of calligraphy and flower arrangement, I also practiced the Go board game.

And so all these things I thought would give me a broad look on the different traditional arts that are available in Japan. But during that time, I also discovered that while most of the arts, the things that are called "ways" like the way of the sword, the way of the staff, the way of flower arrangement, the way of tea, most of those ways focused down, they narrow down on one specific subject. But for tea it was different.

With the way of tea, as we call it, tea ceremony nowadays, the focus is not necessarily only on tea, but it's broad. It has a focus on architecture, garden design, calligraphy, flower arrangement, pottery, bamboo craft, etc, etc. All the crafts that have a place in the tea ceremony. And tea is but one part of it. So what I felt was that if I learn tea ceremony, I get a little bit of a microcosm of Japanese culture, I get to learn everything about Japanese culture that I wanted to know, through one single practice.

So during that time that I was here for one year, on a student exchange, I chose to specifically focus down on learning tea ceremony. And then while I was at university, I also wanted to stay longer in Japan. And the best way for me to do that was to enroll in the master course at the same university, which would give me a bit more time.

Paul 9:44

Interesting. So you mentioned your master. What was your your field of studies when you did your Master's degree in Japan?

Tyas 9:53

Mainly because of my interest in Musashi and the time he lived in, the time from a warring states period to a rather peaceful Edo period. I got mostly interested in the development of cultural traditions during the Edo period. And so I chose to enroll in the literature department at Kansai University and do my masters in 17th century Japanese literature. But more with a focus on the things that were written about Japanese traditions and culture.

Paul 10:31

And that's at that time that you mastered the Japanese language as well, I can imagine...

Learning Japanese

Tyas 10:36

Well, I think mastered is is the right thing. Yes. During that time, I got most proficient but I did have a good foundation, because the japanology course in Leuven is, I think, one of the most intensive Japanese language courses in Europe, if not throughout the world. Because what we started with in the first year of our bachelor education, we had I think 14 hours a week of Japanese language classes alone. And then we had to have our other classes on top of that.

Paul 11:12

So you came with solid foundations.

Tyas 11:15

Solid foundations, but they of course developed during the period of stay in Japan. A language, of course, you have to use it in order to be able to fully master it. And theory alone is not going to help that.

Paul 11:28

So you started to study tea ceremony during your your exchange, during your your first year. First how did you get started? How did you find someone who was willing to teach you? Then how did you go from a discovery session to becoming a teacher ceremony master, as you are now? What was the process?

Reaching Tea Master level

Tyas 11:53

Right, that's a very big leap. But to begin... When I started my exchanging in Kansai University, there was this one professor who actually, from the time we met, already had an interest in teaching me the tea ceremony.

Only it took a bit longer for me to actually enroll in his classes. Because at first, I was actually interested in leaf tea. So I wanted to know more about the different Japanese leaf teas. And tea ceremony focuses only on the powdered form ,matcha tea. So I was a bit reluctant to start doing tea ceremony at first, but then I thought, well, I only have limited time here so I could better start learning anything I can start learning. So I accepted his invitation to come and join one of his tea ceremony classes. And I didn't really know anything about tea ceremony at the time. I didn't know there were different schools of tea ceremony, that I was specificaly enrolling in one particular school at that time. I had no idea it was that broad. And he was a really good teacher who taught me everything I needed to know and much more. So I was really lucky meeting my current mentor.

After that, I've been learning tea ceremony for eight years now. In those eight years, I of graduated, finished a master course, took different jobs. And at the time, I decided to start working for a traditional tea vendor in Uji, in Kyoto. My master decided that it was time for me to get certified as a qualified instructor in our tea school. It's not something that you build up to, or work up to. It's an an acknowledgement of your teacher, who then decides when it's time for you to get a certain degree or certification? And for me that was about eight years before I got the full instructor certification and I had to go to Tokyo to get that directly from the Grandmaster of our tea school.

Paul 14:18

Before talking about this certification and probably how things happened during the... I don't know if we could call that an exam but that's the image... What are the different steps?

I know it took eight years so it's very long and I'm sure you have a lot of steps. What is the the process you have to go through to reach the master level?

Do you have key steps like, I will take the analogy of something I know like martial arts: you pass different belts until you reach the black belt and then you have the shodan and nidan and the different steps within the black belt. So could we say that becoming a master in tea ceremony is like reaching the black belt level? And before that, what are the different steps?

Tyas 15:22

It is possible to go through different stages and different belts, but we don't really have belts and colors and things that we were to show which level we're at. But basically, when you're learning the tea ceremony, in the beginning stages, you have different topics, different subjects that you learn. And for each topic, you can get a certification.

Say for example, you begin with the most basic service of tea, which is the service of thin tea. Then you progress on to the service of thin tea. which has the summer service and the winter service, which is a different application. Then you continue on to doing the service with two bowls that keep coming back when you're serving tea to more people than one. And you progress on to thick tea. And there are all these different kinds of services that you learn and then gradually improve. And for each service, you can get a certification.

But it's up to your teacher to engage you in getting those certifications or not. And for me, since I started learning tea ceremony, I had no real intention of becoming a master in the art. I had never thought about getting a certification of any sort. It was just a nice way of calming down and engaging in this tranquil practice that tea is. And so each weekend day, on Saturday I went to go learn with my teacher, and we continued on, experimenting, working with different services.

And after those eight years I had mastered, well say, all the services that are needed to get a full instructorship. And so at that time, my teacher decided, instead of get going through all the steps, he said, now it's time for you to get your black belt, if you want to call it that way. But there's an assistant instructor certification and then the full instructor certification. And the assistant instructor certification is basically your first belt shodan. And then gradually, you build up from there.

Paul 17:42

Do these stages, before the instructor qualification, include also what you were mentioning before like architecture and garden arrangement and things like this or are these topics that you developed later on?

Tyas 18:01

Well, the tea ceremony is is a microcosm of Japanese culture. But we also call it a complete art.

When you learn tea ceremony, you simultaneously learn about all the different subjects and gradually you increase the amount of information you have about all of them. And so for me my first lesson, well, the first class that I took, we sat in front of the alcove, the tokonoma, for about 20 minutes, and my teacher just kept on talking about the significance of the scroll, what is written on it, the context in which it was written, who wrote it, what kind of person he was, etc, etc, etc. And from those 20 minutes alone, I thought, well, it's not just only about tea, you get so much more information, and it's all relevant in its cultural and historical context.

So as you learn about tea ceremony, you learn of course about the wares that you use. And each season, the items you work with also change. And so you get more background information about the flowers that are in bloom in that particular season, or the cultural feasts or activities that are relevant in that season. And those are, again, reflected in your service of tea. So all that information gradually stacks up with you progressing throughout the seasons.

Paul 19:38

It might be a bit cliche to say that but it really sounds like a way of life, a way of living.

Tyas 19:45

For me, it definitely is! I don't think it's that cliche. I think, basically that's what it is. It's a way of life. It's a way of thinking and a way of being, I would say as well.

Similarities with Martial Arts

Paul 20:00

Knowing that you have had experiences in different martial arts, you mentioned that for you, one martial art will boil down to one principle, mostly. And on the opposite the art of tea is kind of englobing a lot of different things.

Knowing that you have both experiences, do you see a common theme coming back between martial arts and between the art of tea in? I don't know, that could be in the physical posture, in the movement, in the spirit... Anything that you've noticed?

Tyas 20:43

I just want to nuance that martial art only focuses on one thing. I'm definitely not saying that it's a bad thing.

What I wanted to say is that with Kendo for example, you focus on the usage of the sword through repetitive practice. With tea, you focus on making the tea but there's so much more going on and so much more things that you have to think about at the same time, that it gives you a broader idea of what Japanese culture is. And that's what I wanted to know and what I appreciate in the art of tea.

But definitely what I feel as coming back in both arts is the way of thinking, the way of behaving. I think it can be said for martial arts as well as other traditional practices as well as the ceremony. That in a way, you learn to internalize and learn about who you are in essence and how to be the person that you are and how to bring that out in your your daily practice. So basically, how to become a better person. And that is a trait that you learn through martial arts. Definitely. And that's all something that in tea ceremony you practice yourself. You learn more about who you are and you become calmer and peaceful.

Also from my experience in the martial arts, I have greatly benefited from my posture, especially in kendo. It's very important that you have an upright back and that your spine is in one straight line so that your body posture is as natural and as good as possible. And also in tea, it's very important that you're sitting properly and that your spine is as upright as possible. So the things that I learned for body posture in martial arts were also very helpful in the tea ceremony to make it look as elegant. That's more important in the ceremony than in martial arts, to be elegant, but il helps to look more elegant in the way that you handle your utensils.

Paul 23:05

Yeah, definitely it helps as well in martial arts. I've been practicing Iaido for a couple of years before moving to Japan. The goal was not to be elegant, but it was the search as well, the elegant gesture. I always felt that Iaido was meditation in movement, and I can totally imagine tea ceremony being the same.

Tyas 23:28

Most definitely. About meditation in movement, there's something that I always say, and it's in regard to a question that I often get asked from foreign visitors to our tea ceremony activities: Doesn't it get boring and isn't it restraining to have to do the same thing over and over and over again? Isn't it limiting because you can't do something else or you have to do things in a certain way?

What I always say to that is learning the form and learning the rules of how things are done in the end sets you free. Because practicing the same motion over and over and over again, after a while, you don't have to think about what you're going to do any more, your body just does it automatically. It becomes a natural reflex. And so that frees your mind from having to think about what the next step is in the progress that you're doing. And it helps to calm down and become internally peaceful. That in itself is a kind of meditation. It definitely has a great therapeutic effect on the practitioner. And I'm sure that you felt that in in Iaido as well, that the form is actually what helps you to become free.

Paul 24:53

Yeah, completely! I fell this in Iaido, felt that many years later in Yoga, or in the little experience I got in yoga. I believe that's a common theme to many, many arts eventually. But that's not necessarily something you get at the beginning. So when you reach that level, and that's where we'll come back to your story and to your certification.

How does tea ceremony, instructor certification exam happen? What do you do? How long does it take? Could you share more details about this?

The Tea Master's ceremony and receiving a Tea Name

Tyas 25:32

Well, it was the decision of my, my teacher basically. And then he petitions to the Grandmaster saying that my pupil has now achieved this level and I have assured that so we would like to come to your headquarters and apply for the certification.

What then happens is a very formal ceremony, a ceremony in which you participate in the way that you'd learn. You're basically a guest to a tea ceremony, you're not performing or executing a service of tea, but you're a guest to that ceremony and together with all the other persons that are going to get to their certification at that time, you are being served by the Grandmaster. And after that, there's a ceremony where the Grandmaster gives you a woodblock with your proper tea name on it.

So there's not really an exam or a progress of steps that you go through. Some teachers might work with a very rigid set of steps, as I explained earlier. And then, as you get to that point, when your teacher says, okay, you're skilled enough now to get your instructorship then he or she would petition the Grandmaster, but there's no real exam from the Grandmaster himself.

Paul 26:57

What was the tea name given to you?

Tyas 27:00

It's going to be a bit long...

First as a assistant instructor you receive your tea name. And the tea name is basically the same principle as what happens to Zen monks in the Rinzai zen tradition. Each monk receives a name with the characters "SO" before the name and then something after it. And my name is "SOSEN". The "SEN" stands for the tea whisk, which is used in the tea ceremony, which is rather important.

And after that, when you reach your full instructorship level, then you're granted an under name, which is your tea hut name. That's the name I would use when I build a tea hut of my own. The name that I received is "TANGETSUAN". "AN" stands for hut. And "TANGETSU" is a pale moon.

My teacher is in a lineage of teachers who transmit the character from the moon to their pupils. I'm now the third in line to inherit that character for moon. It's actually part of a story, which starts with my teacher's teacher, whose name was "CHOGETSUAN".

"CHOGETSU" means to gather the moon, from a story where on a bright night, the light of the moon is gathered in a pond. He has taken his name from that story saying "I'm gathering the light of the moon in the pond". But the moon in Buddhism is also used as a reference to the true teachings of the Buddha. So in a way, the moon is also the essence of things. And in order to grasp the essence of our existence, he was trying to gather all that knowledge by collecting the light of the moon in that pond. It was just a reflection in a way, but that's how the story goes.

Then my teacher's name is "KYUGETSUAN" and it means to scoop up the moon. As the story goes, the Buddha's knowledge, the light of the moon was collected in the pond, and my teacher wanted to take all that knowledge for himself. He wanted to know what it was so he puts his hand in the pond and tries to pick the moon out of it, which of course is impossible. And by doing that, the light of the moon in the pond becomes pale. You have the waves in the pond and the light is not as clear anymore.

So that comes to my name, where I am a reflection of the... not necessarily stupidity, but in a way it is of the person who wanted to collect all that knowledge out of the pond and take it for himself. Meaning he had no idea what the Buddha's real teachings were about.

Paul 30:32

This means that the person you will train will have a lot of challenges when he or she will receive a name...

Tyas 30:42

It's going to be difficult to continue the story from here on, because what do we do with the moon then, yes!

Paul 30:48

That's very interesting, because that was one of my questions as well. Again, in martial arts you have schools, you have "ryuha". It this something you have in the tea art as well or is it, I guess as you were mentioning, organised by lineage?

Tyas 31:06

Oh yes, most definitely you have schools but they are a lineage of a certain person who lived in the past and it's been passed on for generations, from son to son.

The Grandmaster of our school is now the 13th in line from the time that the founder of the school lived, and the school that I practice is called "ENSHURYU". It started with a famous landlord who lived in the 18th century. And his name was "Kobori Enshu". He lived in the early Edo period. He was not a direct disciple of the person called "Sen No Rikyu", who is said to be, not really the father of tea ceremony, but the person who codified the practice into the type of tea ceremony who are knowing now.

There are, say about 12 major schools and some smaller ones as well. So you have different schools, different "ryuha" in tea ceremony. But when I started learning tea ceremony at first, I had no idea about schools. I had no idea about what tea ceremony was. So also didn't know which school I was getting myself into until three months in, when my teacher actually gave me this information.

I didn't really have any choice of which school I was going to practice.

Paul 32:33

That's a very long lineage that's attaching yourself to very long history in Japan. Going back to a more practical question, did your status of being a foreigner in this traditional field of practice cause any challenges, any issues for you?

On being a foreigner in a traditional art field

Tyas 32:56

Well, that's a great question and one that I do get often, especially as someone who is trained in a traditional Japanese art and is also capable of teaching it, and does teach it to Japanese people. Did I have any challenges in learning tea ceremony...?

The nice thing about it is that in the tea area, you don't have any nationality, no ethnicity, your age doesn't matter. Your gender doesn't matter. Basically, everyone is seen as an equal tea practitioner. The only thing that differentiates you from one another is how long you've been learning. And so, for me practicing tea ceremony, I felt this great feeling of exception, being accepted as someone who has got a mutual interest and everyone tries their best to learn together and to make sure that everyone gets as much information and knowledge about the art. That everyone progresses and that it's fun and agreeable for everyone because that is, in essence, what the tea ceremony is about.

I don't really like the translation "tea ceremony". It's a bit of a mistranslation, actually like to refer to it as the "ritual of hospitality". Because that is what the ceremony at the essence is. Tea is a way to be hospitable. Whoever your guest is, you try to make them as comfortable as possible. And do everything in your mind to make them comfortable. So there is no room to worry about ethnicity or where a person comes from, etc. And also in practice, it rarely happens. That someone points out to your non-Japanese heritage or that someone calls you out on age or gender.

So to answer your question, no, it was actually great being able to learn tea ceremony because it's a relief, not having to worry about your so called outsider status as a foreigner in Japan.

Paul 35:23

That's very nice. It's not always the case in all the the arts existing in Japan.

Tyas 35:29

No, I've experienced that in the other things that I've practiced where I was actually rejected. I wanted to practice Iaido as well. And actually the club members just didn't want to bother with another foreigner, which was a little bit of a problem that afterwards got solved. But I just decided not to go on.

Paul 35:59

Maybe this was a sign of destiny pushing you towards your true goal of learning Sado!

Tyas 36:07

Exactly. Let's look at it in a positive way!

Current activities: share and educate

Paul 36:10

Now you have the certification, you have many years of experience, you are teaching people, you are recognized in Japan in this art. Could you share about your current activities? About the tea crane, about the ceremonies that you're organizing in Kyoto?

Tyas 36:31

Yes. After having worked for a tea vendor in Uji, Kyoto, at that time tourism was picking up. More foreign visitors were visiting our store and I got a lot of questions about organic tea. At that time, I actually didn't know anything about organic tea or for that matter, other teas being available than the teas I had available at the shop I was working at.

So I started to dig in a little bit deeper and discovered that there were quite a few organic tea producers, which were creating quite a different tea not really available on the mainstream market. I wanted to know more about that. And I also discovered that organic teas, from my perspective, were closer to what I think of as real traditional Japanese tea. Meaning that only 100 years ago, organic teas were the norm. And only after that, agricultural chemicals and machinery came into place. So being interested in Japanese culture and tradition, I of course wanted to find out what a Japanese tea 100 years ago might have tasted like. I found that answer in traditional teas, which also I discovered have, to my feeling, a stronger energy and a greater diversity.

So, after a while I decided to stop working at the store I was working at and finally start my own project. For that project, I selected different Japanese organic teas from different producers throughout the country today actually continue on looking for new producers and travel japan to visit tea regions to meet new producers. Today I have a broader selection of diverse and really delicious teas.

Paul 38:44

How do you sell these teas that you source yourself with producers?

Tyas 38:50

Five years ago I started the Tea Crane.

The Tea Crane is my online platform from where I share the beauty of Japanese tea culture with the world. To do that, I also have my blog on which I produce a lot of information about tea, and also have the shop part where I present the teas I select from the different producers throughout Japan and offer those for purchase, and ship them to wherever in the world. And this really for me is, I think, a very important project because I started five years ago and when I started working for the tea store, I had no real clue about what I wanted to do with Japanese tea. But at that time I received my certification in the tea ceremony. I earlier indicated that tea ceremony although it is a microcosm of Japanese culture, there is only a very small focus on tea itself and it focuses mainly on the powderized Macha tea, but has nothing to do with any of the other leaf teas.

That's a question I kept asking myself all the time while I was practicing tea ceremony. What about tea? I learned about the pottery, the craftsman behind the pottery and the calligraphies, the history, the culture, etc, etc. But there was almost no information about tea, how it is made, and all those things.

So, for my own education, I discovered this organization called the "Nihoncha Instructor Association". It's the "Japanese Tea Instructor Association" that offers courses and exams for people in Japan to become certified. It's a national certification that you get, and I decided to take that course and do the exam to get a broader idea of what Japanese tea is in general. That's where I started to learn about how it's cultivated, how it's processed, how it's manufactured, what the different kinds of teas are, how to brew it properly, etc, etc. So I could apply that knowledge to where I was working at the tea store in Uji.

But after a while, as I said, I got inquiries about organic tea. And when I inquired about organic tea with my direct supervisors, they told me organic tea is not tea. Organic tea is not delicious. It's only bitter and it has no flavor. You can't make tea organically. But as I said earlier, 100 years ago, all tea production was organic and everyone said tea was delicious. Otherwise, tea wouldn't last for 800 years in Japan. It has an history in Japan since the 1200s. So that was something that triggered me to learn more about organic teas and why I got in contact with these organic tea producers from whom I'm now sourcing the tea.

Paul 42:03

That's one side of your activity, sourcing and selling. I've seen that you wrote a book about all this as well. What about the other side with organizing ceremonies?

Tyas 42:15

Yes. So besides that, what I also want to do is to share the tea ceremony and make the beauty of that culture accessible. In Kyoto, also at the same time five years ago, I started doing tea ceremony activities for foreign travelers.

One of the reasons I wanted to do that is because a lot of the tea ceremony activities that you can do in Kyoto are well, they're low priced, so they're easily accessible, but the content of it is also terribly basic. I did go and participate in some of those tea ceremony activities, what I felt was that you're not really given a good enough explanation to understand what tea ceremony in essence is and to really feel what it is to be in such an environment. So, I decided that I wanted to give more people the opportunity to get a feeling for being a guest at a tea ceremony, and do that as authentically as possible.

For that purpose, we've refurbished an old tea hut that we've gotten to our availability at a small temple in Kyoto, in the backyard of a small temple. It's just 4-mats large, a very small hut with earthen walls and paper windows. But it a really gives you the feeling of what it is to be in a truly traditional tea setting. I make it with a charcoal fire so there's no electricity available. Everything is just natural and you're in that place which is 10 minutes on foot from Kyoto station, which is a very bustling part of the city. When you're in that heart, you might hear some sounds from the surroundings. But basically, you forget that you're in Kyoto, you might as well be on top of a very peaceful mountain. That's also how people in the past referred to as the huts. It's "Shichu No Sankyo", which translates as a mountain dwelling in the midst of a bustling city. That's the sort of feeling I want to give my guests because it allows you to relax, calm down, and focus down on that one moment, because that moment is never going to come back.

For me tea ceremony is not something that I perform and show to my guests. It's something that you create together with your guests. That's why it's hospitality. If your hospitality is not received, it's not successful. In order to receive the hospitality, your guests also have to sort of know their ways with being grateful and being thankful for that moment. Even if you don't know the rules, by just appreciating and being present in that moment.

That's sort of what I explain and also allow my guests to feel.

Paul 45:29

Knowing that you organize these ceremonies for tourists as well, people coming from a lot of different nationalities and cultures and backgrounds, have you faced any challenges with this? Sharing this experience and knowledge with people who could receive it in a lot of different ways?

Tyas 45:52

I haven't as of yet. I do get a quite a similar question asked, as well. Is it suitable for everyone? Or could it offend people?

For example, we talk about Zen and Buddhism in tea ceremony, in the other arts as well. Many of the aspects in tea ceremony are in a way taken from Zen Buddhism for example, the structure of the alcove is constructed based on a Zen Buddhists monks cell, his chambers where you also had an alcove where he hung up a scroll and offered flowers etc. So a lot of the things are taken from certain religious aspects. But it's not only Zen that has influenced tea, Taoism also has influenced, Confucianism has influenced tea, basically all the things that intellectuals 400 years ago were educated with. That information played a very important role in that moment's society. So of course it has influenced tea.

Tea in itself is not a religious practice. It teaches you very important morals and I think those morals are universal. The way in which tea is conducted, the tea ceremony itself, the rules of how to behave and how to dress and how to execute a service of tea. Those are exclusively Japanese, those were developed in Japan, and are still only practiced in Japan. But they're a manifestation of the underlying principles that we can learn from the practice.

Those principles I think, are universal and are compatible with any culture worldwide any religion. Well, that apart from Mormonism, because Mormons can't have caffeine.

Impact of the COVID-19 crisis

Paul 48:01

I have to finish with one question. Sadly talking about the news and what's happening right now in the world with the corona virus, the borders being closed and nobody moving anymore. Knowing that most of the people you teach, you organize ceremonies for are tourists. How did these events, the covid-19 impact your current activities?

Tyas 48:32

Well, currently I have a lot of cancellations from people who unfortunately wanted to come to Japan but can't make it because of the regulations that are being imposed on them. So it's a bit of a difficult time because I did have a lot of of bookings coming up for this month and next month and only some of them are still standing. A lot of them are getting canceled already. And of course, April and May are very busy tourist seasons. I do work a lot with tourists, visitors in Kyoto.

So I hope that things are going to clear up pretty soon or else it might really affect my activities here in a very profound way. And of course, other people as well like hotels and small business owners, who since the past five to 10 years, when tourism has really started picking up in Japan, are now of course also affected by the lack of tourists.

Paul 49:39

Yeah, that's a big impact on tourism. Same in France, same in a lot of different countries. Everybody is sitting tight and let's hope everything will be resolved pretty soon. In the meantime, if people cannot come to see you directly, face to face, how can they learn about tea, about Japanese tea and tea ceremony online? Do you have any recommendation?

Resources to learn about Japanese Tea

Tyas 50:08

Well, the Tea Crane is available. There's a lot of information about Japanese tea on my blog. I also have a small, very short free basics mini course on matcha that people can watch while they're sitting at home and don't know what to do and would like to get started with a bit of matcha or get some more interest in information about how to whisk a bowl of tea. Those things can be gathered from the Tea Crane on the website. And on YouTube, I also have several videos about tea, Japanese tea.

But besides that, there's also for those who want not to spend all of the time in front of a computer screen the book I wrote about Japanese tea. It's called the story of Japanese Tea and it's available from most of the Amazon websites as well. It covers mostly everything from leaf tea to the history of tea, to how it's produced and how you can brew it yourself. So there are different ways of getting more information about Japanese tea. The book was only published last year in November. It's been an rather long project.

I've always wanted to make sure that there's more information in available in English about Japanese tea, because it's very scarce at the moment. I'm really happy to be able to present this book for those who are interested to know more about Japanese tea.

Paul 51:51

Very nice. I will put all the links on the website and I will check this out myself as well because I'm pretty interested. To finish this interview, there are a couple of questions I always like to ask. Starting with: imagine that you keep all the experience and knowledge you have been accumulating for the past 13 years. You go back in time and you meet with yourself 13 years ago, when you just arrived to Japan, what would you say to yourself at that time?

Advice to younger self

Tyas 52:28

Well, I don't think I would give myself any advice! What I would like to do is actually to say: "Look, I'm you 30 years from now" and I want to see how my former self would react and probably be very shocked with a mouth falling open and all the shocking effects.

Paul 52:55

Because of the hair cut as well?

Tyas 52:58

Oh, that as well! Yes, that as well! But I don't think I would have ever imagined that I would, at a certain point in time be where I'm at now. Getting the certifications, being able to obtain a master's degree in Japanese literature, and starting a business of my own. So I think at the time that could have only been dreams, and not something that I would envision myself actually being able to obtain. So what I would say is just look, I'm you 13 years from now, and you're not going to believe it.

The reason why I also think that I don't want to give myself any advice is because I absolutely loved everything that I've done and learned on the way and all the mistakes and all the headaches that I had. All the things that I've experienced. I don't think that I want to have any of that taken away from me. So giving myself advice to improve certain things that I perhaps could have done better, could have achieved anything in a faster way by skipping certain paths. I think it'd be a pity because then I wouldn't have that experience experience.

Paul 54:19

Very wise words! Second question: what's your favorite Japanese word or expression?

Favorite Japanese Word

Tyas 54:27

I've actually been keeping it to myself because I was about to say it earlier. It's "ICHI GO ICHI E".

It's an expression that is used in the tea ceremony a lot. It means "One time one chance". It's often translated as "once in a lifetime".

In the ceremony, it's used to refer to the fact that this current moment is not going to occur again. The only time which you can enjoy the moment that we're in now is now. We could have this conversation again, say next week, but it's never going to be the same as the conversation that we're having now. So the only way that we can fully appreciate, be present and enjoy the conversation that we're having now is by being mindful of the moment that we're in. Now, here and now.

For the tea ceremony, that's the same. Ech tea ceremony is going to be different even if it's with the same people and the same utensils. But this moment, the temperature of the air in this moment, the smell of the air in this moment, the season in for example the state in which a bloom is blooming is only going to be able to be enjoyed now. And so it draws us to become more aware of the current and not always be lost in thoughts about what's going to be next. What do I have to do tomorrow? I did this wrong and how is that going to hunt me down now?

All those worries about the past and the future are basically futile. And the term "ICHI GO ICHI E" reminds us that it's the here and now that we have to bring our awareness to in order to fully enjoy life.

Paul 56:38

I'm sure these are some words we could benefit from in the current situation. Thanks a lot for that! Final question: is there anyone or any project or any company or anything that you would like to give a shout out to?


Tyas 56:55

It's someone I'm working together with who's also very passionate about tea. He's Japanese. And we've sort of together opened as a tea salon in Kyoto. The name of the tea salon is MA, which in Japanese means space or a distance.

In that tea salon, what we try to do is to bring teas from all over Japan together and make sure that they can be enjoyed there. And also to bring tea ceremony to the people in a more contemporary, relaxed way. So I would really want to bring the attention to his efforts.

His name is SAKAI. And he's really doing a good job with keeping the shop open and maintaining the business and I'm in a way helping him with tea ceremony activities and also a selection of the Tea Cranes teas that we serve there. And, of course for which I also select more different teas.

Paul 58:23

I will link it in the show notes as well. Perfect! Thanks a lot Tyas! We talked about this already a little bit, but where can people find you online? Should they be interested in knowing more about yourself and your activities? You mentioned the Tea Crane. Is there any other places?

Connect with Tyas

Tyas 58:47

Yes, so there's the the Tea Crane for teas and information about tea. And then there's also Tea Ceremony Kyoto where there is more information about the activities that we do in Kyoto, where you can also find more information for when you're coming to Kyoto to come and join us for a tea ceremony.

Paul 59:23

Ok, I will link everything as usual again in the show notes. I thank you a lot really for this conversation. I learned a lot of things. I will be looking forward to checking at your free mini course and reading your book during this time. In France, everything is confined right now. We have to stay at home. It's going to be the same in most countries, I think. So it's the best moment to open our mind, be mindful and learn more about this beautiful art that you shared with us today. Thanks a lot for Tyas!

Tyas 1:00:00

Wonderful, really grateful that you wanted to have me on your show and I'm happy to have been able to talk about tea. I think there's nothing I enjoy doing more. Bye!