Tag Archives: Chasen

To Have Flowers Without Flowers

IMG_1764According to the 易經 Yìjīng (I Ching), the ninth day of the ninth month is said to have too much  yáng force and is therefore seen as a potentially harmful date. On this day, it is believed that climbing a high mountain, drinking chrysanthemum liquor, and wearing 茱萸 zhūyú (Cornus officinalis, a type of dogwood) would prevent harm. For this reason, a main feature of the festivities and customs surrounding the “Double Nine Festival” are chrysanthemums. In Japanese tea culture, 菊の節句 Kiku no Sekku, or “Chrysanthemum Festival”, is observed, often through the unavoidable display of the flower in the 床間 tokonoma alcove of the tearoom.

Usually, I find myself making a small arrangement on this day and making tea, enjoying the vibrant colors and delicate forms of chrysanthemums. However, on this September ninth, I found myself busy with work and terribly jet lagged, having just returned from a trip to the Philippines. With little time and much less energy, I found myself unable to even step out to procure the necessary flowers. Undaunted, I managed to muster up enough energy to put together a solitary sitting for tea.

Having finished my daily work, I lit a stick of incense and I set my antique 風炉 furo (“wind furnace”) to boil water. Next, sliding open the doors of my antique wooden tea cabinet, I brought out an arrangement of teawares: a vintage 萩焼茶碗 Hagi-yaki chawan, a teascoop and whisk carved by master craftsperson 谷村丹後 Tanimura Tango, and a small Korean Goryeo-style celadon incense container.

7DFD038D-5FA1-4BE8-985E-10532B6F3ED8As the iron kettle began to boil, I began to sift a small amount of 抹茶 matcha into the shallow interior of the incense container. Although not common in 茶の湯 chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony), I’ve made it a personal practice to occasionally use 香合 kōgō to hold tea. In this instance, I deliberately chose to do this as the incense container is decorated with an inlaid chrysanthemum motif.

D5FB44AE-62AF-46EC-8C23-40A8FE838865Finally ready, I sat down to enjoy a bowl of tea. Cleansing the celadon kōgō, I had a brief moment to enjoy the traditional inlay design of deep red, pale white, and dark green against the soft celadon background. Lifting the lid, I admired the low mound of bright green matcha encircled by a ring of russet-colored unglazed clay.

10EE9B16-FD96-426F-A7C8-77275CEDAA9CNext, I turned my gaze to the teabowl, scoop and whisk.

5F8C8726-EC7C-44C7-8A93-1E86D3B82935With the folded 袱紗 fukusa (a silk cloth used to purify teaware), I cleansed the 茶杓 chashaku (tea scoop), setting it down atop the flat lid of the celadon kōgō.

987770C4-4A2A-4B0B-A4FD-8A955DD1C517Next, whisk in hand, I began to cleanse the teabowl. Once purified, I set the bowl down, ready to produce a bowl of matcha.

13F6B62E-F8A8-48E6-839D-71BCDC34136CIssuing-out three scoops of tea powder from the incense container, I set each within the well of the teabowl. Scooping-up a ladle if hot water from the iron kettle, I poured half of it into the teabowl, returning the remainder back into the kettle.

BE37C626-9923-4E0B-A60B-FE354BE7F5B8Whisking the matcha powder and boiled water concoction into a light foam, the tea and teabowl seemed to come to life in the golden glow of the late afternoon light.

B0903613-F9DB-49B1-9DFE-498E492B2DEETaking all objects together, I appreciated the personal gesture of making tea despite the busyness of my workday. Often is the case I don’t make time for tea. Even when I was traveling, I had not given myself a moment to pause and slack my thirst with the beverage. An email here, an assignment there, and even the self-imposed pressure of “performing” can sometimes keep me from stopping to take in my surroundings and meditate on the “now”. Yet, how subtle a gesture it is to make tea. To involve my whole mind and body in a simple process. No ritual. Just action. Just a recognition of a basic procedure, of the breath, of the feeling of a warm teabowl in my hands as I lift it to my lips. This is just enough to bring me back to the present moment.

7EED1D84-519F-43C4-A59C-FA5236A31856On a day with no flowers in my alcove, I found the means to have flowers without flowers. A bouquet of senses. A ring of chrysanthemums decorating a makeshift tea container. Just enough to turn this day into a celebration.

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Filed under Ceramics, China, Education, Green Tea, History, Incense, Japan, Korea, Matcha, Meditation, Tea

Facets of the same spirit. Interdependence.

In the tradition of my California-based Japanese Sōtō Zen lineage, July 4th is celebrated as “Interdependence Day”. As a coy musing on the American national holiday, Interdependence Day takes into account the inter-connectedness of all beings, of time and space. It honors the interplay of individuals, the connections we forge and have yet to forge. It recognizes that no one person is an island, and that we are all part of a larger whole. As 洞山良价 Dòngshān Liángjiè (807–869), a famous Zen master, said,

“The blue mountain is the father of the white cloud. The white cloud is the son of the blue mountain. All day long they depend on each other, without being dependent on each other. The white cloud is always the white cloud. The blue mountain is always the blue mountain.”

There is a source and a product of the source. Each depend on each other, without being dependent on each other.

As a practitioner of tea, I see this natural tendency everywhere. Tea, the plant (Camellia sinensis), has its origins somewhere along the edges of modern-day Yunnan, Myanmar, Laos and Nepal. Chinese tea culture has its origins in these otherwise “foreign” cultures. Similarly, Korean and Japanese tea culture borrows heavily from Chinese tea culture(s) from various points in time. What you see (and taste) today is the result of centuries of cultural interplay. Each depend on one another without being wholly dependent on one another.

In 茶の湯 chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony), the act of making tea calls upon a multi-faceted history. Chinese methods of preparing tea from the 唐 Táng, 宋 Sòng, 元 Yuán, and 明 Míng periods (618-1644) all have had their influence on the development of Japanese tea ceremony from the 15th to 17th century. From the teaware to the manner of use and even the psychology of the tea ceremony have been marked by a “foreign” culture (as well as many other “foreign” cultures).

Similarly, too, chanoyu has been influenced by other arts. 香道 kōdō (xiāngdào in Mandarin; lit. “Way of incense”), an art that originally has its roots in ancient Buddhist and pre-Buddhist incense ceremonies of India, Southeast Asia, China, Korea and Japan, has had an immense influence on tea. From the way incense and incense utensils are used, held, cleansed, and shared, each were eventually echoed in the tea ceremony. Even the mentality of kōdō, which attunes the host and guests’ mind to the singularity of a moment, is present in tea. Indeed, if one looks at the history of the two arts, one will find how influential early incense practitioners such as 志野宗信 Shino Sōshin (1444–1523) were to the bourgeoning art and practiced chanoyu.

On this Interdependence Day, I can’t help but to bring together these arts. Normally I burn incense prior to sitting for tea. This is commonly done before the guests come for tea as the aroma of incense should typically not compete with the flavor of tea. However, today I opt to enjoy both together. Setting a piece of glowing charcoal into a small 楽 Raku family 聞香炉 kiki-gōro (incense cup), I place a thin leaf of mica and fine sliver of 沈香 jinkō (aloeswood) atop the shaped mound of warm ash. Placed within an antique wooden タバコ盆 tabako-bon (“tobacco tray”), I take a moment to pause and appreciate the quiet aroma of the rare incense wood.

Next, I set out my tea equipage: a modern 茶筅 chasen (tea whisk) and 茶杓 chashaku (tea scoop) made by Nara-based artisan 谷村丹後 Tanimura Tango. These I set within a Song period 青白 qīngbái “green-white” porcelain 茶碗 chawan (teabowl).

For a tea container, I use a 備前焼 Bizen-yaki 香合 kōgō made by my dear tea friend Nessim. Purifying each, I am reminded of how similar the action is to cleansing the incense wares. A 袱紗 fukusa (silk cloth for purifying objects) is used for both incense and tea. The chashaku is cleansed as if it were a silver incense implement.

The bowl is warmed and set before me as if it were a cleansed incense cup.

Three scoops of tea are placed into the center of the teabowl, as if I were issuing-out a small heap of 抹香 makkō (“powdered incense”) into an incense burner.

The tea is whisked and the aroma is instantly evident, growing stronger as it lifts upward from the small, shallow Summer bowl.

Set side-by-side, I appreciate the delicate scent of aloeswood with the bright fragrance of tea. Lifting the bowl to my lips, both tea and incense are enjoyed. The silky foam of 抹茶 matcha (“powdered tea”) and the warm resin of rare wood.

With the tea finished, I take a moment to view the final dregs clinging to the jade-like ancient porcelain.

Cleansing the implements one last time, I savor the lingering flavors and intermingling of spirits. Of cultures. Of flavors. Of host and guests.

When we share in a bowl of tea, we also celebrate this. With this bowl of tea I give to you, I humble myself. By accepting the bowl of tea, you reflect and respect the effort and attention that I put into preparing the bowl of tea. The feeling is different yet mutual, and ultimately in unison. When I look across the table, I see a buddha.

Happy Interdependence Day.

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Filed under Ceramics, China, Education, Green Tea, History, Incense, Japan, Korea, Matcha, Meditation, Poetry, Tea

One thousand flowers bloom. Reflecting on the past.

It finally happened. My one thousandth post on Instagram. While for some this means nothing, for me, it reflects quite a journey. For those who follow my posts, I’ve never strayed from what my little bio reads: “Just a man, wandering the world, making tea.” While, certainly, many of the images I snapped and shared throughout the years may not have been “tea-centric”, many of them have.

Beyond this, within the half-a-decade I’ve been sharing via this platform, I’ve seen my practice of tea deepen. This I’ve also shared on my blog Scotttea and through countless public and private, organized and impromptu tea sessions with thousands of people. Many small images. Many cups of tea. Many hearts moved to share a moment.

On this hot June day, I sit down to reflect on this. To celebrate, I decide to make tea in a large antique teabowl roughly dating from the Song and Yuan period (960-1368). Scooping tea into a small wooden 棗 natsume (tea container), I contemplate how many scoops of tea I’ve issued-out over the years to make thousands of bowls of tea.

Assembling the teaware together, I can’t help but to appreciate the harmony of the object seated together. The cream color and crackled glaze of the antique 茶碗 chawan (teabowl), the texture of the overturned 茶杓 chashaku (teascoop), the soft folds of the white linen 茶巾 chakin (tea cloth). I purify each object, some with a silk 袱紗 fukusa (small cloth for cleansing teaware), some with the hot water from the 茶釜 chagama (spoutless kettle).

The wetted ancient bowl now seems revived. The fissures in the glaze awaken. The color of the underlying clay deepens.

A small patch of glaze in the center of the bowl beckons for tea.

Three scoops of bright, freshly-ground 抹茶 matcha powder is placed atop this, into which I engrave a small secret marking.

The void upon the heaped mound of tea in the natsume. An amount telling of what I’ve removed from this world. Telling of the amount I’ve given back.

The 茶筅 chasen (tea whisk) is placed upon the small clump of tea, covering it from the direct stream of hot water I pour over it.

Taking the whisk in hand, I breathe outward, offering up my internal energy as I whip-up a frothy bowl of tea.

As I sit to enjoy this tea, this humid Summer’s day, I notice the residue of tea upon the chashaku. I notice the shift in light within the tearoom. I take in the aroma of sweet smelling incense. I hear the roll of thunder from a distant storm.

One thousand images. One thousand moments. In June, the hydrangea blooms, producing one thousand flowers with every blossom. A burst of color. A flash of lightning. A bowl of tea.

Cleaning up afterwards, I set the chasen upwards, something my school of tea does during the warmer days of Summer. When the seasons change, we change. Nothing remains constant, for that I am sure.

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Filed under Ceramics, China, Green Tea, History, Matcha, Meditation, Tea

Over the Vast Sea of Time

On June 5th, 栄西忌 Eisai-ki is observed by tea people throughout Japan. Often performed with offerings of incense, sutra recitation, and tea, the event commemorates the death 明菴栄西 Myōan Eisai (whose actual death was on July 2, 1215), most known for bringing both the 臨済宗 Rinzai-shū (Línjì zōng in Chinese) sect of Zen Buddhism and green tea to Japan.

It was upon Eisai’s final return from China in 1191 that he brought with him, tucked within a small ceramic jar, tea seeds, which he would plant on the hills around Uji. Having witnessed tea culture and the practice of taking tea firsthand while visiting Buddhist monasteries in Song China, Eisai was an early proponent for tea consumption in Japan. In his 喫茶養生記, Kissa Yōjōki (“Drinking Tea for Health”), Eisai wrote about tea’s ability to bring balance to the body and ward-off disease.

Today, as I sit down for tea, I bring with it the intention to remember the history of tea and the memory of Eisai. For this, I select an antique 天目茶碗 tenmoku chawan, made to resemble the famed 建窯 Jiàn yáo (Jiàn kiln) teabowl of the Song period (960-1279). I set this atop a simple, wooden 天目台 tenmoku-dai (tenmoku stand). For a 茶杓 chashaku (teascoop), I select a more formal scoop which has been carved from a single piece of cedar. For a tea container, I select a 大海茶入 daikai chaire (“great sea” tea container), within which is held finely-sifted 抹茶 matcha tea powder for 濃茶 koicha (thick tea).

This chaire, the form of which resembles that which contained the tea seeds Eisai brought back from China, is enrobed in a silk brocaded pouch (仕服 shifuku). The cord is tied in a way that resembles a fluttering insect, perfect for Summer.

As I untie the pouch, I pull the silk cord to its full length (which is referred to in the shifuku‘s poetic name 長緒 nagao, “long cord”).

As I loosen the cord I peer down into the pouch, revealing the dappled glaze and bone-white lid of the chaire.

Once removed from the shifuku, I begin the process of purifying the tea container and other assembled teawares.

Once cleansed, I lift the chashaku from atop the lid of the chaire and begin to scoop tea into the tenmoku chawan.

After issuing three scoops into the teabowl, I set the chashaku upon the rim of the chawan and then proceed in emptying the remainder of the tea from the chaire into the bowl.

Adding only enough water to wet the mound of tea, I proceed in kneading the matcha powder into a thick paste with the 茶筅 chasen. Crafted by the famed tea whisk carver 谷村丹後 Tanimura Tango, the chasen’s tines are intentionally cut thicker to provide the needed strength to knead koicha.

Once the tea is kneaded into a consistent paste, additional boiling water is added. Rather than whisking the tea into a foamy concoction (as is done with 薄茶 usucha, “thin tea”), koicha is left flat, shiny, lacquer-like. What is produced is a mirror-like finish. A mirror into the mind.

As I finish whisking the bowl of tea, I take a moment to reflect. To reflect upon the history of tea. Upon the vastness of time between now and the age of Eisai. Upon the blink of an eye life can seem to be. How many single moments like this can comprise a lifetime?

As I lift the bowl to my lips, I am overcome with the fragrance of tea, more pungent. As I sip from the bowl, the thick texture and rich flavor of koicha fills my body and mind and I become engulfed by its strength. While it is more common to share a bowl of koicha, I enjoy this alone, almost instantly becoming intoxicated by the powerful brew.

Setting the bowl down, I enjoy the slick pattern created by the residual dregs upon the iridescent surface of the tenmoku chawan.

Opting not to waste the remaining tea, I joyfully whip this into a final bowl of usucha. On a solemn day to remember Eisai, I meditate for one final moment. The scent of incense lingering in the air, mixing with the fleeting aroma of tea.

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Filed under Ceramics, China, Education, Green Tea, History, Japan, Matcha, Meditation, Tea

Tea for Anxiety

As a tea person, I am regularly asked whether there is a tea to treat anxiety. As a caffeinated beverage, I know that, on a chemical level, tea isn’t really the best to help someone to calm down and center the mind. However, I know that as I sit and focus on the act of mindfully making tea, the anxieties I may have seem to dissipate. This week I found myself in the grip of anxiety. While I regularly travel, I still harbor a fear of flying. Although not as severe as it used to be in my youth, still to this day, my mind cannot help but to think through all of the graphic scenarios of airborne perils that might await me.

It was at this moment, an hour or so before I had to head out to catch my flight, that I decided to make a bowl of tea. With not enough time to bring my 茶釜 chagama (spoutless tea kettle) to a boil and set up my tea room, I decided to keep this tea setting informal. Filling my 鉄瓶 tetsubin (“iron kettle”) halfway with water, I set it within my antique 火鉢 hibachi (portable ash brazier).

As the kettle began to come to a soft, rolling boil I began to collect the needed teawares. A small grey 井戸茶碗 Ido chawan (“Ido teabowl”). A bamboo teascoop and 茶筅 chasen (tea whisk). A white linen 茶巾 chakin (tea cloth). Putting these aside, I then begin to sift a small amount of 抹茶 matcha powder into a finely-lacquered 棗 natsume (tea caddy).

Before I entered my small tea space in my apartment, I assembled every item and arranged them atop a red and black lacquered 盆 bon (tray). What I had in mind was to perform a simple 盆点前 bon-demae (“tray preparation”). While bon-demae is considered to be the most informal method of preparing tea in 茶の湯 chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony), this informality is balanced with a pervasive formality, both in the concentration in movement and in the subtle mental shifts between host and guest. I kept this in mind as I sat down to make tea.

Settling down into formal 正座 seiza (a posture where one kneels with the tops of the feet flat on the floor, and sitting on the soles), I set the tray down to the right of the hibachi. Next, I set down the 建水 kensui (waste water bowl), situating it just left of my left knee. I center my body and focus on my breath. Each outward motion is in conjunction with an outward breath.

As I bring the teabowl up to my center, I breathe inward. As I set it down before, I breathe out. Reaching for the natsume, I breathe out, lifting it up towards my center, I breathe in. As I set it before the teabowl, I breathe out. With each outward motion corresponds an inward motion. Energy I expend into the space, I return into my inner space.

This breathing continues as I purify each tea object. The natsume. The 茶杓 chashaku (tea scoop). The chasen and the teabowl. As I remove each from their first setting, they return to a different spatial arrangement, their new placement in accordance with their action. The chashaku now sits atop the natsume, which has moved across the bon.

The chasen, having been cleansed and flexed in the warm water contained in the teabowl,…

now stands upright, its wetted tines stretching upwards.

Lifting the chashaku once again, I draw it towards my body, holding it parallel to my right thigh. With my left hand, I lean slightly downward to pick up the natsume. An out-breath. An in-breath. Lifting the lid of the lacquered tea container reveals the low mound of freshly-sifted green tea powder, glowing in the light of the early morning. Drawing forth three scoops of tea, I lightly tap the edge of the chashaku against the inside of the teabowl, removing any excess powder from its hand-hewn tip.

Placing the chasen over the tea, I let the hot water of the tetsubin pour through the thin tines, dispersing the water and producing a gentle trickling sound.

Whisking the tea, I draw-in my energy, center my body, and focus my mind. One smooth outward breath evens my hand as I move the whisk back and forth in a methodic, rapid motion. Rather than tighten my body, I open my chest, my arms, my center, offering everything that resides inside me into the bowl of tea.

Once whipped into a fine, even foam, I lift the chasen out of the bowl and return it back to the bon. Now, sitting before the bowl of tea, I can see every bit of anxiety and frustration looking up at me. I can imagine my fears, my self-doubts, and expectations. I can feel every time I said to myself “I cannot” or “I am not”… And in this very moment, I invite these sensations to join me in a bowl of tea. As I lift the bowl to my center, I breathe in. As I hold the small grey chawan before me, I bow to my anxiety. “Please accept this bowl of tea,” I say.

To drink this tea, one must first calm the mind. To enjoy the warmth of the bowl in one’s hands, one must be able sense this. To hear the faint bubbling of the matcha foam as it settles, one must quiet the mind. As I bow to my anxieties and invite them to have tea, these anxieties must come to the state to accept the tea. They may not fade away, nor may they entirely disappear, but for a moment, they must focus, center themselves, and be able to accept a bowl of tea. I and my anxiety, joined together, finally sit and enjoy the fragrant flavors of matcha. The smooth texture. The warmth that cuts straight to my core.

As I set the teabowl down, I begin to clean it again, finishing the informal moment I had enjoyed. Folding the chakin and placing it into the teabowl. Next come the chasen, followed by the chashaku. Before I place the teabowl back on the tray, I move the natsume over to the right, returning each object to its original location.

Everything now sits as it originally had, and, yet, change has occurred. Time has passed and actions have taken place. A kettle that was once cold has since come to a boil. Tea that was at once a fine powder has been whipped into a beautiful foam. This, too, has changed. My anxieties, while they still remain, have changed as well. Feelings that had once dominated my mind have since joined me in sharing a bowl of tea.


Just in case you were wondering, theanine and other chemicals naturally found in tea have actually been found to promote alpha-wave brain activity, or a meditative state of relaxed alertness. More information on this can be found in this 2008 research paper, titled “L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state”.


Filed under Ceramics, Education, Green Tea, Japan, Matcha, Meditation, Tea

Tea After a Morning Rain

Today I woke up to the gentle sound of rain. After a night of thunderstorms, what remained by morning was a soft and shimmering veil of mist. The ground moist. Moss pushing up from the cracks in the asphalt. Small droplets of dew covering leaves of the morning glory vine, sparkling jewel-like. While the heat of early Summer promised to return by midday, the morning offered a cool, refreshing respite.

Inspired by this moment, I decide to make a bowl of tea. As it is now Summer, I select a wide and shallow 茶碗 chawan (teabowl) from my antique tea cabinet. Next, I place a folded white linen 茶巾 chakin (tea cloth) in the center. Atop this, I rest the moistened tines of a 茶筅 chasen (tea whisk). Finally, I place a 茶杓 chashaku (tea scoop) along the edge of the teabowl. For a tea container, I decide to use a small silver Tibetan box, its lid encrusted in semi-precious stones and inscribed with the text of a mantra.

With the soft pattering of rain still audible, I sit down to make tea. Purifying the tea container, I notice how the light of the morning reflected off of the honey-hued dome of tiger’s eye and into the swirling lines of Tibetan script.

Setting this down, I take a moment to appreciate the lines created by the whisk, the tea scoop, and the circumference of the teabowl.

How the blades of the chasen seemed to echo the freshness of the morning rain.

How the patterns on its handle mirror that of the 信楽焼茶碗 Shigaraki-yaki chawan.

Next, I cleanse the chashaku, and place it upon the silver box, the skin of the bamboo recalling the familiar pattern of dewdrops.

Warming the teabowl, I place three scoops of fresh 抹茶 matcha powder into its center, marking the tea with a small, secret gesture. The bright, electric green of the tea sits in contrast to the earthen tones of the chawan.

Mixing cool water from the 水差 mizusashi (fresh water jar) into the 茶釜 chagama (spoutless tea kettle), I then ladle-out a half-scoop of hot water into the teabowl. Picking up the chasen, I press its tines down into the center of the teabowl before beginning to slowly whisk the tea. The sound of the whisk becomes a methodical melody, striking patterns of its own into the tea-infused water until it gives rise to a light, fragrant foam. I lift the chasen from the center of the bowl, creating a small peak upon the foam.

Outside my window, the light of the morning dims and the gentle sound of the rain continues. Tea and teabowl. A silver box set with stones. The thin blades of a bamboo tea whisk. The residue of matcha upon a tea scoop. All become guests to this gathering.

Lifting the teabowl to my lips, I sit alone and enjoy this moment. A cool morning before a warm Summer’s day. A bowl of tea and time to meditate.

As I sit and finish cleaning the assembled teawares, I pause to enjoy the rough textures of the teabowl. The informal ashen glaze producing pools and patterns of vitrified material on its chestnut-colored surface. A painter’s brush had written a small poem, offering refreshing words to cool the mind. The potter’s hand carved a sturdy foot. I inspect it and admire its resemblance to a moss-covered stone.

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Filed under Ceramics, Green Tea, Japan, Matcha, Meditation, Tea

Even If It Does Not Fall, Prepare for Rain

Today began with a quiet morning meditation to a still Summer’s dawn, and a moment spent to boil water and steep tea. By noon, the bright sun hung overhead and its golden rays flooded every room of my apartment. As the hours passed, I worked, I wrote, I paced, and I stretched. At the moment I chose to step outside, I looked out my window to see that the weather had suddenly turned. A dark grey veil of clouds had quickly appeared and covered the sky. A moment later and the air was heavy, ready to rain.

Rather than continue with my plans, I took this shift as a sign to settle down and wait for the coming storm to pass. I set the kettle which I had filled earlier in the morning to boil again and brought together a teabowl, a whisk, a scoop, and a lacquer tea container.

Inspired by the tumultuous weather that was soon to arrive, I chose a 刷毛目唐津茶碗 hakeme Karatsu chawan (brushed slip Karatsu teabowl), the surface of which mirrored the ruffled clouds and grey skies.

While I let the water come to a boil I sifted fine green 抹茶 matcha into a small black lacquer 棗 natsume (tea container). I couldn’t help but notice that its decoration, simple gold 壺 tsubo (round pot motif), seem to recall the round 太鼓 taiko drums that surround the mythic god of thunder, 雷神 Raijin.

Sitting with the teaware set before me, I purify each object, accompanied to the sound of rolling thunder in the distance. In the tearoom, the light dimmed and darkened, broken by sudden flashes of lightning. The bright white of brushed-on glaze cast against the deep well of the teabowl.

Shadows and fissures, bamboo an linen.

The smoky pattern of the chashaku against the gleam of black lacquer, reflecting what little light gathered at the window.

Finally emptied, the bowl sat ready.

In to it I measured-out three scoops of the electric-green matcha powder. Rain beat against the pavement and quickly collected in pools out on the streets.

A half-ladle’s-worth of water into the chawan and I whisked it vigorously until a bright foam rose, clinging to the tines of the bamboo whisk.

Rolling thunder and a roiling boiling kettle merged into one sonorous roar, hissing and rumbling and then halting, arresting for a moment that allowed me to pause.

The 16th century tea master 千利休 Sen no Rikyū, in his “Seven Rules” for the Way of Tea (利休七則 Rikyū shichi-soku), advised tea practitioners to “always prepare for rain” (降らずとも雨の用意 Fu-razutomo ame no yōi, lit. “Even if it does not fall, prepare for rain”). By this he meant many things. Always have a sedge hat and umbrella ready for the guest at the 待合 machi-ai (the waiting space, often an outer open-frame hut for guests to wait before entering a tearoom). Always have a kettle ready. Always ensure you have more than enough tea for your guests, just in case one more should arrive. Always be at the ready. This is the spirit that arises when one always prepares for rain. It is core to the spirit of tea.

Another boom of thunder broke the silence and I was left staring down at the bowl of tea. The foam, forming a subtle central peak, remained full. The rain outside my window softened and the air cooled.

* Image of 千利休 Sen no Rikyū’s “Seven Rules” for the Way of Tea (利休七則 Rikyū shichi-soku) sourced via Urasenke Japan.

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Filed under Ceramics, Education, Green Tea, History, Japan, Matcha, Meditation, Tea