Most of this day was spent in the company of my friend Tomoko, whom I met on italki.com. The plan was that we would visit a friend of hers who teaches the tea ceremony - a thrilling if slightly nerve-wracking prospect - before going on to her English class, where I was to be a tame English speaker for the eight or so women (and one man) who take part.
After she picked me up at my hotel we went to lunch, to give us strength for the day's endeavours. The centrepiece of my meal was deep-fried oysters, a new food for me, but really juicy and delicious. (Tomoko went for the fish.)
We had a little time before we caught the bus to her friend's house, so we visited a nearby shrine, where as it happened a Shinto wedding had just taken place:
Cool as that was, my favourite thing about the shrine was the array of ritual cleansing ladles that had been dedicated by pregnant women, wishing for healthy children and easy childbirth - the latter signified by the holes cuts into the base of the ladles to allow passage. Each of the ladle handles had its own prayer:
(Incidentally, the Japanese word for "baby", which you can see on most of these ladles, is "akachan" [赤ちゃん] - i.e. "little red person", which is indeed a pretty accurate of a newborn.)
A ten-minute bus ride later and we were in the Tokyo suburb where Tomoko's friend Shizuyo lives, she being the tea ceremony mistress (master? This was one of the things we pondered in the lesson afterwards). Her house is outwardly unassuming, but within there is a fully-fledged tea ceremony room, along with all the relevant equipment, some of it very valuable. (She showed us a bamboo tea scoop worth several thousand pounds.) Here, Tomoko and I sit under the hanging scroll.
And here a kettle hangs over a hole that contains a charcoal fire, below floor level. The tea caddy and other equipment are to the left:
Properly done, the ceremony involves sitting in seiza for a considerable amount of time, as well as rising and descending from and to that position elegantly, and I had been wondering how well my legs would cope. Things didn't start well when the arch of my right foot (annoyed no doubt at not yet having been mentioned in this journal) got cramp, which made me hop about the tatami map in a way entirely at odds with the formal elegance of the Edo era. After that, however, I did manage to sit for quite a while in something approximating the correct position - long enough to eat some okashi and savour the matcha tea. About the time I should have been politely asking to take a closer look at the tea caddy, however, pins and needles assaulted my big Western feet, and I was forced to spend the rest of the session in the more comfortable (albeit slightly humiliating) position of sitting on a low chair. The whole thing was fascinating, though, and Shizuyo and her assistant (left) were very patient and skilful.
Next we repaired to the English class, where I had to talk about myself a bit - a subject that usually leaves me struggling for words (or at least the right ones) - and then went on the izakaya. It was my first time inside such an institution:
The bar food featured such izakaya classics as yakitori, bamboo shoots, and my particular favourite, a plate of baby squid. (Why don't they serve that at Wetherspoons?) Altogether a wonderful evening - the only melancholy reflection being that the next day would be my last full day in Japan.