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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Let's Take A Break: The Story Of O-cha

I've been a bit busy at work and also at home, and have been feeling a bit burned out. Here's something I found about green tea - o-cha, that the Japanese drink.

Not just drink, it's a cultural thing.

Anytime of the day (not evening), if I went anywhere in Japan, someone would offer me a cup of
 o-cha. I'd have 7 or 8 cups a day. On a cold day, it warmed you right up. On a hot day, you felt cooler drinking such a piping hot drink. But any day, one would feel like they were part of the Japanese culture by imbibing a cup of o-cha.

At first it was a bitter drink and I hated it... but then I realized that was just the brand of tea served to me. Often the more bitter it is, the higher the grade of tea. That's not a scientific statement, by the way... it's just an observation done by myself 17 years after the fact.  

But what does o-cha represent? I'm just going to go out on a limb and suggest it means 'let's take a break'.

It's a means of slowing things down. Forget about the caffeine in o-cha... just sipping on something so... so Japanese allows the Japanese (and gaijin foreigner) to feel good with what they are doing. It's not like coffee when you know you are drinking it for the caffeine. O-cha harkens back to a time of enlightenment and spirituality. To a time of peace and harmony.

Why did I say 'let's take a break'? Think about the classical Japanese snacks: ochazuke (boiled rice in tea), ochauke (tea cakes), cha-nomi tomodachi (your great friend or tea-drinking friend)... okay that last one had nothing to do with snacks, but there are other things beside food and snacks that remind Japan of relaxing: like chanoma (living room).

Again... these are just simple observations.

There is a thing called a tea-ceremony that has existed in Japan since the 12th century.

Chanoyu (茶の湯) or chadō is known as the Way of the Tea.This ceremonial preparation of green tea i still done today, though in more specialized locales, involving presentation of the powdered bitter green tea known as matcha. From what I recall, the whole tea ceremony thing was created as a part of the Zen Buddhism philosophy. And, as far as Zen goes, I can't think of anything more that says 'let's take a break'. 

Wa-kei-sei-jiyaku is the key theme in the tea ceremony.

'Wa' implies harmony between man and nature. Between differing aspects of our surrounds. Between the four season, between man's man-made environment. Between me and you.

'Kei' implies respect, specifically the respect shown when paying attention to the moment, to each person, time, space, ourselves, what we use in our daily life and towards nature. To give thanks to the world, essentially. It's to show the Zen Buddhism inter-connectedness with the universe... to be one with the universe.

'Sei' implies purity of mind... of purpose and our actions, and our goals. The Japanese value purity very highly. I recall asking someone a few days after first arriving in Japan back in 1990, just why are there so many white cars. I was told that the color white implies purity, and that all Japanese want to be pure. I understood the superficial meaning of that statement, but it was many, many years later that I understood the full meaning behind that statement. In Zen Buddhism, being pure implies being in tune... to not being weighed down with the crap of the world... to 'let's take a break'.

Jiyaku... that means tranquility... the peace of mind and freedom from what pisses you off in the world. To be happy and calm within the world or within your body, which, if you think about it, is your world. Jiyaku also represents wabi and sabi, the principles of beauty conscious serenity. Wabi = refinement found in rustic mannerisms. Sabi = the beauty in age.

It's all so... zen, man.

Somewhere wishing I was more zen than then,
Andrew Joseph

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