A quiet place where you can forget about the hustle and bustle of the city, along a deep alley about 5 minutes on foot from the intersection of Omotesando. The building where the candy entangles in the milky white wall that appears in such a place is "MY SENCHA SALON" where a lesson of sencha (tea ceremony using leaf Sencha tea rather than powdered Matcha tea) is performed on the table. We interviewed Michiho IGA san, who is the organizer of the “MY SENCHA SALON”. Her father is the master (Iemoto) of Sencha. In our interview, we reveal what is the secret of Iga san who attracts women in their 20s to 40s in the world of Sencha, which young people tend to feel difficult to approach.
Michiho IGA / MY SENCHA SALON
As a daughter of Senyu SHIMAMURA, the third generation of Sankitei Baisa School of Sencha Tea Ceremony Foundation, she has been familiar with Sencha-do (The art of Sencha ceremony) from an early age. She graduated from The Women's Christian University in 2007.
Currently, she is active mainly in Tokyo and Hiroshima as a PR of Sankitei Baisa School. In the spring of 2016, she opened “MY SENCHA SALON OMOTESANDO” to introduce Sencha ceremony in more casual way. She collaborates with Japanese sweets and kimono salons to introduce lessons, produces original tea-wares “MY CHAKI”, and provides Japanese sweets and Sencha catering service “Catering Sencha by Sanki”.
She promotes the "culture of hospitality" with the Sankitei Baisa school's motto “Sencha ceremony that anyone can do anytime, anywhere".
What is Sencha-do Sanki-tei Baisa School?
Around 1890 a young man started on a trip throughout the country to become the man of letters. At the end of is long journey finally he found the words of Baisa-O by chance, and sympathized with "The words of Baisa-O". I wonder he knew or not that Baisa-O also had hard-traveled in his young days. It is said a man might understand the world through his own experience. Since then he improved the way of Sencha tea ceremony that he had followed the example of his father, and started to spread it as Baisa-Ryu.As the truth that he gained by his efforts－for his first step following his father's and grand father's.
For 100 years, there are so many helps －various tea ceremony parties or enthusiastic flower exhibitions－ of people who sympathized his idea until we were authorized as a foundation. Because of their cooperation we shared joy and pleasure, respected ,and all united. "After completion, Sench tea ceremony would be organizes as a form of arts. But the most important thing is not the system as result but our life－whether we can live our lives truly by making use of Sencha tea ceremony or not. I think the process to try it is important."
This is the speech when I succeeded to the Master and I have advocated since then. For 20 years the head and branch offices have kept studying to reach for the spirit of Sencha tea ceremony by constant and steady practices. There must be some difficulties, but we are contented with joy and believe that dreams come true.
- What do you usually do at MY SENCHA SALON?
I provide private Sencha lessons everyday. The students are mainly women in their 20s and 40s, most of whom got to know my salon through my SNS. Recently, there are increasing numbers of collaboration events such as JICA training programs. Each lesson is mainly about space decoration, such as how to decorate Japanese sweets, bowls and flowers according to the season, students' preferences and the aura of each student. This salon is the main venue but sometimes I visit some other places as well. Our school keeps it in mind that the Sencha practice is incorporated into everyday life, not as a bride training or manner. The most important thing is to enjoy the space itself, so it is essential to work on decorations that vary depending on the person and the situation.
(JICA's training program)
- What are students' takeaways?
I found that most people who want to try Tea ceremony but find it a bit difficult to approach are attracted to the concept of enjoying Sencha on table (Traditionally Sencha ceremony is held on the floor). There seems to be many people who think that the tea ceremony on the tatami mat requires a lot of effort to try out. I opened this salon to let people try Sencha more casually, so I am glad to know that people are feeling comfortable here.
- Being born in the family of Iemoto (master), how did you start Sencha?
I learned Sencha practice from my maternal grandmother, instead of my father. Many of the tools I have now have been inherited from her. I think I was in the elementary school that I helped teachers at the New Year's tea party. I really wish I could have continued, but my grandmother was very strict. So at that time, I couldn't feel much fun in Sencha. I was born in Hiroshima, but I entered a boarding school in Fukuoka, so I stopped taking lessons. My grandmother was not happy that I always used to forget many things every time I returned to my parents' home.
- Did you know you would pursue the career in the field of tea?
In fact, Sencha-do was not an option in the first place. My father is the master of the school, but he did not think that it is me and my brother's obligation to inherit it. My mother is a jewellery designer and my parents are open-minded, so I wanted to find a job at a general company after I graduating from university. I always wanted to go overseas so my parents let me go to study abroad when I was junior high school and high school student, and I majored in Languages and Cultures to learn about the mechanisms of English and Japanese languages and their relationship with society at university. Actually, when I was a student, I was reluctant to tell that the family business was a school of Sencha. Isn't it complicated to explain the concept to friends? I thought it would be difficult for them to understand even if I tell them that my father is the master of the school. At that time, I did not want to be different from everyone, I did not like things that seem unique, or I did not want to get that much attention.
For that reason, when I was in college, I would spend most of my spare time for part-time job. Although I was still a student, I absolutely enjoyed working as a dental assistant, a sales person at a private tutors agent companies, and a back office staff at a telecommunication company.
- How did you return to the Sencha world after graduating from university?
At first, I joined a major cosmetics company and worked as a lecturer for about two and a half years to teach sales staff whenever new products came out. After that, I moved to a government-related company and worked for about four and a half years. My turning point was when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred. My parents contacted me to come back to Hiroshima. It was when my father's secretary quit, so he wanted me to support the school's business. It was a right timing for me, so I decided to quit the company and returned to Hiroshima, and went back to the Sencha world. There may be fewer now, but I think there are still many people who have a negative image toward changing jobs. However, because I was able to experience various jobs, I found myself enjoying having an ownership in work.
- Then you started to help your father's work?
That's correct. At first it was clerical work, but my experience in financial work, such as accounting and interaction with external institutions, was helpful. After that, I supported the master and prepared for a tea parties.
- After that, you moved to Tokyo and opened your own salon. How did that happen?
When I was in Hiroshima, I researched a lot about Sencha-do. Then I realised that no matter where I looked, information about Sencha-do was not publicised much. Then I thought, if no one was doing it I should do it. And more and more people appeared to help me out. I also became proactive myself, since then I came to be blessed with good timing and relationships and connections with various people. One time, a friend of mine who worked for a PR company at that time invited me to organise a Sencha lesson at a kids' event. I decided to try it out with my brother and teachers of the Kanto (area around Tokyo) branch. Kids enjoyed the tea ceremony innocently and the parents who watched it were happy too. The event triggered me to get voices from various places. It's a lot of fun to convey the charm of Sencha from various viewpoints in a way that no one has yet done.
- What are your challenges in the future in order to share the charm of Sencha to various people including women in their 20s and 40s who are attending “MY SENCHA SALON”?
I think that hobby will not end with just hobby in the future. Even if it was not someone's job, I will need to open up opportunities where they can be in the centre, such as tea parties or events where students lead. I would like to create more places for such lessons of Sencha.
- Thank you very much.
Interviewer: Yuki Kitamura, Kaoru Kuribayashi Stanislaus
Place: MY SENCHA SALON OMOTESANDO