Approaches in Tea Ceremony[March 2015]

Fuden-An: Leaves from a Tea-Journal

Approaches in Tea Ceremony[March 2015]

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

Once we enter March, we must begin prepare for a large tea ceremony to be held in memory of the founding father of Enshu at the Tokyo Art Club on the second Sunday. Including both disciples and non-disciples, there will be more than around 600 participants. It is the largest Enshu tea ceremony in the year, excluding the national congress.

While things usually go smoothly at the national congress since each session is held according to a time schedule, when it comes to other tea ceremonies there are usually moments where guests are required to wait. This is the most concerning aspect of holding a large tea ceremony event. Limiting the time for each session and increasing turnover can only go so far when also want the guests to enjoy the experience.

At other tea ceremonies I have occasionally seen some people skip the early stages of the tea ceremony to save time but I personally do not like this approach. I would prefer that if you were in the position of serving tea in such an event, that your daily training will allow you to serve tea with care and only slightly faster than usual. Accumulating this kind of experience will help you improve your technique and build your confidence.

Once you have acquired the technique of preparation, you will then be able to converse with your guests. However, it is not sufficient to be able to speak well. Tea ceremony is not a place for small talk but instead it is important to be knowledgeable about tea. It would be just a grind if one only had to memorize and recite the names of the tools and decoration.

This is true for guests. There are often conversations between guests of honor and hosts at tea ceremonies which are just a back and forth of questions and answers. This is extremely boring and to be honest, this is not a meaningful exchange. Their words have no resonance. Conversations become much more deep when you begin to discuss the authors behind the kakemono and its meaning. However, if the host shows you a tea bowl and your only comment is 'It's beautiful' then the conversation ends there. As such, I hope that anyone that enjoys tea also learns the words to express their thoughts to enjoy the conversation at a tea ceremony as this enriches the experience for everyone attending.

When I am the guest of honor at a tea ceremony, I try to share my thoughts with the host once he or she has explained the process. When I am the host, I listen carefully to any remarks made by the guests to ensure that have contributed all I can to the conversation. I think that this is the kindness and hospitality that is expected of the host.

But from time to time, things do not go as well as hoped. This is when the guest has nothing to say. But even on these occasions, I try my best to ensure things proceed smoothly.

The other day, I served a thick tea as I usually do for several guests but the guest of honor said nothing. I had expected that they would at least ask the name of the tea but alas I had to say it myself. Thereafter no words were exchanged and the session ended. I had hoped that, regardless of how nervous they may had been, that they would ask me about the kakemono or the flowers. In situations such as these, the next guest of honor usually ushers the guest of honor to talk. But in this situation, despite the second guest of honor being quite an experienced tea drinker, he did not offer any support. It is in cases such as these that the person with experience must help the nervous guest of honor.

Unfortunate situations such as these occur from time to time and remind me that both the guest of honor and I must both do our best in the pursuit of the art of tea ceremony.