wisdom of “shift”[Nov 2013]

Fuden-An: Leaves from a Tea-Journal

wisdom of “shift”[Nov 2013]

KOBORI Sojitsu (the 13th Grand Master of the Enshu Sado School )

When the season of Robiraki approaches, there is somehow a spine-tingling nervousness amongst my family. Even though it is an annual event, this feeling of tension has become comforting to me thanks to tea ceremony.

In Japan, since ancient times, small changes and ingenuities in our daily lives have known to instantly change the atmosphere in a room. Gowning is a good modern day example of this.

Changing the Sudo in the tearoom to Shoji (paper door) or Fusuma door can totally change the appearance of a room. Another good example is the cushion. In one glance, the position of the cushion tells you the location of the seat of honor. Also in the event that someone you respect joins you, not only could you yield your seat to that person, if there isn't a cushion, you could flip your own over and give it to him/her for use. It’s an interesting and savvy act that is surprisingly satisfying.

Hierarchical relations and the various traditions which accompany them and the artful control of seasonality expressed by one's environment are not often found overseas. In this way, I really believe that Japanese culture is very sophisticated and resourceful.

The idea of 'shifting' is used frequently in tea ceremony. The best example is “Robiraki”, which begins this month. When a Tatami mat is removed from the tea room and Ro (a kiln) takes it's place, it suddenly changes the season and our feelings. Until the equinox, one takes tea powder from the side of the tea container closer to oneself but after the equinox one takes tea powder from the side of the container further from oneself. Once one starts using the Ro, one must approach the hot water holding the ladle facing up.

You can naturally brush up your sensitivity towards yin-yang in tea ceremony. The light-dark change in the tearoom is a good example. You first cover a window in the tearoom with a curtain and after serving a thick tea, you pull the curtain up to show a contrast of light. The seat of honor in tea ceremony is not always constant. It changes when guests re-enter the room in Kaiseki and in Koicha (thick tea), depending on where the serving door is.

This custom of changing where the guests sit in the tearoom is something unique and I don’t see it abroad. Changing rooms to chat freely after supper happens abroad but keeping the sitting order but conducting things in reverse is very unique to tea ceremony.

The alcove, the core of the room, can change in appearance immediately and surprise guests’ eyes and feelings. A hanging scroll in the alcove which is prepared for welcoming guests is replaced by flower for the second time they re-enter the room. In addition, there are countless other examples such as how to use the chopsticks at Kaiseki or turning the tea bowl when drinking the tea and so on.

I think the affluence one has in ones life is influenced by how you feel these kinds of changes and shifts and how you act on it. I hope you will find how many of these little wisdoms are hidden in tea ceremony.