The ideologies of Japanese tea: subjectivity, transience and national identity

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Our host stands and enters the tea-room, carrying a striking bamboo basket containing the necessary implements for preparing the charcoal. She leaves the room briefly, returns with a dish containing ash, and commences the formal charcoal preparation. Sensei methodically places the metal chopsticks, two metal rings, a brush made of osprey feathers, and the incense container in their positions on the tatami. She places it to one side on a folded mat of thick paper that protects the tatami from the heat of the kettle.

Our host uses the feather brush to purify the hearth in a set of strokes that have a steady measured quality, adds the new charcoal, and brushes the hearth for a second time in a noticeably brisker manner. Using the metal chopsticks, she adds incense to the fire, and a heavenly fragrance fills the room, a most palpable gift from the host that confirms that the charcoal will boil the water. Both guests inch forward and I almost gasp at the simple beauty of the charcoal.

Its red glow lends the ash a monumental quality that brings to mind the snow-covered mountains outside. I wonder if the first guest will miss the cue to address her host. As the first guest remains silent while our host closes the lid of the incense container, I speak somewhat out of turn, gently suggesting to our host that Kate might like to inspect this prized object. After turning it to face the first guest and placing it in front of her, our host returns the other tools to their specific positions in the dark bamboo basket, and leaves the room.

She moves out and back on her knees. Once our host hears that her first guest has returned to her position of honour, our host reenters with a larger feather brush and sweeps away any dust from the serving area while sliding backwards on her knees, facing the guests. After she passes through the doorway, our host bows and closes the sliding door. When Kate makes the formulaic apology to me for inspecting the incense container first, I bow. She admires the hand-painted plum blossoms on its exterior, rendered in several sparse powerful strokes.

Ogata Kenzan! I carefully inspect both sides of the lid, as well as the unglazed section of the base, before returning it to Kate.

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She turns the incense container to face our host and places the incense container in the position that will be easiest for Sensei to handle. Once Sensei has heard Kate glide back to her position, our host opens the sliding door and re-enters the room.

Although it is conventional for guests to repair to the outdoor waiting arbor while the kettle boils, the absence of a meal allows Sensei to hold an impromptu zazen meditation. Everything seems so vitally fresh. As my eyes adjust, I notice the pledge scroll has been replaced by a bamboo vase holding a single white camellia laden with morning dew. Both the fresh water container and the container for thick tea — in its decorative silk bag — have been placed in their specific positions. I realize I have lost my sense of time. Kate and I stand, walk one lap of the room and then return to our positions.

It contains the folded and damp linen cloth used to purify the tea bowl, the tea whisk, and the tea scoop. Kate recognizes the bowl.


  • Droits d'auteur :.
  • about senbazuru The-Ideologies-of-Japanese-Tea.pdf.
  • perhaps a spot of tea?: aethyrflux — LiveJournal.

Because this bowl was made by Cho jiro , a sixteenth-century artisan who worked under the direction of Sen no Rikyu , it is nationally revered. This precious bowl is more like an heirloom from an honoured ancestor. Our host carries the bowl as if it contains the destiny of all present.

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She kneels and places it in its spot before standing and returning with the wastewater container, the lid rest, and the water scoop. Our host commences the relatively formal procedure for serving thick tea. She removes the tall-shouldered tea container from its woven silk storage bag. The guests catch a glimpse of the patina that the elegant bag has acquired over the generations.

We notice the subdued details of its flower motifs. Ever the art historian, she had also pointed out that after an American constitution was negotiated upon Japan, the emperor was no considered longer divine, therefore the nation itself became the object of veneration. Our host reverently purifies the thick tea container with her precisely folded orange silk square. She caresses its mouth in three fluid strokes, then rotates it slowly and deliberately against her silk square. Kate is visibly impressed by this demonstration of the principle of reversal: treat light objects as if they are heavy.

Sensei handles the ladle as if it were a mirror. As our host gazes into the ladle to steady her own awareness, the first guest breathes slower and deeper. Now our host begins to prepare thick tea, which both guests will drink from the same bowl. There is a brief pause to mark the solemnity of what is to begin. The bowl is purified after being warmed by ladles of hot water.

The bamboo whisk is turned three times before its tines are inspected. The bowl is wiped dry after the water is poured into a waste-water container out of our field of vision.

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Our host then bows slightly as she slowly picks up the tea container, removes the ivory lid lined with gold leaf and places it on the handle of the ladle. Three heaped scoops of brilliant green tea are taken from the tea container and added to the tea bowl before Sensei rests the scoop, curved side up, on the right-hand rim of the bowl. The remainder of the precisely measured tea cascades into the bowl. When no tea remains, our host wipes the rim to remove any powder which might discolour the gold leaf.

The lid is replaced and the tea container returns to its position. She then uses the tea scoop to draw three lines in the tea, perhaps suggestive of a road.

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The tea scoop is purified before being placed on the tea container. By now a spiral of steam is swirling out of the tea kettle, suggesting a distant sound of wind blowing through pines. I focus on the murmuring boil for a moment but soon my attention returns to our host. She ladles cool water out of the fresh water container in a smooth, shallow stroke and pours it into the steaming kettle. As the cold water trickles in, the hot water momentarily goes off the boil.

When Sensei deeply ladles water out of the kettle and slowly pours it back in, the silence makes the pouring water sound even more like a waterfall. Her reverent handling of the water suggests she is dealing with the life force itself. Unlike thin tea, which is whisked into a frothy head, thick tea initially uses less water to knead the tea powder into a thick paste. Steadying the tea bowl with her left hand, our host carefully ladles in a minimum of water. Once she has prepared a thick paste, she takes the ladle in her right hand and pours just enough water over the tines of the dark bamboo whisk to create a sumptuous viscosity.

Finally, she draws an almost circular character with the whisk. Its spiral form suggests a tradition that will continue to evolve.

The front of the sombre bowl faces her guests. Sliding on her knees, the first guest retrieves the bowl and its handling cloth. Once she has returned to the first guest position, she turns the bowl clockwise to avoid the arrogance of drinking from its face. After the second sip, our host bows towards the first guest as she inquires about the condition of the tea.

The first guest expresses her pleasure before continuing with the tea, and our host picks up the ladle and lid rest before returning the lid to the steaming kettle.

The shape of the bowl retains the fragrance of the tea. As I am about to take my first sip, a hint of the aroma wafts up. When I take my first sip, the first guest bows to our host and thanks her before asking the name of the tea. Thick tea is an acquired taste. The intensity of the first mouthful brings back childhood memories of unpalatable medicines that had their own bright colour-coded warnings.

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By the second sip the senses have stopped working overtime and that swallow has a flavour that could be tea. One of the hazards of being the final guest is that the last slurp can be the thickest. Thick tea sometimes resists the idea of leaving the bowl but today that is not the case. I continue to savour the final mouthful as I prepare to return the bowl and its handling cloth to the first guest. When I make my final slurp, our host turns back towards the hearth adding one ladle of cold water from the fresh water container to the kettle.

The principal guest must return the bowl to our host once I have placed the bowl and its handling cloth in the position in front of her. Kate then moves across the room on her knees, placing the bowl just outside the serving area. After Kate retreats, we silently savour the lingering taste of the tea as our host enters the closing section of the thick tea serving procedure. Kate commences the host-first guest dialogue by requesting to view the utensils, and Sensei places the thick tea container, its woven bag, and the tea scoop — with its curved end facing up and towards her guests — out for our inspection.

Our host returns to the tea-room and settles herself one last time, moving with the grace and precision that years of devotion to tea have brought her.

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