Today I’d like to explore the world of Japanese tea ceremonies. For such a simple little ceremony, they can be pretty intimidating and a bit confusing to the uninitiated. Fortunately for you, though, we’ll be learning about some common mistakes and things to avoid in order to prevent yourself from looking like a baka gaijin. So let’s get to it – what does it take to be a baka gaijin at a Japanese tea ceremony?
1. Don’t Wash Up
Sure, there’s an area outside designated for guests to wash their hands and rinse out their mouths with water to clean up and cleanse their palates, but you came here to drink tea, not water. Besides, you already washed your hands earlier today, right? Not like you touched anything that might’ve been dirty on your way here. And besides, the people you’ll be sharing the tea with have no idea how dirty or clean your hands are. Their health is their own problem, not yours.
So if you’re presented with a basin of some sort to cleanse yourself with, just remember this handy phrase: “Baka gaijin da kara, iranai yo,” (バカ 外人だから 要らないよ. This means, “Please kind sir or madam, I’m a baka gaijin so that’s not necessary, oh ho ho…” This phrase can apply to many different situations, so feel free to use it as you see fit. Your new Japanese friends will be equally impressed with your command of the Japanese language as they are with your impeccable baka gaijinity.
2. Make Yourself Comfy
Upon entering the tea ceremony area, you might see others sitting down seiza style, or perhaps even Indian style. These sitting methods are for babies, so don’t follow their lead. You’re a big, strong, and adult-like baka gaijin, so you need to sit down with purpose. That being said, you’ll want to make sure you sit down sprawled out, taking up as much room as possible, and have your bare feet pointing in the direction of others because, as you might recall from How to be a Baka Gaijin (in the House), sitting like this is a particularly baka gaijin thing to do in any sort of polite setting such as this.
Do you know how long Japanese tea ceremonies last? Way longer than they need to, in your opinion. You just want to eat some snacks, drink some tea, and be on your merry little baka gaijin way. Unfortunately, these tea ceremonies can last up to four hours which is way, way too long for anyone to sit properly and politely for. Might as well just start off sitting comfortably and stay that way instead of putting yourself through all that pain and agony of sitting in seiza the whole time.
3. Gobble Down the Sweets as Soon as They’re Presented
While the tea wizards are doing their magic with the preparation, they’ll present their guests with some sweets to snack on. You should gobble these down as soon as they’re presented instead of waiting politely for them to start making the tea and warming the water and all that other tea magic that you don’t quite understand. You’re a baka gaijin and you have needs. Needs for sweets and no time for waiting. So be sure to gobble them down as soon as possible. It’ll be a good way to subtly hint at the hosts that you don’t really want to be there and they should just hurry up the entire process. Might as well eat everyone else’s sweets while you’re at it.
I’ve only been to one tea ceremony in Japan, but the sweet snack part was just about where things started to get confusing. We got little bean paste cakes or something along those lines and a toothpick. We saw some others using the toothpick device to cut up the sweet and eat very small bites that way so we all followed suit, despite it being very difficult. Later we were told that was a bit overkill, but nobody really told us how to go about doing things. Bottom line here is either have a Japanese person explain what to do beforehand or just follow what everyone else is doing and hope they know more than you do.
4. Guzzle that Tea Like There’s No Tomorrow
Finally. It’s tea time. The moment you’ve been waiting for. You’ve been sitting down for far too long and those sweets were too difficult to eat and not nearly filling enough for your baka gaijin belly. The time for tea has arrived. When it is your turn to drink the tea, you’ll want to be sure to not bow to anyone or thank them – again, you don’t have time for stuff like that.
You might see some other people doing wacky stuff like picking up the tea, putting it in the palm of their hand, rotating it, sipping the tea, and then wiping the brim before setting it down. That’s too much effort. The tea’s going to taste just the same regardless of what fancy maneuvers you do before drinking it, so why waste time? Just gulp it down as soon as you’re able.
The tea is usually pretty bitter (to balance the sweet sweets, you know – yin and yang and all that jazz) so if you don’t like the taste, make sure to twist your face into the most disgusted mug you can muster. This will let everyone know how you felt about the tea. If you’re lucky, after the ceremony they might even ask you to be a judge on the next episode of Iron Chef.
5. Stumble Out of the Room and Fall Over
Before we told you to sit down however you please. Maybe that’s not your style. Maybe you want to show everyone else how strong you are and how you can handle sitting in seiza for hours upon end and not have your legs atrophy beneath you. If you choose this route, you’ll want to make sure to get up as quickly as possible when the ceremony is over. This way you’ll be sure to come to a standing position well before you realize that one (or both) of your legs has fallen asleep without you realizing. Now you’ll be able to stumble about awkwardly, and perhaps take someone else down with you as you crash to the floor.
It’s not too often that I sit in seiza for a really long time, but I did at the tea ceremony I went to in Japan. I didn’t notice that one of my legs had fallen asleep, so when it was time to get up and go, I was a little wobbly. To avoid murdering everyone in the room, you’ll want to make sure all of your limbs are fully functional before arising from the mat. Otherwise, people will die. Just be careful about it and get yourself up slowly.
Mmm… Baka Gaijini-tea
At such a formal ceremony as this, it’s pretty easy to make a baka gaijin out of yourself. From not washing up prior to falling down and making a fool out of yourself post, there’s plenty of baka gaijin things to do at a Japanese tea ceremony. So, armed with this knowledge, you are now prepared to take on the wonderful world of Japanese tea. Show them what it means to be a true baka gaijin**
But in all seriousness, Japanese tea ceremonies are survivable and can be a very enjoyable experience. One thing I do recommend though, is definitely asking a Japanese person to actually show you how to do everything properly. I’ve even been to one before and I still forget some of the stuff you’re supposed to do. Luckily, the people putting on the show weren’t expecting much from us gaijin, so we didn’t embarrass ourselves too much.
And if you want to read more about Japanese tea ceremonies and such, please feel free to check out the links below.
So tell me, have you ever been to a Japanese tea ceremony before? What was it like? Did you see anyone messing up the procedures or making a fool of themselves? Share in on Twitter!
**Please realize that this post is mostly satire and is supposed to be funny. I am aware that gaijin are not the only ones who perform the faux pas in this series of baka gaijin posts. They are just meant to draw attention to some mistakes people might make while in Japan in a humorous manner. Hugs and kisses