One of the things that interest me in Japanese are the references to written language—specifically, to Chinese characters (kanji)—in speech. Of course, literate speakers of most languages will sometimes refer to writing (“I meant cue, cue with a ‘c'”). It’s my subjective impression, however, that the Japanese do it more often, and the morphographic nature of kanji makes it feel… different.
A common experience when studying tea is that, as soon as you start getting the hang of a procedure, your teacher throws some new variation at you. One is always kept on her toes, so to speak, with a constant feeling of inadequacy. Though a bit disconcerting (not to mention ego-shattering), this is actually an optimum educational technique; you’re always just outside your comfort zone, which means you’re always absorbing new things.
One reason why this method works is that each new Temae (formal procedure) don’t simply start it all over from scratch; they can mostly be learned as variations on a theme, changing some points in the overall stable pattern. However, one of the most drastic steps in the Urasenke curriculum might be the very second “full” Temae, namely the basic manners for Koicha “thick tea”. Just as the student started to get happy with the flow of his beginner’s Usucha “thin tea” procedure, he’s introduced to a new form that has small but important differences almost at every turn. Furthermore, when he gets back to Usucha, he finds his blossoming fluency is now ruined with interference from the new habits. Until his body manages to sort out what to do when, he’ll close doors when they should be open and skip water when it should be added, and vice-versa. He’ll be doomed to a long period of Chigau yo. Kyō Koicha desu kara. (“No, it’s the other way around, since today we’re doing Koicha.”)
As a kind of personal exercise, I tried to write down in a table all differences I could think of between basic Usucha and Koicha temae. The results follow below.