What we know and don't know[August 2014]

Fuden-An: Leaves from a Tea-Journal

What we know and don't know[August 2014]

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

A short while back on May 24th I attended a tea ceremony in Daitoku temple in Murasakino, Kyoto, hosted by the Yabunouchi school, a school of tea ceremony with the deepest connection with the tea ceremony and Buddhist memorial services created by Furuta Oribe four hundred years ago. Master Joyu Wakaso prepared the incense and tea in accordance with the ancient ritual and I received the tea which was prepared using the tools passed on down from Furuta Oribe and Kenchu. I wish their school great prosperity.

In August, millions of Japanese people travel across the country and overseas. It is just as busy during Golden Week in April/May. For those of us who travel frequently, regardless of whether it is a national holiday, the tranquility one enjoys in one's seat on planes and bullet trains becomes something completely different.

Depending on the passenger you encounter, there are enjoyable moments and there are unpleasant moments. They say man is a creature of habit and does not take kindly to having his daily routine disrupted. When meeting someone for the first time, there are those who are active and those who are passive, just as there are people who are able to enjoy things or improve their lives and those who cannot.

For a while, as a host of tea ceremony, I have considered two things as being very important in making my guests happy. The first is the sense of security one gets from consistency. As mentioned earlier, everyone has their own borders, something they are very familiar with or something at which they are particularly good. So when a guest arrives at a tea ceremony with an idea already in their head, about the kind of tools and decoration that will be there based on the knowledge that it is now August, if their predictions are proved accurate, they experience a pleasant feeling and a sense of security.

The second point is the feeling of being moved or impressed that comes from surprise. It is different from the sense of security one gets from consistency in that it is a feeling of pleasure one gets from an idea or combination of ideas that exceed our expectations. Generally speaking, when people experience something for the first time it is a unique feeling and they feel they have gained something of value. Over time that feeling becomes something which satisfies our intellectual and aesthetic senses, which also moves us. Much of Japanese culture originated in this dual standard.

Now, as I have done in the past, I would like to write about films. I mentioned in the past that Kirk Douglas is one of my favorite film stars but my favorite Japanese film star has to be Ichikawa Utaemon, an actor who has starred in many Japanese period dramas. He is probably better known to the current generation as being the father of Kinya Kitaoji. I have a great fondness for this actor.

I have been watching this actor in the series 'Hatamoto Taikutsu Otoko', a production from the days of silent films. I watched those after I had grown up and watched them in color during the boom in Toei films and Utaemon was most popular in the 1950s and 1960s. His costume was absolutely gorgeous and his movements were beautiful, making him my favorite Japanese actor. His son Kinya has great on-screen presence today and it is clear that he gets that gravitas from his father.