Correction: A previous version of the article stated the mug was bowel sized, however, this was incorrect. The mug is bowl sized.
Curls of steam billowed from a bowl sized ceramic mug at Monday’s Sister City Relations Committee traditional Japanese tea ceremony, where an air of silence and respect settled over the small room during the exchange of cultural knowledge and matcha green tea.
The traditional ceremony, also known as “The Way of Tea,” took place at the Rohnert Park Community Center and was conducted by the Chair of the Sister City Relations Committee, Sachiko Knappman and Hashimoto Student Ambassador, Nonoka Chida, who received the tea as the guest.
During the thoughtful and methodical ceremony, the host, Knappman, serves a Japanese sweet to offset the bitterness of the matcha green tea, a very strong type of caffeinated powdered tea. And while some tea ceremonies can last for hours, this shorter version still includes several steps, which are embedded with Zen Buddhist ideals that work to bring a sense of spiritual connection, serenity and respect between the host and the guest.
“The spiritual practice of it started around 1500 when Japan was going through a civil war for 200 years and was very devastating to Japanese culture. So with the sharing of the tea, your senses can open up, so I think that is the kind of the connection that people couldn’t have, so that’s how it developed spiritually,” Knappman explained. “It helps you focus on each thing, calm down and become centered.”
The steps do indeed require a lot of focus, as the bowl that the guest will drink out of first must be meticulously cleaned with a handkerchief, followed by the grinding of the bright green matcha powder with a wiry tea whisk and the pouring of the hot water.
Knappman then had to precisely turn the mug before offering it to the guest, Chida. The process is then repeated and the bowl and utensils are cleaned before being put away and the handkerchief is perfectly folded and put back in the crook of Knappman’s sash, marking the close of the ceremony.
According to Knappman, the turning of the mug is important because the good and most beautiful side must be facing the guest.
“This comes from Zen Buddhism because everything in this world is supposed to have a more beautiful side than the other side. So when I’m making the tea with this tea bowl the most beautiful side is facing me, but when I hand it to her I want that side to face her. Then when she drinks she turns it because she doesn’t want to dirty the most beautiful side,” Knappman said.
The ceremony can be done every day as part of one’s spiritual practice or as a way to remember someone who has died, or for any other occasion, such as the blooming of a flower or the celebration of a beautiful day Knappman says. However, the ritual started out not as much as a spiritual practice, but more of one to help keep monks awake with the tea’s caffeine.
For almost 30 years, Rohnert Park’s Sister City Relations Committee has been committed to the exchange of culture, ideals, knowledge and student ambassadors from their sister city of Hashimoto, Japan and the traditional tea ceremony is part of that exchange.
Evan Crow, a Rohnert Park high school student, is part of the student exchange and is currently in Hashimoto, representing Rohnert Park and getting a taste of Japanese life.
Crow attended Monday’s event as he thought it would be a good sneak peak for him.
“I wanted to see the ceremony and get exposed more to what it is like,” Crow said.
Other sister city committee members were in attendance as well and Commissioner Gay Deady said events like these help to keep the close connection between Rohnert Park and Hashimoto.
“It keeps us close to the city we’ve been with for many years and in doing the exchange we have to learn more about the culture… It is a great way to keep the unification,” Deady said.
Following the ceremony, Mayor Pam Stafford presented Chida with a city certificate honoring her for being a Hashimoto student ambassador.
“We are most honored to welcome Student Ambassador Nonoka Chida to our city. We truly treasure the relationship through our sister cities program,” Stafford said.
In return, Chida presented a letter from the Mayor of Hashimoto, Yoshiyuki Kinoshita to Stafford, as well as a gift.
Mayor Kinoshita wrote of the sister city exchange, “...The sister city relationship between Rohnert Park City and Hashimoto City has grown up in many fruitful official visits and private exchanges have been held, deepening our friendship… and I’d like to thank you for our continued support.”
Hashimoto has a similar sized population to Rohnert Park with around 60,000 residents and is known for its many temples, cemeteries, rolling mountains and diverse weather seasons.