Cups and Poems Along a Winding Stream

For enthusiasts of ancient customs, this past week offered a multitude of moments to enjoy. In particular, the third day of the third month is a time that is packed with significance.

One event observed on this day is the ancient custom of 曲水の宴 kyokusui-no-en, or “the winding stream party”. Purportedly dating back to Japan’s 古墳時代 Kofun jidai (Kofun period, 300-538 AD), the event involved courtiers and scholarly officials sitting at the bank of a meandering stream, where cups of sake were sent floating down to them to casually imbibe. Upon plucking a sake-filled cup from the water, the guest drank it whole-heartedly, after which they composed a poem that reflected on the moment, perhaps the palpable shift from Winter to Spring. Evidence shows that this celebration may have its origins in China, with the 流觞曲水 liúshāng qū shuǐ recorded in 353 AD.

Feeling inspired, I opt to brew tea instead of drink sake. In lieu of a babbling brook, I choose to set my wares along a twisting plank of wood. For a teapot, I select a piece by the 19th century poet, ceramicist, and Buddhist nun Ōtagaki Rengetsu (太田垣 蓮月). For a tea scoop, I use an antique 茶合 sagō, inscribed with a poem.

For a tea container, I use a 備前焼 Bizen-yaki incense container made and recently gifted to me by a dear tea friend in Paris.

The tea, named 白姫 Shiro Hime (“White Princess”), is an unusual “white tea” from Japan’s Fukuoka prefecture.

The tea and teapot, both feminine in nature, when used together are a subtle nod to another significant event on March 3rd. It is on this day that 雛祭り Hinamatsuri (“Girls Day”) is celebrated in Japan.

The teapot, warmed and ready to brew tea, sits upon the swirling grains of my wooden tea table. The teapot’s form, that of a curled lotus leaf, complements the relaxed feeling of sitting by a river’s edge.

When opened, steam rises out from its unctuous interior.

Once placed inside the tiny vessel, the tea leaves glow a vibrant green.

Left for a moment, the tea steeps.

Three cream-colored Korean 분청사기 buncheong-jagi cups are placed side-by-side. Collectively, they sit like three radiant jewels.

Once filled, I set the cups at uneven angles for my guests to enjoy. Together we drink them, one-by-one, as if at a opposite ends of a wandering stream. A poetry of flavors drifts throughout our minds.

2 Comments

Filed under Ceramics, Education, Green Tea, History, Japan, Korea, Meditation, Poetry, Sencha, Tea

2 responses to “Cups and Poems Along a Winding Stream

  1. Ellen S Best

    I’m surprised at the look of the White Princess “white tea.” I’m wondering why you put it in quotes… or rather I sense that it looks more like a Japanese green tea to me. I’ve never seen a white tea that looks like that – ???

    • Great observation Ellen! The “quotations” are for this tea being a sencha, but called a “white tea” by its makers. To be fair, the color of the tea is considerably lighter than most sencha. The makers of this tea even go so far as to call it “white leaf” tea. The flavor is more complex than most sencha, with a natural umami quality found in gyokuro, followed with a sweet muscat-like finish. If you are looking to try this, I found it at Kettl in Brooklyn.

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