the way of tea: an interview with drew hanson

This is part five in my series of interviews with chanoyu practitioners, This time with Drew Hanson, Urasenke instructor in the United States.  You can read part one of this interview series with Gabrielle Soga Caciula of Belgium here; part two with Morgan Beard of Philly Tea, Philadelphia here, part three with Rebecca Lyn Cragg from Camellia Teas in Ottawa, Canada here, and part four with Michael Ricci here.

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Tell me about your connection to Japan and what ignited your passion for tea.

I’ve been a student of the Urasenke Tradition of Japanese Tea for 15 years. Currently, I teach the tea ceremony at Shofuso (The Japanese House and Garden) in Philadelphia and privately at my home. My interest in Japanese Tea began many years ago with an interest in Japanese ceramics. From there, my interests spread to include other Japanese arts. While building my Japanese-style garden (I’m an avid gardener), I thought it might be interesting to have a tea house in it.

After some intensive study, I began construction and then realized that if I were going to have a tea house, I should know something about tea. I enrolled in the tea program at La Salle University in Philadelphia, and the rest is history. I have visited Japan twice and studied at the Urasenke headquarters in Kyoto. In April of this year, I received my chamei (tea name), which is bestowed by the Grand Tea Master after a student has mastered all levels of practice.

photo creative commons by mr hayata

The tea ceremony, while being very special, can be a little intimidating to newcomers – why is it special to you and what do you think non-Japanese can take and learn from it.

Yes, a newcomer might be intimidated by the tea ceremony; however, if it is presented in a very natural, simple manner, that type of anxiety can be almost eliminated. I find that most new students are intrigued by the beauty of the movements as well as the attention to detail and the fact that everything a host does in preparing tea is done expressly for the guest.

For me, the experience of tea is spiritual. It both focuses my mind and centers my energy. It provides moments of peacefulness and/or tranquility. And in our continually ‘plugged-in’ world, such moments are extremely welcome. If one can detach him/herself from all the addictive, electronic gadgets which surround us and enter into a totally quiet time, the rewards are phenomenal, and they may be enjoyed by Japanese and non-Japanese alike.

photo creative commons via flickr

Can you tell me a little about your very first experience with chanoyu.

I first experienced chanoyu at a demonstration of the tea ceremony held at Shofuso and conducted by a woman who later became my second teacher.

In terms of instruction, how long have you been practicing chanoyu, how has your learning changed over time.

As I indicated above, I’ve been practicing chanoyu for 15 years, and I continue to study. Over time and with the learnings that accumulate, I’ve felt myself more and more connected to the 400+ years of history that’s preceded me. Studying chanoyu includes more than just studying about tea and the various ways the tea ceremony may be presented. A student learns how to prepare the foods that are served at a formal tea gathering, about ceramics, lacquer ware, metals, flowers and flower arranging, and perhaps most important of all—how one relates on a deeply personal level with the guests for whom the tea ceremony is presented.

photo creative commons by suvi flagan

What have you learnt through practicing chanoyu.

The practice of chanoyu focuses the practitioner on the immediate moment (Ichigo Ichiie—one time, one meeting) and asks that that moment be lived fully because it will never come again. Moments in time are precious. If they can be entered into with a pure and open heart, they will give meaning to a lifetime of experiences. When I sit in front of the kettle and begin the preparation of tea, I fully engage in that moment and each successive moment as it occurs, not anticipating anything.

Tell me how you best translate the traditional tea ceremony to your tea practices at home, how are they simplified, what is still really important.

I do prepare matcha for myself at home. When I do, I don’t go through every step in the process; however, my heart and mind are focused, and I attempt to remain in each moment completely. Although I’m now retired, while I was still working, I did prepare tea for myself twice a day with the same concentration on the moment.

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Drew Hanson has been a student of the Urasenke Tradition of Japanese Tea since 1995 and is a licensed teacher in this tradition. In addition to the demonstrations he presents at Boukakuan, he frequently demonstrates the Japanese Tea Ceremony at Shofuso, The Japanese House and Garden in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, as well as at other venues in the metropolitan Philadelphia area. Drew holds a Ph.D. in American Literature from The Pennsylvania State University and has over 20 years experience teaching writing, literature, and poetry on the college level. He can be contacted via email.

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  1. […] Part 5: Interview with Drew Hanson – Drew is an Urasenke instructor in the Philadelphia area and has studied Chado for over 15 years. […]



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