By Ruth Gerson
It seems an unlikely discovery – a Japanese woman clad in a kimono, serving tea in traditional Japanese style in the heart of Bangkok. Welcome to the Fumiko Boughey’s tea ceremony room, which is tucked away in a corner of her modern home that boasts a Zen-like simplicity, courtesy of her husband, American architect Robert Boughey.
Ask Fumiko what prompted her to take up chado – or the ‘way of tea’ as the Japanese call the art – and she explains that it was once a part of every cultivated Japanese person’s education. And, since her mother was a master of the ceremony, Fumiko has been exposed to the art of chado from a young age.
Reflecting on the origins of chado, Fumiko recounts how it was brought to Japan from China in the 12th century by Japanese Buddhist monks who had gone abroad to learn meditation. “In its early days, chado was in fact a form of meditation,” says Fumiko. The thick green tea was regarded as not only good for one’s health but also beneficial in enhancing the inner peace demanded in meditation.
Part of the austerities of Zen Buddhism, chado later became a samurai ritual before evolving into one of the graces demanded of Japanese women. According to Fumiko, chado is far from a dying art in Japan, who adds that many still perform it once or twice a week - and not always for an audience, but rather emphasizing self-discipline and hospitality.
Appropriately, Fumiko’s tea room is peaceful. The ceremonial utensils were once her mother’s – as are her kimonos and obi (sash), some of which were passed down from her grandmother and great grandmother – allowing Fumiko to faithfully continue the chado tradition here in Thailand.
Fumiko has studied Thai art and history, as well as Southeast Asian ceramics, and credits much of her knowledge to her intensive studies with the Bangkok National Museum Volunteers group, of which she is a former president.
Study often leads to teaching, and Fumiko is no exception having held a unique position since 1991 at Chulalongkorn University teaching Thai culture and tourism to fourth year students in the Japanese language, in the university’s Faculty of Arts. This course aims to enable Thai students to write and discuss Thai culture in Japanese. As part of extra-curricular studies, Fumiko has performed Japanese tea ceremonies for her students, “I like working with young people, it helps me remember what I had learned long ago and brush up on it.”
Fumiko also holds and teaches tea ceremonies for other Thai universities and cultural institutions, as well as the international community. She holds the top position of president of the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Bangkok Association, a school of tea ceremony that has its roots in Kyoto since the 16th century and is highly regarded throughout Japan.
Fumiko is a Professor of Chado, a title bestowed on her by the Grand Master of Kyoto. It is a responsibility Fumiko takes very seriously as it provides her with the opportunity to spread knowledge of chado and its background, considered the culmination of all traditional Japanese arts.
On the special occasion of the Kyoto Grand Master’s visit to Thailand in 2001 Fumiko organized a tea ceremony for him to perform at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha attended by HRH Princes Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
Recently, Fumiko had the honor to perform the tea ceremony for Her Royal Highness at the Historical Center of Old Japan Village in Ayutthaya commemorating 130-years of Japan-Thailand diplomatic relations. For this occasion, an exhibition was held at the Bangkok National Museum, “History of Japanese Art: Life and Faith” followed by a lecture and tea ceremony demonstration, attended by Khun Sirikitia, King Rama IX’s granddaughter.
Although remaining steadfast in disseminating Japanese culture in her position as university instructor and the various cultural activities, particularly the tea ceremony, Fumiko’s role continued to evolve. She has been translating books on Thai art and culture from English to Japanese, one of her favorite tasks.
When asked how much longer she intends to keep up this pace, she answers: “As long as I am able to carry on.” As for Chado, it is a lifelong learning experience to be passed on to younger generations, and when a student inquires when he would complete his studies, Fumiko replies: “This is the beauty of it – you never stop learning!”