What do we mean by “new”? [April 2017]

Fuden-An: Leaves from a Tea-Journal

What do we mean by “new”? [April 2017]

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

With the arrival of April, we often hear words or phrases using the adjective "new". For some people the word evokes freshness while for others it leaves something to be desired. This shows how subjective people’s feelings can be depending on what is important to them.

Take the utensils used during tea ceremony for example, one could say that the Edo period was at the turn of two eras. When you hear Momoyama era, you get the impression that it's older than Edo. When one refers to the Muromachi era, Nanbokucho or Heian era, one thinks of remote antiquity. This suggests that our perception changes at the point of around four hundred years ago. The more we go back in time, such as ten, twenty or fifty years prior to this point, the more the sense of antiquity grows. When we come closer to the present, the sense of newness grows. Things that date back a hundred years do not seem very old to us.

As far as contemporary literature is concerned, when a famous writer publishes a new book, this is rightly considered to be very new. But if you come across a book that the same writer wrote ten years ago, you have the feeling of seeing something relatively old. Furthermore, when it comes to pieces written thirty or fifty years ago, we consider it quite old indeed. This same sensation always accompanies the appreciation of tea materials and can be used to measure our personal growth.

We have all had the experience of losing interest in something we were once passionate about. It seems that the founder of the Enshu school once had such experiences. The best known is the Asukagawa tea container.
For a long time, I lived on the Banks of the Asukagawa River.
And like it, time flows very quickly .
This is a poem by Harumichi no Tsuraki. Enshu once had a tea container which he did not like very much when he first saw it. But later, when he saw it a second time, he was delighted with it’s magnificence and named it Asukagawa.

In this way the sensation of the new and the old changes from time to time in our lives. For those of us who work in traditional cultural arts, it is important to learn the well-established practices of the tradition as well as strive for something new. This is both the spirit of ingenuity and a theme of traditional cultural arts.