Making Tea with Children Helps Teach Values

Teaching tea ceremony ideals to children: manners, gentleness, consideration, and harmony.

In Japan, the tea ceremony is more than an artistic pastime for preparation and presentation of matcha. The ideals which it represents can serve as potent tools for teaching children personal and social values.

Although I am Japanese, I was not taught about tea ceremony in school. I did not even see one until I was an adult.

I grew up in a typical Japanese three-generation family. We had a radio, a black and white TV and my aunts, uncles, and cousins lived within walking distance.

Back then, children like me learned their values for the most part by observing and interacting with family members and other children.

Times are different now. Modern families tend to be smaller resulting in fewer role models, and numerous external influences beyond parents’ control can impact children.

Ask any Japanese educator what he or she considers essential for teaching to children. Almost without exception, you will hear the followings:

  • Manners (reigi-sahō)
  • Being gentle (yasashi-sa)
  • Being considerate (omoiyari)
  • Acting in harmony with others (kyochosei)

The tea ceremony is a stunning art form for sure. Many foreigners can attest to that. However, it is, in essence, the purification of values which the Japanese consider important — manners, gentleness, consideration, and harmony.

I am so grateful to our schools and teachers who have stepped in to fill the void. Because of their efforts, we can all hopefully live in a better world when our children become adults.

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Beautiful Harmony

Ideals of peace and harmony a guide for the younger generation to make this world a better place

May 1 in Japan is the dawn of the new era of Reiwa (令和, Beautiful Harmony). The entire country is abuzz with excitement, hope, and anticipation.

Empress Masako will accompany Emperor Naruhito, along with their daughter Princess Aiko

On this day, Naruhito, the 126th emperor of Japan will ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne. The new Empress Masako will accompany him, along with their daughter Princess Aiko.

The name Reiwa is made of two kanji characters. The first, rei, means beautiful. The second, wa, means harmony or peace. Wa is also the word for everything Japanese, as in washoku (Japanese food,)  and wafuku (Japanese clothing, including kimono.)

2019 will officially be known as Reiwa 1. The new era will be used on birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, health insurance cards, train tickets, stamps, coins, receipts, and numerous other documents.

Reiwa will shape the collective Japanese mindset perhaps for decades. I hope its maxim of peace becomes a guide for the younger generation to make this world a better place.

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Memories of Cherry Blossoms

I still hold the simple memories of cherry blossoms heralding change and hope dearly in my heart.There is so much written about the beauty and profoundness of cherry blossoms. And yet, my childhood memories of them are quite simple.

I grew up in Mimasaka, a small town in Okayama prefecture. There, like in everywhere else, spring was the time for new beginnings. When cherry trees began to bloom, I knew that change was about to come to my town and I will start my new school year.

In Mimasaka, rice farming was a central activity. The correct timing for new planting was a crucial factor. Farmers believed that the blooming of cherry blossoms was a sign from the heavens to begin preparations for planting the new crop. Many still think the same. It was a time for celebration, and hope for a good harvest and a prosperous year.

Today, as cherry blossoms open, everywhere in Japan children participate in elementary school entrance ceremonies. Like me back then, their faces are full of nervousness and hope, and their school bags are packed with new classroom supplies.

Japan has changed a lot since I was a child. But, some things never seem to change. I am more sophisticated now and have learned to appreciate cherry blossoms in ways I could have never imagined. But, I still hold the simple memories of cherry blossoms heralding change and hope dearly in my heart.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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Japanese Festival of Dolls (Hina-Matsuri)

Japanese Festival of Dolls 2019

In Japan, one of the sure signs of the arrival of spring is Hina-Matsuri, the Festival of Dolls.

Japanese have celebrated Hina-Matsuri since at least the 8th-century Heian period. During this time Japan experienced a great flourishing in culture. In Heian, playing with dolls was popular not only among young girls but also women of nobility.

Festivities begin in the last week of February. The main festival is always on March 3rd, the third day of the third month. It is a day of national celebration of young girls, and a day of prayers for their wellness and continued happiness in life.

Mother and daughters having meal on Dolls Festival day (Hinamatsuri)

One of the main features of the festival is the display of kimono-clad dolls called Hina-Ningyo.

Families give these beautiful, handmade dolls to their little girls, who keep them for life and pass them down from generation to generation.

For the Japanese, Hina-Ningyo are more than just pretty dolls. They are also magical creatures who possess supernatural powers to ward off evil spirits and protect little girls. .

No celebration in Japan is ever complete without festive dishes, and Hina-Matsuri is no exception.

2019 Hinamatsuri Doll's Festival flyer in Aya town, Miyazaki

Traditional dishes for the day include delicacies such as Chirashi-zushi rice with a variety of mouth-watering toppings, colorful Hina-arare rice crackers, and Hishi-mochi rice cakes shaped like diamonds.

During Hina-Matsuri, a joyful and festive mood blankets the whole of Japan and entire communities.

There is no shortage of restaurants, hotels, day spas, and other businesses which offer special menus and fun activities for the occasion.

The picture is the Hina-Matsuri flyer from a small nearby community called Aya town.

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Keeping Warm in Winter the Japanese Way

I live in a traditional Japanese wooden house with modest insulation.

Engawa is the Japanese version of a veranda/porch which also resembles a sunroom.

It doesn’t snow much here, though winters are fairly cold and nighttime temperatures can dip below freezing.

For me, staying comfortable in winter isn’t as trivial as setting a central heating’s thermostat, which my house doesn’t have anyway. But I manage just fine without it.

Over the centuries, Japanese have learned how to stay warm and comfortable in winters using minimal energy and resources.

I try to put the old wisdom to use, which also helps keep my heating bill low. Below is a short list.

Engawa

Engawa (pictured above) is the Japanese version of a veranda/porch which also resembles a sunroom.

Basically, it is a wide hardwood strip along the edge of the house with sliding windows/doors. It faces south to let in the most winter sunlight.

In winters, windows along the engawa catch the low winter sun and transfer its heat into the adjacent rooms.

In summers, engawa serves as a porch-like veranda. You slide the doors open to let the breeze into the room or sit outside along its edge.

Not surprisingly, the adjacent rooms are the warmest in my house during winter and the coolest in summer.

Engawa is arguably one of the most important elements of Japanese traditional architecture. Japanese movies often include scenes showing the actors sitting on an engawa with the windows open, talking or sipping tea while looking out into the garden.

Kotatsu Table

with a removable table-top, so you can sandwich a big quilt between the table-top and the frame

Kotatsu is a low wooden table with a removable table-top. You can sandwich a big quilt between the table-top and the frame. Almost every home in Japan has one.

My kotatsu is a typical one with a built-in electric heater under the top frame. It has low, medium and a high setting for the really cold nights. On most nights, I’m okay without using the heater.

It’s great for having a meal with legs tucked cozily underneath, using my laptop, watching TV or even taking a nap.

Winter Foods

Seasonal foods are something which I, like most Japanese, look forward to.

stewed in a light, soy-flavored dashi brothThe quintessential Japanese winter dish is “oden”— a simple pot dish stewed in a light, soy-flavored dashi broth.

My favorite oden ingredients are daikons, fishcakes, boiled eggs, atsu-age (deep fried tofu), and konnyaku (konjac).

A hot cup of very low-caffeine green tea (like hoji-cha or genmai-cha) is a wonderful winter nightcap. So is a cup of kuzu-yu, which I sweeten with honey and add things like cinnamon powder, freshly grated ginger or matcha powder.

Slippers

Japanese winter slippers Comfortable winter slippers and a few pairs of warm socks are among my top winter must-haves.

I also keep a few pairs of slippers in my genkan (front entrance) for my guests.

The Old and the New

It is easier to dial a thermostat and heat rooms up, of course. But I would not trade my old winter comforts for a new central heating system.

The age-old routines do more than just keep me warm for a much smaller utility bill. Each offers simple pleasures in its own way, while together they create a way of life, and memories which stay long after winter is gone.Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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