Photo from last year's Daichakai taken by the very talented Bernice. Click for more photos!

Photo from last year’s Daichakai taken by the very talented Bernice. Click for more photos!

One of Japan’s three biggest tea gatherings takes place at Matsue Castle and the surrounding area on the first weekend of October every year, and both tea aficionados and novices come together to taste tea from a various of schools and observe their ceremonies. The Matsue Castle Grand Tea Ceremony, a.k.a. Matsue-jo Daichakai, will take place on October 4 and 5 this year, from 9:00am to 3:00pm–or until wagashi run out!

Speaking of wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionaries), it’s not only the various tea schools that will be making special preparations, but the wagashi vendors will also be preparing specially designed wagashi for this event. Those flavors, textures, shapes, and colors will vary across each tent, as will the tea being served. Although matcha (powdered green tea) will take center stage, some schools will instead serve sencha. The sencha schools might appear to have more of a Chinese twist, but two years ago one of the schools prepared koucha (red tea, or more commonly known in the West as black tea) with a distinctly British-Japanese flair!

There will be 11 schools of tea to choose from, each with their own tent. A ticket for one ceremony purchased at the venue is 900yen, or a ticket for three ceremonies will cost 2200yen when purchased in advance from tea vendors throughout the city (800yen tickets are also available in advance). The schools are:

Omotesenke
Urasenke
Mushakojisenke
Sansairyu
Fumairyu-Fumaikai*
Fumairyu-Daienkai*
Urakuryu
Ogasawararyu
Soshinryu
Hoenryu
Hayamiryu

(Recall Lord Matsudaira Fumai is the father of Fumai-ryu)

Comparing the different ways of preparing tea–be it in dainty ways or in warrior-like ways–is one of the best things about having so many schools all together at once. There will also be some special tea ceremonies held at the Matsue History Museum (just northeast of the castle) on the following Sundays from 9am to 3pm so you can try to catch some later that you couldn’t fit in during the big weekend: Oct 12, Oct 19, Oct 26, Nov 2. As much as I’ve liked the space in the history museum for tea ceremonies, I would hate for any tea lovers–or people curious about tea–to miss out on the atmosphere of the first weekend. This page from Bihada Sabo is in Japanese and a little old, but they have some good photos to give you an idea what the event is like.

My plan? Hopefully on Saturday I’ll get to squeeze in three ceremonies for schools I haven’t tried yet, though I might or might not be fitting in a naginata event nearby for part of the morning! There is always such a big line for the koucha ceremony if they have one, so I might head out early and try to get in on the first one. I’ve tried Soshinryu before, but it would be fun to see another sencha style, and round it out with matcha. Not sure which school to go with, but being in Matsue, I supposed one can’t go wrong with one of the Fumai-ryu schools.

As for Sunday, my time is spoken for–the large schools, like Omotesenke and Urasenke, trade out between different teachers/classrooms for who will take responsibility on what day, and my class will be serving tea in the Omotesenke tent. For me personally, that will mean serving wagashi and cups of tea to the guests for most of the day, but I’ll also have a chance to do the o-temae–the preparing of the tea in front of everyone! This will be my Daichakai debut!

I’m a little nervous, but I’ll do my best! Come and see me, and enjoy whatever other tea style styles your fancy while they’re all rounded up together at your convenience–beginners as well as experts welcome~

Side note: This year’s Little Mardi Gras parade in October 5 in the afternoon. Start your day with tea and end it with jazz.

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