Mindfulness in Japan - Calligraphy, Tea Ceremony, Incense & Archery

Mindfulness - to be in the moment completely, not thinking about past or present

Focus - being able to concentrate on only the current activity.

The Way - the 'do' in many traditional Japanese arts such as Shodo (traditional Japanese Calligraphy), Sado (Japanese Tea Ceremony), and the more well-known martial art of Judo - all consist of a set of steps to provide focus, to help achieve a mindful, meditative state while completing a particular task.

Shodo - Japanese Calligraphy - The Way of Writing

Honda Soufu guiding participants

Honda Soufu guiding participants

Shodo was introduced to Japanese from China in the 6th century. There are several different schools, styles and techniques. In our class we focused on just one character "生" meaning 'life'.

Our instructor, Honda Soufu, first taught us how to hold the brush to produce different types of lines then had the class practicing before making a postcard to take home. She explained the origins and meanings of the character and how it related to mindfulness and living in the moment.

Sado - Tea Ceremony - The Way of Tea

Dressed and ready for the tea ceremony

Dressed and ready for the tea ceremony

Japanese tea ceremony is thought to have evolved from an 8th century book, entitled the Cha Ching, which outlined the way tea should be prepared. It referred to the temperature of the water and types of vessels to be used to drink the tea et cetera.

Tea ceremony is a formal occasion with participants wearing kimono and strictly following the steps and protocols of the Way of Tea. On this tour the ladies chose kimono then were dressed by the staff before entering the tea room through the special small door in the room. From the point of entry to the cleaning of the tea ceremony equipment, strict protocols are followed. You can see a sample here.

Tea was prepared by the host while the guests ate Japanese sweets. Sweets are eaten before the tea is drunk to provide harmony between the sweetness and the astringency of the tea. Each guest was served their tea in turn with the host following the prescribed steps for each cup of tea and guests saying the required phrases at the required times throughout the ceremony.

The flowing beauty of the host making tea was a testimony to her absorption in the task. It draws the guest in, allowing them to also be in each moment totally, encouraging the entire room to be mindful, to be meditative.

Kodo - Incense Ceremony - The Way of Incense

The incense ceremony formed out of a game for the aristocracy then later merchants and common people to discern the differences between different incense woods. Later a set of steps and protocols were created to build this mindful practice focusing on fragrance.

Within Incense ceremony, the technique Monkou 聞香 is described in Japanese as 'listening' to the incense, rather than smelling. By listening more both within to be open to the fragrance, to appreciate it's different aspects and feel a sense of unity and selflessness.

The ceremony took place in a gorgeous Japanese-style room overlooking a secluded Japanese-style garden. Each participant had a chance to follow the Way of Incense to set up their incense burner and partake of the fragrances of three different samples of incense wood in the burners. We all came out very relaxed and smelling wonderful. Unfortunately we were unable to take pictures here but it was an amazing experience.

Kyudo - The Way of the Bow

Higher level students practicing for their next grading

Higher level students practicing for their next grading

Existing in some form since the 1200's, it wasn't until peace fell across Japan in the 1600's that Kyudo became popular as a meditative exercise.

It is used as a mindful/spiritual practice where the focus is completely on the process with no attachment to outcome. During a grading, if a participant is obviously aiming for the target, they lose points. Also if they are fidgeting or looking around, or of course fail to follow the required steps.

At the moment the arrow is released, high level Kyudo practitioners have been shown to have brainwaves the same as those produced by meditating Buddhist monks. At the same time, beginners must build the physical aspects first - the strength, the steps and which way to move in each step of the process. Once the physical is mastered, the long process of taming the mind begins. You do not need to be physically strong to do Kyudo, but to move up the ranks you must practice clearing your mind of other issues to focus purely on your form.

The next mindfulness tour is scheduled for April 2018. If you are interested, please let me know and I will get you more information.