I’ve served in an all-day tea event before at Ichibata Yakushi Temple by carrying the tea and sweets (o-hakobi), but the Matsue Castle Grand Tea Ceremony is one of the Top 3 (all three share this title, no one thing is chosen as Number 1) tea gatherings in Japan. Although I had done part of the preparing of the tea (o-temae) for my tea school’s private Hatsugama (New Years tea ceremony), this was my first time doing it in front of strangers–up to 50 of them at a time, though we served hundreds of people in one day.

Although most people only served once–twice if they were lucky–I wound up performing o-temae three times. By the end of the day the guests were dwindling, and we were already running out of the wagashi we had specially prepared and switched to some extras from one of the other tea schools. There was a huge lot of us in back with different jobs to do all day long, but we started the day with a cup of matcha, and made sure to end it that way, too. In the second to last serving there was only a handful of people (the rain and wind from the typhoon really started picking up towards the end of the day), so we had half the people serving go take a break and enjoy being served. Over the course of that seating, though, we had person after person after person dwindling in, which made o-hakobi with half the staff pretty confusing! Even the people who had finally had a break wound up drinking quickly so they could slip back and help make tea for all the late-comers.

After that one ended we figured the other half of the staff would take their break for the last serving, but I didn’t mind waiting until after the official part of things to have my cup–after all, no sense being understaffed when more people might wander in for that last-chance serving. Furthermore, I figured someone else would finally take a turn or have a chance to take their second turn doing o-temae, so I wanted to make sure that would go smoothly for them. But behold, no one felt like it and they were happy to have me do it.

So off I went to do it a third time! I’m afraid I might have exchange work to do next year, so there’s a good chance this is was my only chance–and I certainly got every drop of experience I could out of it.

The back-up wagashi we had (which I enjoyed the day before in the Urasenke tent), called “Unka” (Clouds and Flowers).

Look! The an is pink!

I’ll recap my serving experience a bit first, and then share a little about when I just went around as a guest the day before and tried out some other schools of tea!