16th-generation Grand Master of Urasenke says: Sit comfortably for tea ceremony

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TOKYO -- For half a millennium, the tea ceremony has been a symbol of Japan, a combination of ritual, meditation and aesthetics expressing the refinement of one of the world’s most ancient cultures. But now the ''Way of Tea'' is undergoing a revolution intended to ease one of its less appealing side-effects -– excruciating leg pain.

The country’s most famous tea master has risked controversy by unveiling a new style of tea ceremony. It is aimed at young Japanese, old people and foreigners who cannot tolerate the painful sitting position required to perform the traditional rite.

For the first time, members of Urasenke, the biggest of the ''schools'' of tea, will be permitted to sit with legs crossed in front of them –- rather than sitting on their heels in the formal seiza posture traditionally required. To those who can manage it, seiza is an expression of attentiveness, discipline and respect; but to many people it is a formula for pins and needles, impaired circulation and unbearable cramp.

''This is the modern obstacle-free version of making tea,'' said Sen Soshitsu, the 16th generation Grand Master of Urasenke, and the closest thing to a pope of tea. ''I want to make this new style of tea popular among the people.''

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