In the Arms of Tradition, Part 1
It is difficult for me to sit for too long on my knees, but I bite the inside of my lip and bear the cramps already creeping down to my toes. I have always wanted to experience an authentic tea ceremony and I am not about to let a few momentary leg cramps put to waste this opportunity. So I sit as still as I can, my back rigid, my hands on my knees. I am not quite sure that is where they are supposed to be. I do remember being told something about their position and where the fingers should be pointing, but I forget as I watch the cups brought out, the bamboo whisk, the tin of green powder. Emi Kuroda’s movements are fluid and measured, as precise and calm as a heron walking through a koi pond.
Emi is my host and she has been doing tea ceremony since she was a small girl. She is twice my age, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. She sits much lower than me, as though her knees have given way over the years and the rest of her has settled down like a snow drift settles. She wears a pink and black kimono, her small feet shrouded in white socks. I can just see her shoes at the door, like children’s slippers next to my overgrown clodhoppers.
Emi’s eyes are soft and brown, but I can barely see them. She is modest, but she is also keeping watch over her movements as though she hasn’t quite perfected them in the forty years she has been practicing them. Her hair is a lustrous black, like slivers of jet given motion. Emi and I are friends, so she doesn’t mind my stares. At least I don’t think so. She has never mentioned them, and often times I catch her watching me out of the corners of her eyes.
But not now. Not when she is concentrating so hard on the tea before us. She sifts green powder into our cups and stirs. Then with two hands she gives me one cup. Little cakes, with stacked layers like French apartment houses, sit on a plate. She offers me one and then looks up at me with a smile.
It is time to drink. The tea is so thick and frothy with green that I feel like I am drinking grass and leaves and lily pads. But only a sip. Then the warmth hits me and the sugar of the little cakes.
Tea ceremony is tradition, and as an American I know that we have very little tradition. What we have has been passed down through our family and is much different than our neighbors.
Most countries have traditions, even if they are dying traditions. I feel slightly at loss for having none, and perhaps that is why I am so interested in others’ traditions. Traditions are like great big oaks in the middle of the woods, solid long before I got there and past the point of struggling and knowing where to grow. Touching them, even if only briefly gives me that solid feel too.
Perhaps it is strange, but I feel bigger, like I have grown two inches, or three, when I leave Emi’s house.
© Seth Crossman