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Shiga: German woman plays key role in sencha tea ceremony

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ute Sawada places charcoal into a fire pot during a tea offering ceremony in Otsu on Oct. 22.

OTSU — A German woman played a key role in a sencha tea ceremony at Hiyoshi Taisha shrine in Otsu on Oct. 22.

Spectators watched with interest as Ute Sawada, 30, performed with the Obaku Baisa school that specializes in sencha tea ceremonies. She was entrusted with one of the roles in the ceremony, adding sumi charcoal to the fire used to boil water.

While the well-known version of the tea ceremony serves matcha made from powdered tea dissolved in hot water, the school’s tea ceremony serves sencha by brewing tea leaves.

The shrine manages Hiyoshi Chaen, considered to be the oldest tea garden in Japan. The school has participated in tea picking at the garden every May since 2012 and offers a deity tea made from freshly picked tea leaves every autumn.

Sawada moved from Germany to Japan in 2018 and joined the school. Now she has risen to the rank of jun-shihan (deputy grand master). After she elegantly added charcoal to the fire, school head Takanori Nakazawa made tea, which he then offered to the deity enshrined at Hiyoshi Taisha.

“I was able to perform it calmly,” Sawada said after the ritual. “I saw a butterfly flying during the ceremony, which convinced me that the deity was happy.”