How do you take your tea?
Drinking tea may appear commonplace to some, but in Japan, it transcends into a serene and captivating art form.
In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Canadian Tea Master, Randy Channell Soei about “The Way of Tea” and Japanese philosophical ideas related to the tea ceremony.
Urasenke. At 1:43, Randy defines Urasenke.
Tea master. Randy explains, at 3:53, his profession as a tea master.
The term “tea ceremony”. At 6:14, Randy explains that the term ‘tea ceremony’ doesn’t best describe what chanoyu represents.
Chamei. At 11:56, Randy explains the meaning of his chamei or tea master name, Soei.
Becoming a tea master. At 15:28, Randy shares his journey of becoming a tea master.
Midorikai program. At 23:26, Randy talks about the Midorikai program he undertook at Urasenke Gakuen Professional College.
Being a professor. At 25:07, Randy talks about being a professor at Urasenke.
Wakei-SeiJakyu. At 29:09, Randy explains the meaning of Wakei-SeiJakyu.
Zanshin and mushin. At 31:52, Randy talks about the terms zanshin and mushin, and how they are related to tea.
Chaji. At 39:23, Nick and Randy talk about chaji, a formal tea gathering.
Koicha. At 43:17, the two talk about koicha, the thick matcha served during tea ceremonies.
Matcha. At 47:05, Randy describes matcha as the purest form of tea.
The Japanese culture through the way of tea. At 51:07, Randy discusses how people can get an insight into Japanese culture through the way of tea, and introduces the term omotenashi.
Japanese culture as a world treasure. At 59:00, Randy explains why he thinks Japanese culture is a world treasure that everyone can enjoy.
Randy Channell Soei
Randy Channell Soei is an author, Canadian tea master, and professor of the Urasenke tradition. Soei sensei is a long-term resident of Japan with a deep passion for his art, chanoyu (the way of tea), and is one of the few foreigners licensed to teach on this topic.
UrasenkeRandy lives in Kyoto where he teaches the tradition of Urasenke. Urasenke is one of the schools responsible for carrying on "the way of the tea.” It is the largest school of tea in Japan, and even internationally, because the previous grand tea master has been traveling all over the world for the past 16 years to promote the way of tea with his motto: 'from peacefulness through a bowl of tea'.
Urasenke is one of the San-Senke (three lines of the Sen family), which stems from Sen no Rikyu, the historical figure with the most keen influence on chanoyu (the way of tea).
Randy shares that it takes a lot of study to be able to get to the degree that you need to be a tea master. Plenty of people will have the license to do it, but they do it as a hobby, and only a few would make a living from it. There are different ways to teach "the way of tea," which needs a vast collection of utensils to be able to show its distinct facets. Randy describes it as a never-ending process, similar to other Japanese traditional arts — it is something that people can do continuously and can pass on.
The term “tea ceremony”Randy's school doesn't use the term "tea ceremony" that much, and would rather call it chanoyu, or "hot water for tea"; the reason for this, as Randy explains, is that there is a difference between the ceremonial application in temples or shrines, and daily application where they try to put the principles of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility into balance. In the latter, people are being served sweets with a bowl of tea, and that is sogo bijutsu and sogo geijutsu (a complete art form unto itself).
ChameiRandy's tea master name, Soei, was given to him by the previous grand tea master and his son. He explains that once a person achieves a certain level of expertise, they're given a name from the grand tea master. The 'tea name', or chamei, begins with "so", and then the remainder is for the tea master to decide.
Usually, one kanji from the person's name is incorporated, but since Randy doesn't have kanji, the grand tea masters selected one for him. They came up with Soei, which means 'to glorify, to go forth, and prosper', and is derived from Eisai, the name of the monk that was responsible for bringing tea to Japan in the 12th century.
Becoming a tea masterBefore becoming a tea master, Randy was engaged in many different types of martial arts. Back in Canada he had started with kickboxing, taekwondo, and wing chun; after moving to Hong Kong he started kung fu. However, he was not satisfied with his progress and so he went to Japan to broaden his knowledge and studied kendo, judo, iaido (sword drawing), and naginata, and has about 25 degrees of black belts. He shares that he felt an imbalance in his Yin and Yang, and wanted to balance his martial side with something cultural, and to live his life bunburyodo style -- which led him to “the way of tea.”
The first kanji 文, bun, represents a letter or writing relating to cultural studies. The second kanji 武, bu, means ‘military’ and is the ‘bu’ found in budo, 武道, martial arts. The third kanji 両, ryo, means ‘both’ or ‘together’. The final kanji, 道, do, that means ‘road’ or ‘path’.
All four kanji characters combine to mean the ability to excel in both cultural ways and martial arts. This is something Soei Sensei strived for and achieved through many years of practice and dedication.
In his time, the Urasenke Gakuen Professional College was still accepting students for a three-year program, but as of late, they offer it for only a year. Randy shares that his application was made from Japan, he paid everything for himself, his transportation and housing, and the grand tea master was gracious enough to give him a scholarship for the actual school fee.
Randy says that through “the way of tea”, he developed a sense of natural awareness and interaction with people, and there’s a bit more calm serenity in him than before.
Through the way of tea, I developed my sense of natural awareness and interaction with people. I think that I have a little bit more calm and serenity in me than I had previously. - Prof. Randy Channell Soei
Being a professor
Randy shares that when he graduated, he became a fully licensed teacher, and in 2011, he received his full professorship. He teaches “the way of tea” at the University of Doshisha, where he was recommended by his current grand tea master. He does the program called International Liberal Arts Program (ILA), a two-credit course with 15 lessons which he conducts in English; he teaches students how to serve a bowl of tea properly.
Wakei-SeiJyaku – 和敬静寂
According to Randy, the spirit of chado (the way of tea) can be expressed in wa-kei-sei-jyaku, a four kanji compound word that brings together the ideas of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility.
Wa – Harmony
Kei – Respect
Sei – Purity
Jyaku – TranquilityJyaku (“tranquility”) can only be experienced when one is in harmony with their surroundings, respects those they are in connection with, and is pure in thought and intention. Jyaku is not a state to achieve, but a moment to briefly experience. The Way of Tea allows both the host and guest to experience a moment of jyaku, tranquility.
Each person has a different experience as to what will bring them to a tranquil state -- it’s very personal. Nick thinks that if people can hear the sound of the water and feel the touch of a bamboo ladle if they are present enough, they will have little touches of tranquility.
Zanshin and mushin
Zanshin – 残心
Roughly translated, zanshin in the context of combat means ‘situational awareness’. It is often described as a related state of heightened awareness. For Randy, zanshin was one of the most powerful phrases when he was doing martial arts
In the context of “the way of tea”, it would translate to “lingering heart” or “remaining mind”, where the host aims to generate a seamless flow of one movement into the next while preparing a bowl of matcha. In short, zanshin is the practice of paying great attention to detail through the awareness of breathing, movement, and body posture; in combat, it is the observation of your opponent.
Mushin – 無心
Randy describes Mushin as “being in the groove” – doing something that you have trained yourself to do without conscious thought. Mushin could be described as reaching a state of flow in what one dedicates himself or herself to. It is something one should try to strive for in what he or she does regardless of whether it’s the practice of martial art or in the participation of a tea ceremony experience.
Randy describes “the way of tea” as sort of precision and action. He also mentions the subtlety and silence of the communication: the host isn’t watching his guest, but is monitoring the guest’s activity nonetheless, and, once he hears the first sip, uses this nonverbal communication as a sign that he should ask, ‘how was the tea?’
Chaji, 'heart of tea', is a formal two-hour tea gathering. However, Randy says that two hours would be short for chaji because usually it takes at least three hours for 2-3 guests, with the length increasing as more people are involved. Most people are unfamiliar with the formal tea assembly, and instead are more familiar with ckakai, meaning "tea meeting", which is an informal gathering. Many people who are studying tea would prefer not to do the formal gathering because of the abundance of time and preparations it requires.
There is work involved for both the host and the guest, since each has expected lines for every individual thing that’s happening. The gathering is divided into the first act, the intermission, and the final act. In the first act, there’ll be a laying of charcoal and a serving of kaiseki (traditional Japanese meal), followed by the serving of sweets.
Guests would then leave the tea room and take their intermission, while the host works hard at rolling up the scroll, wiping out the room, dusting, putting out flowers, and then calling guests back for the preparation of the tea. Finally, the host will prepare and serve thick tea and thin tea, laying charcoal in between.
Koicha and matchaWhile chaji lies at the heart of studying “the way of tea”, at the heart of chaji is the sharing of a bowl of koicha. Koicha is matcha, the purest form of tea because there’s nothing done to it, no form of fermentation -- people are drinking the actual powder of the leaf itself, which makes it nutritious. Randy describes how all tea comes from the same plant: the only difference is how the leaves are processed; for the “way of tea”, only matcha is used.
The Japanese culture through the way of teaRandy is the author of The Book of Chanoyu Tea, the Master Key to Japanese Culture. He shares that every culture expresses hospitality differently; the art of hospitality that they have in Japan today has a lot of its roots in “the way of tea”, though people may not be aware of how their routines and interactions have been influenced by this custom. Various arts like calligraphy, ironworks, and pottery have omotenashi (“hospitality”) as the heart of each craft, and this is present also in “the way of tea”.
Japanese culture is a world treasure that everyone can enjoy. - Prof. Channell Soei
Japanese culture as a world treasure
Randy describes Japanese culture as a world treasure: People from other countries have a huge interest in Japanese culture because of how traditions have been preserved and developed over the centuries, often by designated experts like the grand tea masters who help protect every tradition. Randy thinks that the philosophical side of Japanese culture appeals to a lot of people from different nations.
In countries like Japan, drinking tea has become a customary practice that may seem devoid of significance to many. However, delving into the realm of "the way of tea" reveals a tranquil and fascinating art form. People engage in the ritual of tea to attain a sense of serenity, which is essential in our daily lives and can serve as a wellspring of ikigai.