Friday, August 5, 2011

Japanese Tea House near Changwon

 Last year my mother in law took tea classes where she learned Japanese tea ceremony. Hearing that I was also into tea, her teacher invited us out into the countryside to visit her teahouse. It is a real Japanese teahouse; very old school. Edo period I believe, but I'm still learning. Here's what I gleaned from the ceremony so far. (It was my first Japanese tea ceremony, the only other ones I've encountered were the ones I'd seen on youtube or read about in books).

To get there we drove for about an hour and a half out of Busan last Sunday. We arrived there, just west of Changwon.
 At the foot of the hill I was given a small fan and a packet containing various cloth and paper napkins for me to bring to the ceremony.
Its nice as a guest to bring something and even nicer to be given something to bring to the ceremony.
The fan is used to mark your place. When taking tea the fan rests behind your feet. When bowing it is placed before you. During feudal Japan the samurai would leave his large sword outside the teahouse on a rack, while he would bring his smaller sword into the teahouse and place it on the tatami mat before him when bowing. Using a small fan is reminiscent of that custom.
 Before entering the teahouse, guests wash their hands and lips at the small fountain.
The teacher explained that we wash our lips to cleans away any misspoken words.

 Here's my wife beside the enterance to the teahouse. It leads to a narrow crawl space corridor.
All guests and even the host enter this way. It is a humbling crawl and a way to show that all equally enter the ceremony. It is also symbolic of going back to our birth to that place of innocence and simplicity.
 Before entering we place our fan infront of us. We bow upon entering and again upon exiting the narrow corridor/entering into the tea room.
 Here's a view of the corridor we all crawled down to get into the tearoom. At both ends there's a sliding door and even a light switch for the corridors lights.
 The teahouse consists of an enterance corridor crawl space, a main tearoom and a back room for storage and cleaning of the tea equipment.

Here is the tearoom. Zen scroll and flower water container and water kettle over a charcoal fire.
In the classes they offer here they teah you how to make tea over a charcoal fire. Very old school.

Nowadays many infuse their tea with teabags or infuse the leaves and filter out the leaves, where as originally tea was consumed by putting the ground tea leaves into water and consuming all : tea leaves and water. This was done in China Korea and Japan.
With the Mongol invasions however, this tea culture was virtually wiped out, surviving only in Japan.
The Japanese went further, developing a ceremony for tea as a means of bringing a sense of Zen unity and peace to the very warlike Samurai culture of Japan.

Upon entering the tearoom we bow to the scroll and observe the flower and the warm charcoal fire heating the water.
 Before taking the tea we eat some of the tea savories, carefully wiping the chopsticks on the napkin provided.

The tatami mats are arranged in a square pattern : one square in the middle with another mat on each side of it.
You can see in the picture the serving bowl is on one side of the line in the central square and our napkin and cooking are on the other side. Well arranged.
Once made the tea should be drunken in three sips. Getting it in a regular teahouse in Busan, (Someyeon's Green Tea House) 3 sips seems like very little tea but within the context of the ceremony, it makes alot of sense and is very satisfying.
It also ensures that the tea is very frothy. At home, when I make a small amount of tea just like they did here it turns out wonderfully. I'm still experimenting, trying to make a large amount of powdered green tea extremely frothy... I'll keep you posted.

Here just outside of Changwon, they offer 2 part classes : Japanese tea ceremony and tea history and philosophy all for 25,000 won per class (4 classes 100,000 won) classes are held on Sundays.

My wife and I are planning on going once a month, starting in September if we can find 2 other people to join us. (Carpool about 5 or 10,000 won each for gas). My wife can translate. Both the adjuma and the monk teach the classes. Contact me if you are interested.

Matthew @ 010 5737 6543


  1. Around this tea house, there are some traditional Korean houses (Han-Ock) where historically famous people lived and studied.
    so you can look around after tea class.

  2. Indeed! On our way home we dropped by the founder of Samsung Corporation's Han Ock where he grew up. Good point!