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Exhibition features Japanese Tea utensils

Twenty-five exquisite Japanese tea utensils used in the Japanese tea ceremony will be featured at an exhibition at the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware from tomorrow (October 31) to December 3 to enhance visitors' understanding of Japanese art and culture.

The exhibition, "Japanese Tea Ceremony Utensils Exhibition", is presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, the Japan Society of Hong Kong and the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Hong Kong Association, and supported by the Consulate-General of Japan in Hong Kong.

On display will be Japanese tea vessels dating from the Meiji period (1868-1912) to the 21st century. Some of the utensils either originated from or were inspired by ancient Chinese tea culture. Others are commonly used in the tea ceremony in Japan today. This exhibition also showcases the development of the Japanese tea ceremony and the history of Urasenke.

Speaking at today's opening ceremony, the Assistant Director (Heritage and Museums) of Leisure and Cultural Services, Dr Louis Ng Chi-wa, said that evolving from the Chinese tea culture of the Tang dynasty, the Japanese tea ceremony gradually emerged as a unique tea culture with distinct Japanese features. The exhibition would not only enrich an understanding of the Japanese tea ceremony, but also promote cultural exchanges between China and Japan.

National prosperity and cultural accomplishments in the Tang dynasty (618-907), coupled with the publishing "Chajing" (Classic of Tea) written by the tea connoisseur Lu Yu (active c. 760-800), helped make tea a national drink in China. With this background, tea was introduced into Japan from China along with the spread of Buddhism during that time. In the very beginning, the custom of tea drinking was only popular at the Japanese court and among the upper classes and monks, where powdered tea was used in line with the preparation process recommended by Lu Yu.

In the Song dynasty (960-1279) of China, the whipped tea method had developed and became the most popular way for preparing tea. All social classes lavished special attention on enjoying the refreshing drink. It was at this time that tea making competitions came into fashion, pushing Chinese tea culture to a new zenith.

A Japanese scholar-monk, Eisai Zenji (1141-1215), made two study trips to China during the time of the Southern Song dynasty. On his way back to Japan in 1191, he took tea seeds with him. He became the pioneer to promote the Chinese way of tea drinking in Japan. His work, "Kissa Yojoki" (Tea drinking is good for health), written in Chinese and the first book in Japan devoted to tea drinking, gives an account of tea production methods, the preparation of tea drinking by the whipped tea method prevalent in the Song dynasty and the beneficial effects of tea on health. From that time on, powdered tea has become the mainstream in making tea in Japan. With Eisai's influence, the custom of drinking tea became popular among the general population, paving the way for the later development of the Japanese tea ceremony.

In the 16th century, Murata Shuko (1422-1503) added the spiritual elements of Buddhism and Confucianism into the way of tea and emphasised the importance of the "heart". Based on Shuko's ideas, Takeno Joo (1504-1555) further developed the philosophy of tea and regarded the concepts of honesty, humility and unpretentiousness to be central to Chado.

The person who brought the way of tea to perfection was Sen Rikyu (1522-1591). He emphasised the importance of harmony of the tearoom and utensils used. His ideals are expressed in four words: 'wa', 'kei', 'sei', 'jaku' meaning harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility respectively.

After Sotan, the Sen family was divided into three households and from which arose the three main lines - Omotesenke, Urasenkei and Mushanokojisenke tradition of Tea. During the Meiji period, the 11th generation, Gengensai of Urasenkei, for the purpose of introducing Japanese tea to foreigners, established a new manner of preparing tea called 'Ryurei', a style which literally means 'standing style'.

After the war, the philosophy of Chado was highly appreciated and Chado has become more and more widespread not only in Japan but also overseas. Urasenke is the most influential line in Tea in Japan.

Today, the Japanese tea ceremony has embraced Japanese food culture, ceramic art, religion, architectural design, gardening, flower arrangement and fine art. We can learn more about the lifestyle of Japanese, their art and aesthetic values, and the philosophy behind them through a better acquaintance with the Japanese tea ceremony.

To tie-in with the exhibition, Ms Florence Leung, Ms Joanne Lam, Ms Eliza Li and Mr Ogata Koichi will demonstrate Japanese tea drinking every Saturday in November at 2pm and 3pm on the North lawn of the museum. Conducted in Cantonese, admission to the activity is free and 40 seats are available on a first-come-first-served basis.

Located at 10 Cotton Tree Drive, Central, Hong Kong (inside Hong Kong Park), the Museum of Tea Ware is open from 10am to 5pm daily and is closed on Tuesdays. Admission is free.

For more information, visit the Museum of Tea Ware's website at , or call 2869 0690 or 2869 6690.

Ends/Tuesday, October 30, 2007
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