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Hakone Japanese Garden Trip
Bay Area Older Adults organized a trip to the Hakone Japanese Gardens in Saratoga on September 27, 2012. We had 16 members attend the event that included a one-hour traditional Japanese tea ceremony hosted by Japanese tea master, Sensei Tsuji, and her apprentice in the garden tea room. Everyone enjoyed their own cup of matcha. Then Sensei Tsuji taught us how to dress and wear a Kimono with the help of three volunteers. Next, we were led by Deborah LeCover in a one-hour tour through the gardens. At half-past noon, the group gathered for a picnic lunch.
The tea ceremony. The ceremony was located in the Lower House. The Japanese tea ceremony, called Ocha in Japanese, is a carefully choreographed symbolic and spiritual ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea. The ceremony was introduced to Japan by a monk named Eisai on his return from China at the end of the 12th century.
We viewed the style of tea preparation called "tencha" in which powdered tea (matcha) is placed into the tea bowl (chawan) using a tea scoop (chashaku), then hot water is added, and the tea and hot water are whisked together using a chasen. Each utensil is ritually cleaned with hot water in the presence of the guests in a precise order and with precise motions, and then placed in a precise arrangement on the table. It was a meditative and peaceful experience to watch the careful movements of our hostess as she prepared usucha (thin tea) for us.
Start of the tea ceremony
We were first offered a sweet treat (cookie and orange rind) to cleanse our palette and prepare us for the contrast with the bitter green tea. The tea is bitter from the healthy anti-oxidants that are extracted from the tea leaves. We bowed together with the Sensei upon receiving our green tea and turned the bowl 180 degrees before drinking out of respect.
Matcha viewing Our Sensei and hostesses
Kimono wearing. Next, three volunteers dressed in kimonos with the help of our hostesses. Kimonos are robes worn so that the hem falls to the ankle with long, wide sleeves. They are wrapped around the body with the left side over the right and secured by a sash called an obi, which is tied at the back. The rest of us watched the colorful display of clothes, the skill of securing the obi, and happy faces of the volunteers displaying their elegant clothing.
The garden tour. Deborah LeCover was our tour guide. She seemed to have endless historical and cultural information to share. First we explored the flat area around the pond (pond garden). Our first stop was the Zen garden, which is for meditation viewing not entering. The Zen garden has a shrine lantern, black pine tree and bamboo. Next, we visited the pond, and she gave us food to feed the large, colorful and friendly koi (wild carp that are black) and nishikigoi (the carp that are bred for color). Koi have been selectively bred in Japan for their color variations. Koi are known for being social, and they live a long life - the oldest koi lived up to 226 years old! Other sites in the pond included the turtles out on the rock sun bathing. They looked like a statue.
Some of us stood while others took a seat on the benches under the Wisteria trellis and learned about the structure and meaning of the garden. From here were spectacular views of the upper house on Moon Viewing Hill and the lower garden. We learned that walking across the moon bridge symbolizes movement from the world of humans into the wider world of all forms and beings.
Moon Viewing Hill
Moon bridge and lower garden
Next we climbed the steps to the upper house, past the waterfall and views of the lower garden.
Stairway to upper house Waterfall
Lower garden views
The bamboo garden. From here, we strolled to the bamboo garden that was built through the combined efforts people and organizations from both Saratoga and its sister cities Muko and Kyoto in Japan. At the end of the garden is an area with a stone path surrounded by small white rocks. In the middle is the Misaki shrine which is dedicated to the Hachiman, the god of protection. After all our learning and walking, it was time to feed the mind and body. We ate lunch in the picnic area.