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21st century tea ceremony

August 31, 2005

I’m travelling in mainland Japan with no job to go back to, and no time limit. Okinawa is still a shade hotter than is comfortable, but here in Honshu it’s just about right, in that you can move around and carry bags without sweating too profusely.

On Thursday I spent the afternoon with K, before heading over to Kyoto. There, I stopped a girl to ask for directions, and she walked me half an hour in the wrong direction before looking at my map again, apologising profusely, and insisting she walk me back the right way again. In the course of our wanderings, it was decided that she would practice her English by emailing me, so every evening since then I have received an eccentric email to my phone telling me that I will become fat if I eat ice cream before I sleep, or that I look like the Buddha. I approve of this, and I encourage it.

The reason I actually came to the mainland (at least, the reason I came now rather than some other time) was to meet Graeme and go to the Ryoondo-Tea event that he went to last year. It’s an evening of experimental electronic music and tea ceremony, in a temple in Kyoto. As I understand it, the reason this unlikely combination exists is that the bloke who runs this small Kyoto record label has an interest in the tea ceremony, and wants to create a new, relaxed, 21st century tea ceremony.

It was an amazing event: the whole temple was surrounded on the outside by beautiful tiny lights of shifting colours, and inside filled with warm-coloured paper lanterns. As well as Graeme, his girlfriend and brother, K’s little brother – who I originally met last November – came across from neighbouring Osaka.

Drinking the frothy green tea-ceremony tea while listening to electronic music and watching the lights scattered round the temple garden and the people walking past in yukata gowns (tickets were half-price if you wore one). It was a completely unique event, and tantalisingly brief: starting at 6, finishing at 9, and leaving me wishing that it had gone on all night.

Incidentally, I’m writing this in an all-night ‘manga kissa’ (manga cafe) in Nagoya. I have a 6am train to catch, and partly to make sure I get there, partly because being unemployed I’m hesitant to fork out for a hotel that I’ll only have about four or five hours to sleep in, I decided to find a place where I could wait out the night. This is the first time I’ve spent the night in one of these places, and I’m quite taken with it. It’s a manga library with dozens of booths to sit and read in, each booth containing a big comfortable chair, an internet-enabled computer, a tv and video, and a playstation. I’m paying about five or six pounds to sit in it for four or five hours, and that allows me unlimited free drinks from the drinks machines. There’s even a shower. It’s half-three in the morning and the place is packed.

posted in Okinawa4 comments


  1. Posted by Andrew — September 1, 2005 at 8:19 pm

    It’s true. You do look like the Buddha. Like some 10th-century Javanese Sakyamuni effigy, but with a guitar and a hat and a website.

  2. Posted by lva — September 10, 2005 at 8:55 pm

    Hmm… I guess I just need the belly. And the profound insight.

  3. Posted by graeme — September 13, 2005 at 3:39 pm

    hey, the revamped site looks great!

    ryoondo tea was such a good event! i`m so glad after all that talking and speculation we were able to go to it, and it was better than expected! i`ll have to get you a copy of the cds i picked up… the new snow effect album is pretty 80s late night documentary/game show influenced, the oto-graph album is really laid back, but the cinq albums… man! they are soooooo good! i was hunting for his albums all year, and he didn`t even play this year but i picked them up at the stall during the event. there`s this track with an acoustic guitar and an electronic blippy-bloppy background inspired by the insects on the temple grounds and it`s absolutely amazing!

    still unable to track down the final song firo played in his set, the one with the girl singing… it was my favourite track of the night. might have to email him direct.

    man, that was such a good event! i`ve got a big beaming smile just thinking about it! heh, kyoto was pretty wild generally that whole weekend, but definately one of the best travelling stints i`ve done in japan so far!

    take care, g

  4. Posted by lva — September 16, 2005 at 7:17 pm

    Hey Graeme,

    Thanks! (Unfortunately the new look is the default WordPress setup that I haven’t yet had a chance to play with, though, so I can’t really take any credit there…)

    Yeah, Ryondo Tea was perfect. I left wishing it could have gone on all night. I passed the web-address on to the girls who showed me round Nara, so hopefully they’ll go next year. I wish I was going to be in Japan then, but I think the odds are against it… almost worth coming all the way back for, though!

    Acoustic guitar + blip-bloppy background sounds like just my thing! Will have to hear it when next we meet…