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Cops Crash Tenkara Tea Ceremony

On August 5, 2012
Comments (5)

written by Jason
John preparing the tea ceremony

John preparing the tea ceremony

Never in a million years would I guess that a peaceful streamside tea ceremony would draw the attention of local law enforcement, but the day before this year’s Tenkara Summit, several tenkara anglers (including yours truly) almost spent the night in the slammer.

It started out innocently enough.  John Vetterli of Tenkara Guides has studied the meticulous Japanese Tea Ceremony and thought it would be a good cultural bridge to host a tea ceremony for our Japanese tenkara guests while we were fishing the Little Big Cottonwood.

Traditional Japanese tea ceremony gear

Traditional Japanese tea ceremony gear

We all arrived at the stream, but the complicated ceremony takes time to set up.  There was a lot of gear to carry down and prepare so John did that while the rest of us went fishing.  The idea was to meet up later when the water was heated up and the tatami mats laid out (among other preparations).

In the meantime, John practiced one of his other hobbies while waiting for us to return:  Japanese swordplay.  Here’s a shocker:  a guy dressed in a black ninja outfit wielding a sword in the middle of the woods is considered “suspicious” by some people in Utah.

John practicing swordplay

I guess I can see how this might look suspicious

I was taking a quick break from filming the ceremony (video to come) when I was approached by four very serious looking police officers.  They told me they had a report of a guy with a “big sword” and and “urn”.  The conversation went something like this:

Police:  What’s going on here?

Me:  We are hosting an event with some Japanese fly fishermen and are having a traditional tea ceremony.

Police:  We got a report about someone with a sword.

Me:  It’s part of the ceremony.  It’s not a real sword.  (complete lie.  It was a real sword and wasn’t part of the ceremony).

Police:  Do you have an urn?  Someone reported seeing an urn.

Me:  An urn?  No. You’re welcome to go and check it out if you want.

Police:  No, that’s OK.  (after scanning the situation from a distance).

Dr. Ishigaki trades his tenkara rod for a Samurai sword

Dr. Ishigaki trades his tenkara rod for a Samurai sword

And with that, they left.  I can only think whoever reported the “urn” must have mistaken that for the pot the tea is heated in.  At any rate, the SLC cops were pretty cool about it even though it probably did look pretty suspicious.  It’s a good thing too.  Because I couldn’t really come up with a good answer to the requisite question, “what are you in for?”.

Here are a few more pics:

Tenkara Ikebana

Tenkara Ikebana


John serving tea

Daniel also participated


Serving tea

The ritual is beautiful but so complicated, you might just die of thirst before getting your tea


John getting in "the zone"

John getting in “the zone”

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5 Responses to Cops Crash Tenkara Tea Ceremony

  1. After seeing these pics, I wish even more that I could have been a part of this. As I think I have mentioned to you, now that my photography and my fishing have Japanese aspects to them I think I must have been Japanese in a “former life”.
    Since this is a summit related post I will say it again, thank you for having the summit in SLC!

  2. martin says:

    Great set and ritual to welcome Japanese Tenkara colleagues. No doubt there are plenty of paranoid Americans lost in the woods that don’t have a life, but to call the police.

  3. David says:

    Beautiful ceremony. John had mentioned on the forum recently that he has been studying this for some years. Now he realizes he has been preparing for this moment from before he learned about Tenkara.

    Is this something the guest from Japan had attended before? I’m curious if this is part of Japanese culture that most people actually participate in at home.

    otoh – perhaps someone calling the cops was not totally out of bounds. We had the nut job in Colo recently and I was surprised to learn there were 4 violent crimes committed with Samarai like swords in July in the USA. Who would have expected that?

  4. Dr. Ishigaki had participated in tea ceremony before and Eiji Yamakawa had studied tea ceremony for two years. The tea ceremony is a very formal event that many Japanese people don’t experience. It is most commonly reserved for very special occasions. This Tenkara summit was the largest collection of tenkara knowledge ever assembled outside of Japan. Seemed kind of natural to celebrate this event with something special. Kind of strange to travel 8,000 miles to experience a piece of your own culture practiced by a white guy.

    Also, this was the first time any of the Japanese guests had ever seen a real katana outside of a museum or held one in their hands.

  5. lauren says:

    I had no idea that there is a Way of the Rod … I can only imagine that the demeanor of a sword wielding fisher guide chajin existed. The ultimate foil for a curious policeman.

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