Monday, March 30, 2015

A Stroll in the Happoen garden and tea ceremony,Tokyo

Ever since my tickets were booked to Tokyo, two things were on priority in my ‘to do list’: Japanese tea ceremony and Kimono wearing experience. Read Asakusa and Kimono wearing experinece
Happoen garden is a beautiful Japanese garden in Tokyo which has a  traditional tea ceremony house. Everything in Japan has a unique feature, whether it is gardens or toilets or escalators it has a strong Japanese impressions characterized by its small size and brevity. I think they believe in the principle of   ‘ small is beautiful’.

Waterbody in Happoen garen
A stream running through the green garden, a small water falls, a traditional tea house, restaurant,  old Bonsai trees, beautifully dressed up Japanese brides busy in posing for photo shoots, garden full of vibrations of celebrations yet maintaining silence…. That was Happoen garden nestled amid the skyscrapers. It has a banquet hall and there were couple of weddings ceremonies. Bride and the family in gorgeous kimonos were  adding to the beauty of the garden.

Japanese bride

Women in Kimonos
I walked through the Bonsai garden. Some of these miniature trees were more than 500 years of age.  Somehow I can’t appreciate Bonsai. For me it always seems that Bonsai is curbing the natural growth. 

500 year old Bonsai tree
Few meters away from where I stood  I could see an old house right on the bank of a pristine lake. The view was soothing and enchanting. Perfect tranquil setting for a tea ceremony.

Winter trees
I spent some time next to the lake which was reflecting the trees around. The autumn trees  were awaiting  for spring to create the  magic of  cherry blooms. I wonder how beautifully this place  might transform during cherry blossom. I could see skyscrapers right across the garden. Yet it was like 100 miles away from the city.

When I reached  the traditional tea ceremony house, it was full. People were waiting outside. When it was our turn we entered the house which could accommodate 10-12 people. There were two women in the kimonos welcoming us with a bow. They offered seat. One of the women was introduced herself as the host or tea master who will lead the tea ceremony. Then for the next 10-15 minutes I witnessed  the lengthy procedure of tea making ceremony which looked like a well-choreographed performance.

Tea master
The host started the rituals which  involved many steps. I don’t know how will they remember those small but several hand movements. The other lady in the house offered us sweets. Typical of Japanese size they were tiny pieces of sweets. 
Sweets served in the tea ceremony. Look at the size
It was not supposed to be eaten until host asks us to eat.Then she  continued with the rituals. After cleaning the bowl she asked us to eat the sweet. Then she prayed, performed some purification rituals. Then she added two spoons of green tea into the bowl and poured water. Then she whisked with the same gracefulness. Finally after praying she offered this to the guest seated in her right side corner. The guest is supposed to be the chief guest. Then they offered tea to all of us. Before drinking we were directed to turn the tea cup anticlockwise thrice and also were advised to repeat the same after finishing the tea. This symbolizes   showing respect to the host. Japanese green tea is literally green in colour and made of fine   green tea powder. Tea mster asked us ‘ how was the tea’?  We answered ‘ it was good’ as advised by our guide even though it tasted highly bitter.

Green tea
The whole procedure of cleaning the utensils, purifying , praying  was full of graceful movements. Every movement like  the way  they hold the ladle or pour the hot water was showing gratitude to the natural elements. They call it as Chadou. The literal meaning is ‘the way of tea’ .
 The whole  process is thanking the supreme power which in their case the elements and transferring the gift of the supreme to the guests. I am not sure if I understood it correctly.

All about tea house
I was told there are many schools of tea ceremonies. In the tea ceremony I attended the tea master performed the ritual in a standing position. There are tea ceremonies where they perform it sitting on the ground. May be next time I try a different method.

The ceremony was over after the final silent bow from the host. She stood outside the house. I took leave from the tea house.

Related post you may like to read 

Monday, March 16, 2015

How I met Tagore twice during my travel

Yes. I met Rabindranath Tagore twice within few months during my travels outside India. 

First meet 
It was early in the morning. I boarded  a taxi to  hotel from the Berlin airport. My eyes were glued  outside the windows enjoying the fresh morning and the trees in autumn colors.

I expected a least to hear anything about India in the foreign land. Driver of the taxi pulls me into a conversation with general questions about my whereabouts. The moment I mention I am from India, he says ‘ Do you know Rabindranath Tagore ?’. He picks up a book next to him and says ‘ I am reading his Gitanjali poems for the 2nd time’ .  Ah! What a morning  it was when I was hearing a driver in foreign land reading India's one of the finest poets of the last century. 

Tagore is a part and parcel of my life like millions of Indians. More than a poet who wrote Indian national anthem, his feminish kind of writings, depiction of babu class of Bengal, inspired lines from Vaishnava poets and bahuls of Bengal –all gushed in to my memory lane. I also felt amazed by thinking about the kind of general eduction this country provides where a driver can read poetry in  translation.

Second meet
I had opted for walking tour in Seoul. Mr. Lee was assigned as  walking tour guide to show some of the alley ways and Korean market place. He was such a sweet enthusiastic person and was probably in his sixties. While walking through the alleys Mr. Lee, hesitantly asks me ‘ Do you know Rabindranath Tagore ? I nod  'ofcourse yes'. He continues with growing enthusiasm ‘ after knowing  that my todays guest is from India I was thinking how do I make her happy by saying something good about India. Then Tagore came to my help’. I was like wow! Here once again Tagore . The bygone yet remembered poet of India came in the midst of travel like he came in Berlin.Mr. Lee was holding a photocopy of the pamphlet in his hand which contained excerpt from Tagore’s poem ‘ Lamp of the East’.

 In 2011 Korean govt joined hands with India to commemorate Tagore's 150 birth year. Koreans  fondly remember Tagore and his poem ‘Lamp of the east.’  He wrote the poem when Korea was under Japanese imperialism during his visit to Japan in 1929, prophesizing Korea will emerge like a star in the coming years.  This piece of poetry influenced thousands of Koreans under slavery to get inspired and fight back Japan.And they made it. We know where Korea is in the world map today. Tagore wrote the poem  about Korea , the place he never visited.  Recently in 2011 , Korean government has  installed a bust of the ever charming poet in Dehangro,the cultural heart of  Seoul city.
Poetry  has no boundaries !! Politics divides people, where as poetry unities them.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

7 things to know before travelling to Beijing

Though this post is specifically written for Beijing. It can be applicable for China in general and also for  any non English speaking countries. I have had troubles  in my first travel. Once, I was lost  for half a day in search of some particular hutong ( Chinese famous alleyways) in Beijing as I was not carrying map with me.

Here are 6 things to know before  travelling to Beijing.
  1. First thing you need as soon as you arrive is Hotel name in Chinese. Otherwise, there is no way you ending up in your hotel. Keep  print out of the hotel name  in Chinese ready with you 
  2. If you are a vegetarian, you can read tips for vegetarians here Vegetarian tips   
  3. Local trains are the cheapest  mode of travel in Beijing. It just costs 2RMB from one end to the other end irrespective of the distance. It seems  they have not increased the price from quite some years. If you have a map in hand and know where do you want to go, then it shouldn’t be any problem to travel cheap locally
  4. Shopping – If you are traveling to Beijing,invariably you will be suggested to go to Yashow and Silk markets. Unless you are good in bargaining don’t even try to buy anything.  I bought a top for 40RMB which was  quoted as high as  950RM.They show you the price on their calculator. You start asking 10% of what they quote.
  5. Maps – If you are traveling on your own by train don’t forget to carry maps with you. Not only map of train route to identify where you need to catch your train and where you need to get down. But also map in detail to show  your destination after you step out of the station. I lost half day in search of a place which I never reached.
  6. Lastly, if you are addicted to Google and Facebook be prepared  to say temporary goodbye  to  these social networks. China government has blocked these sites. Some say that it works through VPN. For me it didn't. Whatever you need to Google, keep everything ready before you travel. 
  7. When you budget for your travel, be generous to keep good budget for entry fees. I found Entry fee  in China is very high . Of course it is in comparison with other Asian countries.
Are you interested in China. Pls browse through the blog for more posts
Have you traveled to China ? Pls add any more tips that I have not covered.

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