Besides daily lessons in temae, Midorikai students each get an opportunity to host a tea gathering, a chakai, with their fellow students as guests. Of our group, I am the first to go, hosting a gathering at my very favorite time of the year, the fall season in October. In the tea world, this is the most wabi time of year where one can use the most rustic of tea utensils, going so far as to use old and broken things that have been repaired. I didn’t use anything quite that wabi, but the dogu did reflect the season in simplicity and earthy elegance. I also had permission to perform one of my favorite temae, nakaoki, where the furo is placed in the center of the tatami instead of its customary place to the left of center, as if slowly making its way to the ro, which opens in November.
A tea gathering has a lot more going on than just whisking some tea. It’s a whole experience, like a play in several acts. Learning to whisk a bowl of tea has as much to do with a tea gathering as making a casserole for a pot luck has to do with hosting a formal dinner party, in someone else’s house. The temae is a small, but very important, focal point in a whole stream of events the host provides for the guests. These events include a waiting room prepared with traditional items within which the guests will sample the water that will later be used to make the tea. Then from an outdoor waiting area (also provided with traditional accoutrements) the guests will watch the host refresh the water in the tsukubai, the basin they will soon wash their hands from to prepare themselves for the next stage of the journey. Then they enter the honseki, the tearoom proper, to watch the host lay the charcoal for the fire that will heat the water for their tea. And so on until the moment the tea is served, the guests pause to appreciate what is occurring, and all too soon must say goodbye.
Behind the scenes in the Mizuya
My chakai was held in the Kasho chashitsu of Chado Kaikan, the teaching tearooms of the Iemoto himself. This room is not used often for Midorikai’s keiko chakai, so I’m led to believe, maybe because it is the least formal/fancy of the rooms available. None of our sempai used it for their keiko chakai. I thought it was perfect. The garden, too, leading to it is less used and so has become a little wilder and less groomed than the rest of the tea gardens. I picked a tanzaku painting of the Tomaya, the Reed-thatched Hut, for the machiai. There was a plain wooden tabakobon in the Koshikake, complete with a well-used mis-matched pair of kiseru, mishima hiire, fresh green bamboo haifuki, and tabako-tatoushi filled with a generous pinch of kizami, the traditional hair-like tobacco used in old Japan. The tabako-bon symbolizes hospitality and is a signal to the guests that they can relax. The hiire holds a live coal embedded in a mound of ash that has been carefully sculpted by the host. It is the first thing the guests see that has been made by the host, the guests not having seen the host himself yet at this point.
This symbol of hospitality was very important to me, and so I made sure to prepare the hiire myself, not giving it to my hanto to do, though I could have.
I managed to walk to the tsukubai without stumbling with a very full teoke bucket of water in roji-zori, the simple straw sandals one wears to walk in the garden. The guests are also provided with these to walk to the main tearoom, having left their own footwear behind earlier.
The shoza, first half of the honseki, consisted of aisatsu, shozumi, and serving the first sweet, the omogashi. The guests get their first look at the chashitsu and see the scroll. The scroll for this gathering was “Mu Ichi Butsu”, a Zen phrase that means “No one thing”. It was brushed by a monk from Daianji, a temple in Sakai that Rikyu favored. The theme of the gathering was the transition of the season from October’s inertial end, the end of the furo season and the point of the year where all falls into decay, to the moment of dynamic balance, the place where there is no one thing, that evolves into new life, the opening of the Ro, the “fresh grasses pushing up under the snowy hills.”
The guests briefly leave the tearoom and return to the garden, to be summoned back by the ringing of the dora when all is ready for the next half of the gathering. A dora is basically a gong with a deep lingering tone if you hit it right. The dora I used was very large and had a very rich sound.
Back in the tearoom, the scroll has been replaced by a display of flowers. I almost didn’t have flowers. After scouring florist shops that morning and finding nothing remaining appropriate for chabana (it is that time of year, you know, the time when everything falls into decay), I ended up foraging along the Kamo river for plant material, and managed a humble, and very seasonal, arrangement
And then comes the temae. Which was actually three temae rolled into one. It began with Kasane-jawan, which morphed into Tsuzuki-usucha with an overlay of Nakaoki using a Gogyodana. It went mostly quite well. My guests enjoyed the tea and the sweets, the flow of the temae, the toriawase of the dogu and the incredibly gorgeous fall weather.
When the guests have made their final goodbyes and left the tearoom, I go through the empty room and “peek” out to see them off. Of course, they are all waiting for me in a row and silently bow to me before turning to make their way back up the garden path. I watch them until they are out of sight.
A good day.