Tag Archives: Haiken

Remnants of the Year

IMG_3215In the final days of October, Autumn slowly begins to give way to the chill of Winter. The light rain that falls makes patterns on the ground and feels cooler, more biting than it had earlier in the month. The splendor of Autumn’s leaves still hangs in the canopies of trees outside my window, yet some trees begin to look more barren, creating a spotty patchwork of gold, red and green, resembling a monk’s old 袈裟 kesa (priest’s mantle). It is in this time of year that all things born from Spring fade and finally wither away.

In the world of tea, this marks the moment when 茶人 chajin begin to bid farewell to the 風炉 furo, replaced in the following month by the humble 炉 ro. It is also when the last leaves of tea in tea in the tea jar (壺 tsubo), opened the previous year, are used up, bearing only enough 抹茶 matcha for two or three bowls. These remnants (名残 nagori in Japanese) set the tone for these final moments, making each bowl of tea feel as if it may be the last. They are special and somber. Simple and good.

In my tearoom, I’ve set the furo to boil the last kettle of tea I will have for the month. Come November, I will exchange this for an old wooden 火鉢 hibachi (which I use in place of a sunken hearth). As I sift tea into a gourd-shaped lacquer 棗 natsume, I am aware of this change. A year of tea is coming to a close. The warm months are over for now.

IMG_3211Opening up my wooden tea cabinet, I admire the iron fixtures and the hand-worked knobs that are in the shape of chrysanthemum, a flower of Fall.

IMG_3175From this, I pull out a 茶碗 chawan by friend and ceramicist 二階堂明弘 Nikaido Akihiro, one which I had first used at the beginning of Spring. Atop this, I place a bamboo 茶杓 chashaku carved by 谷村丹後 Tanimura Tango.

Sitting and waiting for the kettle to come to a boil, I listen to the sound of light rain hitting the windowsill of my tearoom. A moment passes, the sunlight that has crept into my tearoom grows dim. Soon the sound of the boiling 釜 kama begins to mesh with the sound of the rain. Silently I begin to go through the motions of making tea.

BEB2F0BC-4D5F-43A2-98AF-E2893D706EE1The natsume is brought forward and is cleansed. I lift its lathe-turned lid from its body to inspect the mound of powdered green tea.

BD05C918-C553-4C2E-A333-20C55393253DNext, I turn my attention to the implements within the teabowl.

IMG_3216The chashaku is set atop the natsume. The 茶筅 chasen is set beside it. The 茶巾 chakin is removed from the chawan, lightly twisted over the 建水 kensui, refolded, and placed atop the lid of the 水差 mizusashi.

Cleansing both bowl and whisk with the boiling water I draw from the kettle, my body feels at ease with the motions, practiced now for the past six months. How I will have to subtly adjust my hand, the turning of my wrist, the lifting of the 柄杓 hishaku once I put the furo away.

F73C376A-8BF3-4CD0-9B95-7B01DB6D4AD8With the teabowl cleansed, I issue into it the first of three scoops of matcha. The tea powder, soft and fine, feels like the last of the sand running through an hourglass.

0917D9B5-BBC0-4455-91C7-0ACAA3DCAD2CI pour half a ladle’s worth of water into the teabowl and the aroma of tea begins to lift upward. For a moment, the only sound heard in my tearoom is of the whisk moving back and forth as the matcha is transformed into a light, bright foam.

F361A80E-269B-411F-BD38-44FCFB0A9910A freshly prepared bowl of tea sits alongside the rest of the teaware. How the matcha glows off the fired lacquer interior of the chawan. How the remnants of tea powder cling to the chashaku. How the shadows stretch across the plank of wood I use, fading into the serpentine grain. How the charcoal glows in the kama.

There is joy and sadness caught in this moment. In the final withering of the year there is death. Old friends who have passed are recalled. Old memories well up and sit with me. Ghosts of the year are invited for tea. The last leaves of 碾茶 tencha have long since been pulverized into dust.

1FED5E8F-D557-4C7B-BDFA-BD1D5A1AA1B3I lift the bowl as if it were my last and with three hearty sips I imbibe the final vestiges of the previous year’s tea. A thin foam remains against the walls of the teabowl, which I admire for a moment before this, too, is washed away. No turning back.

EE9DCC44-BCF4-4876-81F8-E9BD0C707BD2I wipe the bowl clean and set the utensils within it. Closing the kettle one last time, I slide its bronze lid over its gaping mouth. The sound of metal against metal produces a final resounding knell.

769F5A8F-6A00-4233-BA04-D4A6AA3C96A2As the room returns to a solemn silence, I arrange for a quiet 拝見 haiken. Placing the lacquered natsume and bamboo chashaku next to one another, I admire how they harmonize.

IMG_3213The shape of a gourd to commemorate the harvest.

IMG_3212The small node atop the chashaku’s 節 fushi acting as a reminder to the vitality of nature, preserved and faded by October’s end.

E7429460-A217-4E15-A5B1-7E3487C73A5DI lift the lid of the natsume one last time to view the small landscape of tea within and look upon it as if parting with an old friend.

In the wordless exchange between objects and a season’s end, there lies an answer to a 公案 kōan (Chinese: gōng’àn; Korean: 공안 gong-an; Vietnamese: công án). There is no logic to the feeling of sadness at this moment. What comes when Autumn passes? Do the leaves turn to radiant colors only to wither and rot upon the cold earth? How many cycles around the sun will my life see? Boxed-up and put away, the furo won’t be seen again until the last remnants of Winter wane, to return in Spring. This, as sure as shoots of grass pushing up through the snow.

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

In Anticipation of Autumn’s Colors

IMG_1939Today is the Autumnal equinox, and for for now, the light of the Sun lasts as long as the dark of the night. Morning wakes with leaves coated in dew, giving way to skies covered in a thin veil of wispy clouds, blown by the Autumn breeze. Slowly, the colors of Fall begin to unfurl. While some of Summer’s emerald leaves still hang onto the canopies of trees, others, like the sycamore, begin to turn yellow as September continues onward. The dogwood exchanges its green lacquer leaves with ones touched with crimson, along with berries as red as cinnabar. Quince fatten and glow like pale jade, and the spiny husk of the chestnut burr begin to turn a rich tawny hue. Fields of wild grasses wave and ripple in the wind like flowing sheets of golden silk, dappled with bright field flowers.

For weeks now, I have seen these slow and subtle changes play out from the vantage point of my tearoom window and wait in anticipation for Autumn’s colors. Unable to resist any longer, I decide to make a bowl of 薄茶 usucha (“thin tea”) in a brightly-colored Autumn 茶碗 chawan. Setting water to boil in my iron antique 茶釜 chagama (spoutless kettle), I begin to assemble a collection of teaware.

IMG_1996The Autumn chawan, with its flashes of dark red, ocher and gold, is set in contrast to the other elements made of unadorned wood.

IMG_1997Against this bright field of color, the eye is drawn inward, towards textures of cut bamboo and woven linen.

D934C016-B69B-495A-84CA-937606960F5FCleansed, the chawan beams even in the low light of the tearoom, showcasing iridescent spots of gold and red borne from the heat of the kiln.

9E2CFE3F-F647-494C-AA97-4F6E267CECC9Even the small 棗 natsume (tea container) and bamboo 茶杓 chashaku (tea scoop), set one on top of the other, contain the rich, earthy tones of Autumn.

5EF5D76E-5F1F-4BD9-AEDF-516BAA9E0F6EIssuing-out three scoops of 抹茶 matcha powder into the center of the warmed teabowl, the clean grassy scent of green tea rises.

BBE28EF7-599D-42A3-B1D0-449E9BA066D1Whisked into a light foam, both tea and teabowl glow before me.

42A3154D-0086-4C92-9711-C30EC5FA9128A moment passes and I admire the setting: the tea and teaware, the heat emanating from the antique iron chagama, the sound of the Autumn breeze pushing through the trees outside my window. Lifting the bowl to my lips, I savor the crisp and fleeting flavor of the tea.

B7EEA72B-B399-4DE7-B7C1-E75ED706E065Even this moment has its end, and I finish by cleansing the teaware once again. Teabowl and whisk are rinsed. Residual matcha powder is wiped from the chashaku. Whisk and tea scoop are set within the teabowl. The wooden natsume is set beside them.

3B78F96E-FCBE-4388-A940-4240FBCAB1A7Still enjoying this moment, I pause and arrange a simple 拝見 haiken (a final moment to view teaware during a tea gathering). Inspecting the natsume and chashaku, I am reminded of things to come. The bold colors of Autumn, too, shall come and pass.

DACBA660-B4AF-4E33-BBD2-D86DB7B1B658Once gone, only the dull colors of Winter will remain, save for the bright green shoots of next Spring’s splendor pushing up from beneath the snow.

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