Japan, SA toast century at tea ceremony

Japan celebrated its 100-year relationship with South Africa in an unconventional yet sober manner today by drinking green tea in a Johannesburg forest.

The hosts were De Beers chairperson Nicky Oppenheimer and his wife, Strilli.

They used the opportunity to celebrate the fifth anniversary of their Japanese garden at Brenthurst Estate, home to one of the largest man-made forests in the world.

“We are expected to feel ‘wabi’ – quiet or sober refinement,” said the Japanese ambassador to South Africa, Toshiro Ozawa, explaining the official Japanese tea ceremony, also known as the “Way of tea”.

History showed that the philosophy behind the ceremony was for all to be equal while being served tea in a tea room. “Monks and merchants were able to communicate as equals,” said Ozawa.

Oppenheimer said the relationship between South Africa and Japan was continuously evolving.

“South Africa and Japan have a great deal to learn from each other,” said Oppenheimer.

The relationship started in 1910, when Japan decided to appoint Julius Otto Jeppe as the honorary consul of Japan in South Africa.

He pioneered the exporting of South African wool to Japan and introduced Cape wines to East Asia, culminating in the establishment of a Japanese consulate in Cape Town in 1918.

Japan was the biggest importer for South Africa in 2005, 2006 and 2008 and the trade balance between the two countries was more than R 8 million last year.

Oppenheimer said although he believed the “century ahead is going to be an African century,” with South Africa playing a key role, this did not mean that the two countries should stop learning from each other.

He used the Japanese tea room on the Brenthurst Estate as an example.

Oppenheimer said his wife “had clear views on the matter” that the two cultures should learn from one another.

The tea room, although its interior was a perfect replica of a Japanese tea room, showed off an exterior that was built with South African materials – stones and thatch.

Guests at the ceremony were treated to a traditional tea making ceremony by a Japanese tea ceremony club, with a Japanese tea master dressed in a peach kimono gracefully preparing the Yosino Shui tea.

To make up for the bitter taste, guests were given a traditional Japanese sweet in the shape of a small flower before the drink was served.

The ceremony consists of six steps after the drink has been prepared.

» First, one must receive the tea by making a bow to the person giving you the tea, then bowing to the tea master and finally, lifting the tea bowl and bowing to the tea.

» Step two involves rotating the tea bowl clockwise in two small movements, so that the front of the bowl faces away from the tea drinker – this shows respect to the tea master.

» The third step is the actual drinking of the green tea, which must be done slowly and should end with a “slight sucking sound” to show that one is finished.

» Fourthly, the tea drinker must wipe the rim of the bowl clean by using the thumb and forefinger.

» Step five involves “admiring the tea bowl, its shape and the colour of the pottery”.

» The ceremony ends with another bow to the tea assistant, but only after a last rotation of the bowl to show humbleness and respect.

Ozawa said the Japanese tea ceremony was developed in the 15th century and by the 16th century, it had spread to all levels of society in Japan.

The most well-known historical figure in the tea ceremony is Sen no Rikyu, who followed his master, Takeno Joo’s philosophy that each meeting should be treasured.

His principles, harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity, became central to the tea ceremony.

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