An account of a formal Japanese tea ceremony by Elliot Mitchnick, who holds the rank of Junkyoju (Associate Professorship) of Urasenke, the 400 year old tradition of Tea headquartered in Kyoto, Japan.
(If you have Japanese enabled on your browser, you will see most tea terms with their kanji. In addition, most terms have definitions available by holding your mouse over the word.)
The host has a lot of things to do before the guests return and in the world of tea, there are a number of rules for the host to follow so that the Tea will come off successfully. The seven basic rules passed down to us by Sen Rikyu are:
- Arrange flowers as they are in the fields.
- Lay charcoal so the water boils.
- Keep cool in summer.
- Keep warm in winter.
- Be early.
- Be prepared for rain even if it is not raining.
- Be mindful of the guests.
Also, an important set of principles that should be followed in one’s study of Chanoyu is the phrase WA KEI SEI JAKU 和 敬 清 寂.
- WA is the importance of harmony in Tea.
- KEI is the importance of respect.
- SEI is the importance of purity.
- JAKU is the importance of selfless tranquility.
While the guest sit and relax, the host and host assistant are busy checking the fire in the brazier to make sure the newly added charcoal has caught fire, the scroll is removed, and the room is cleaned. The flower container is placed on a hook in the middle of the alcove or on a hook on the tokobashira 床柱, the wooden post which is part of the alcove, or on the floor of the alcove on a board (or no board, depending on the situation). A simple flower arrangement is best and is called chabana 茶花 or “tea flowers”. In a small container 2 or 3 flowers and branches are all that is necessary. The idea is to seem as if they came directly from the field and just placed in the flower vase called hanaire 花入, without any “thought”. I feel the simpleness of the flowers is the difference with Japanese flower arrangement.
When complete, the host will take a chasen or sprayer and spray the flowers including the wall, if the hanaire is placed in the center of the alcove wall. A great book on the subject is called “Chabana”, by Henry Mitwer. There is a new edition titled something like “Zen flowers“.
A host will have a bucket of flowers ready so that he or she can have flowers to choose from. A classic flower is a closed tsubaki つばき, or camellia bud with a branch of the season. The branch should still have tight buds and a few open leaves with the tsubaki. Tea people from Samurai background will not use this flower as in a warm room the flower head may just drop and that is too close to home with idea of beheadings. For chabana, it is preferred that the flowers be not completely open (depending on the variety), but to allow the guests to envision what is to come.
The flower containers are classified into Shin 真, Gyo 行, and So 草 (formal, semi-formal and informal). Boards are used when the vase is placed on the tatami mat in the alcove and are also classified Shin, Gyo and So. A simple breakdown would be as follows:
Shin: Chinese or imported bronze and celadon, seiji, would be placed on a lacquered board with a arrow notch cut out along the edges and called yahazu ita
Gyo: Japanese glazed ceramics, such as Seto, Tamba, Hagi etc on a hamaguriba ita ( clam shell edge shape) lacquered board.
So: Unglazed ceramics, bamboo vases and other misc items on a natural cedar or burnt cedar board with a clam shell edge shape are now used.
The mizusashi 水指, or cold water container, is prepared and brought into the tearoom to sit to the right of the brazier. The tea caddy, or chaire 茶入, has the thick tea added to it and the ivory lid is replaced. The chaire is placed in a cloth bag, shifuku, and tied. About 3.75 grams of koicha 濃茶 is added per guest. A good estimate is three scoops of tea per guest. (There are wooden cups are used to measure the tea and then it is poured into a wooden funnel that sits over the mouth of the chaire, but the 3 scoops per guest works fine.) The chaire is placed in front of the center of the mizusashi. For thick tea, a simple strong water container is used. A brown glazed Seto 瀬戸 is always a good choice. Blue and white can be used, but only in a small room and skill is needed to pull it off.
The host and assistant will have the other utensils ready for the tea and place them on a board next to the host’s door. This will include: tea bowl, chawan 茶碗 (tea bowl) with a chakin 茶巾 ( linen tea cloth ), chasen 茶筅 (tea whisk), placed in the bowl, and the and chashaku 茶杓 (tea scoop) placed across the bowl to the right of the chasen. The kensui 建水 (discard water container), with a green bamboo futaoki 蓋置 (lid rest ), and a hishaku 柄杓 (ladle made of bamboo).
This is truly a spiritual time for the host and host assistant as they sit in the preparation room preparing the tea bowl and other utensils to assure the purity of the utensils before they are used.
Some tea people who have a number of assistants might even take a fūro お風呂, or bath, to purify themselves for the tea. This is not the norm, but I have been told that Tantansai, the 14th generation Grand Master of Urasenke, did take a bath before making tea during Chaji.
Now all is ready and the host will get out the gong or dora (I have been told that the first dora were trade pieces from Indonesia area). The host will ring the gong a number of times depending on the number of guests. If you do not have a dora a large pot can be used and, although it does not have the beautiful tone, it will work.
Once the guests hear the gong, they will all kneel and then stand, use the toilet and when ready as in the first part of the tea will again say, “Osaki ni”, then put up the reed mat and walk to the tsukubai to purify themselves, then once again enter the tea room.
End of part four. In Part Five, I will start with the thick tea.