Elizabeth Tanaka put the lid on a furo (tea pot) during a single-bowl tea ceremony last week at her Temple home. Elizabeth — the director of International Student Services at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor — studied the art of conducting tea ceremonies while teaching at Allen International Junior College, a sister school of UMHB that is located in rural northern Japan. David Stone photo

Temple woman is certified to perform more than a dozen different Japanese tea ceremonies


Japanese tea ceremonies elevate the simple task of brewing a drink for a guest to an art form, and the series of intricate movements are performed in a specific order depending on the occasion and the time of year. The tea-making protocol comes in many forms, and a Temple woman is certified to perform more than a dozen special ceremonies.

“I studied the art of making tea in Japan,” Temple resident Elizabeth Tanaka said this week. “I have a basic instructor’s license, and I am qualified to open my own tea ceremony school.”

Elizabeth, who graduated from Temple High in 1984, taught English in northern Japan for about five years during the 1990s. While there, she studied tea ceremonies and Japanese flower arranging.

“My dad taught at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and at Temple Junior College,” she said. “UMHB had a sister school in Japan — Allen International Junior College. Some students from Allen came to UMHB, and a friend and I served as student tutors.”

Later, after the students returned to Japan, Elizabeth and the friend decided to visit.

“We went to Allen — it’s in a rural area of northern Japan — and we did some tutoring. They put us up in dorms, and we conducted some conversational English classes. The next summer another group from Allen came to UMHB and their administrators invited us to go back to Japan and work full time for a year.”

The one-year commitment stretched to five years, and Elizabeth became immersed in Japanese culture.

“I wasn’t married, didn’t own a house and had no kids,” she said. “I thought, why not stay.”

Elizabeth lived in Japan from 1990 to 1995, and while she was there she began studying the arts — specifically, she began taking classes in tea ceremonies and floral arrangements.

“I just felt like it was God’s plan for my life at the time,” she said. “I was in a very small town — very isolated, and very few people spoke English. A new friend invited me to join her at a tea class, and I really got into it. I learned by watching the master tea makers and students who were new to the craft. I watched, and I learned.”

“I loved it, which made me a pretty diligent student. I studied the Kobori Enshu style, which is not one of the popular styles because it is very precise and a bit harder than some of the other ways of celebrating with tea.”

Elizabeth said that after the class covered a specific ceremony, a test was given. After a student passes 12 ceremony tests, they are eligible to take an instructor’s exam.

“In Japan, there is a tea ceremony for just about everything,” she said. “Seasons, festivals, events, but the most basic ceremony teaches respect for guests and friends. That’s why you take so much care — it’s about entertaining and respecting your guest.”

“The first ceremony I learned was for making a single bowl of matcha, finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves. After you master making one bowl, you make two bowls, then you make tea to put in containers. It’s very specific and complex.”

“Much of the protocol is based on the seasons,” she said. “The water is boiled in different ways depending on what time of year it is. During June, it’s called fishing. The pot is hung from a bamboo pole over a tatami floor, kind of like fishing with a bamboo pole. The winter style puts the fire in a copper-lined box set into the floor because it maintains the heat better. The fire box is either below the floor or on the floor, depending on the season. It’s very specific.”

The cast iron fire box contains a smokeless charcoal called sumi, allowing it to safely be used indoors.

“I have tea equipment from Japan,” she said, demonstrating the art of making a single bowl of matcha. “My tea instructor gave me a stock-pot sized cast iron pot. It’s broken and he was going to throw it away, but it works fine.”

The fire pit — or shikiita — is about two feet tall and holds charcoal and about a gallon of water above the sumi. All utensils — a small scoop or chaire is for measuring the matcha, and a water ladle or hishaku is used to put water into the pot. Tea is whisked with a bamboo chassen until it reaches the desired look and taste.

“In tea ceremonies, every movement has a purpose and everything is arranged in an exact order,”Elizabeth said. “The matcha is arranged in the shape of Mount Fuji, for example. Nothing is left to chance. It’s like Zen meditation — mindfulness to the enth degree.”

Water is poured from a bamboo hishaku into a teapot during a single-bowl matcha ceremony performed last week by Temple resident Elizabeth Tanaka. She is certified to perform more than a dozen tea ceremonies and is licensed to teach the Kobori Enshu style of tea making. David Stone photo
Elizabeth Tanaka takes a sip of matcha tea following a single-bowl ceremony at her Temple residence. The tea vessel is known as a chawan in Japan. David Stone photo

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