Traditional Japanese tea ceremony ‘served’ in English

Tea bowl and utensils.| Photo courtesy of Maiko Behr

Tea bowl and utensils.| Photo courtesy of Maiko Behr

Maiko Behr, a Japanese tea ceremony expert who teaches tea ceremony workshops to English speakers at the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre, has been holding tea ceremony workshops at the Nikkei Centre since the summer of 2013. This September, she will be giving her 14th workshop.

I participated in the Tea Ceremony Club at the Nikkei Centre, which is held in Japanese, and I felt that it was important to offer the opportunity to learn about tea ceremonies to English speakers as well,” says Behr.

The workshops can accommodate individuals interested in taking one class.

“Participants can take the workshop just once or they can come back as many times as they want and learn something new each time,” says Behr. “Each session is a self-contained unit so it is not necessary to attend them in a particular sequence and participants can choose the topics that are most interesting to them personally.”

Nature’s place in the ceremony

Behr teaches a different workshop monthly to fit to the season. Each workshop surrounding the practice of Japanese tea ceremonies differs from one another by focusing on different aspects of the cultural art and history.

“A keen awareness of the changing of the seasons and the passing of time is a fundamental attribute of Japanese traditional culture in general and it is critical to the appreciation of Japanese tea ceremony,” Behr explains.

Through the workshops, students learn the guidelines of how to properly drink tea in a ceremonial setting as well as how to make the experience unique for all involved. In particular, the here and now aspect of tea ceremonies is very present in Behr’s seasonal workshops where she teaches how to live in the moment.

“For [Japanese tea ceremonies], the changing of the seasons is extremely important because nature is always around us, but it is also always changing, drawing attention to those constant changes in nature,” says Behr. “We are able to appreciate the uniqueness of the current moment.”

Diverse interests

The idea of taking a tea ceremony workshop is attractive to many different people for many different reasons.

“Some people just love drinking tea and want to sample the matcha teas and sweets. Some people are interested in wearing kimonos. Some people are interested in samurai history. Some people love Japanese culture in general and want to learn more about it,” says Behr.

The list of motivations to take a workshop like this goes on and on, but all reasons are related to the art of the tea ceremony.

“Even when people come from very different entry points, they often find that there is much more to the practice of tea than they realized and the more they learn about it the broader their interest becomes,” says Behr.

Through taking Behr’s workshops, people are often surprised by how much there is to learn about the art of tea.

“Although I think that each person takes away something different from the workshops, one common response is that people are always amazed at how much more complex the art form is than they expected,” adds Behr.

Discussing the art of the tea ceremony and the thematic content is always interesting, finds Behr, but what tends to be more significant is the tranquil experience of sitting in the tea room.

“[It] has a contemplative effect that grounds us and focuses our senses on the present, creating a period of calm and mindfulness of our surroundings that is a small but welcome escape from our otherwise hectic day-to-day lives,” says Behr.


Maiko Behr’s series of workshops begins with Otsukimi (Moon-Viewing Tea) on Sunday, Sept. 13.

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