Tag Archives: Kōdō

Tea in Time of Turmoil

For the past months, the world has seemed to grow increasingly more tense. In January, we saw the US and Iran lock horns in an episode that briefly saw both nations mobilize and perform acts of violent retaliation. Years of civil war in Yemen continues to spiral into a bloody quagmire. Protests in Hong Kong, France, Chile, Palestine, India, and Northern Syria are just a sampling of the ongoing and ever-worsening environment of instability. Even on a biological level, with the outbreak and worldwide spread of the Coronavirus COVID-19 (2019-nCoV), the fragility of our little world seems to be evermore at the whims and caprice of unforeseen and uncontrollable forces.

In such a situation, how can one even think of tea? Yet, perhaps it is at this very moment that tea is most needed. For the bulk of two decades now I have practiced 茶の湯 chanoyu, an art that has its origins in meditative self-cultivation of 禪 Zen Buddhism and collaborative arts like 連歌 renga and 香道 kōdō.

Yet, especially during times like we see today, I remain ever-aware that chanoyu was also an art appropriated and practiced by the warrior class of medieval Japan. Developed during an age of chaotic extremes, what today we call chanoyu emerged during the 戦国時代 Sengoku Jidai, “Age of Warring States” (c. 1467 – c. 1615). In a period which saw endless military, political and social strife wreak havoc in all corners of the Japanese archipelago, the Way of Tea (茶道 chadō) was not merely a means to escape into a world of quietude, it was also a way to reclaim space and time, defiantly, if need be, against the pale of constant violence and upheaval.

While the current situation surrounding the COVID-19 virus may not be as violent, it is quite jarring. People are suffering and many have died. The word I knew a month ago is not the world I live in today. Governments at large seem to offer little guidance in this moment and, instead, the response has been largely grassroots. For the while, all we can do is remain in self isolation, hoping for the worst to pass and that our mere presence does not adversely affect those around us.

During this last week, as mandatory social distancing and quarantine swiftly became the new norm, I found myself far from my little tea room in New York City, instead lodged-up alone in a friend’s vacated and empty home in rural upstate New York. As I knew I would be here for a while, I managed to bring with me a small collection of teaware, just enough to make a bowl of 抹茶 matcha during my sequestering, made portable through the means of packing the tea objects away in an old vintage metal tool box.

As I sat in the sparsely furnished attic of my friend’s house, spent a morning I arranging a small setting for tea. In lieu of 畳 tatami, I used a broad stretch of woven indigo cloth to define the impromptu tea space. Setting the tool box at the upper end of this cloth, I undid its mechanical latch, opening its machine-hewn lid, and pulling forth a simple 黒瀬戸茶碗 KuroSeto chawan, 茶筅 chasen, and 茶杓 chashaku. For a tea caddy, I opted to keep the matcha in the metal tin it came in, it seemingly harmonizing well with the old tool box.

Lacking any proper brazier or traditional iron kettle, I made due with a small mass-produced kettle. Wanting to keep everything together and self contained, I placed the kettle atop the old tool box, itself becoming something like an improvised shelf for a modified 点前 temae I hoped to perform.

Setting the teaware before me, I began to make a solitary bowl of tea. As I began, I could sense my mind shift from the din of world events to the silence of the tea space. The wares before set before me, having travelled in the small metal tool box, seemed smaller than before, as if they were all that remained of a life I left back in the bustling, chaotic city.

The black lacquered tea tin is cleansed with my folded 袱紗 fukusa and then is placed atop the old tool box.

Next, I turned my gaze to the chawan and assorted wares collected within it. I purified the chashaku.

I warmed the whisk. I waited and watched it sigh heavily, observing its submerged tines expand outward in the in the warm water collected within the teabowl.

I arrange each object, shifting from their place of rest into action and back to rest again. Where they had once begun, they since moved, ready to perform.

The bowl, now a vacant void, is ready to receive the matcha.

Scooping out three small portions of tea powder, I place each into the center of the chawan, creating a small heap in the vessel’s center.

Placing the chasen over the tiny mound, I then pour water over the thin bamboo blades, producing a delicate cascade and evenly distributing the liquid over the tea. As with every time before, the result of the hot water mixing with the freshly-ground green tea produced an effluence of bright, intense aroma. However, for some unknown reason, my response to this feels different. A sense of distance, of detachment from the world outside my window fills me, a feeling of longing for home yet not quite being able to locate where that is.

As I whisk the tea into a thick foam, my mind lingers on this thought, it floating buoyant amidst my otherwise focused mind which keeps in step with my task at hand. I sit back to appreciate the bowl of tea, first as it is set before me and then, again, as I place it against the wide expanse of woven indigo cloth.

The bowl and my mind seem to be adrift, caught upon an endless sea. I pause and take the first sip.

My eyes gaze upwards to exposed wooden beams that cut laterally across the apex of the attic’s ceiling.

I take another sip and my eyes settle upon a wound-up ball of hempen rope, its appearance reminiscent of the rope-bound 止め石 tomeishi that mark a closed path within the 露地 roji.

I finish the final dregs matcha and set the bowl back before me, appreciating the remnants of foam that cling to the inner walls of the black-glazed chawan. In this moment of meditation, I am reminded of the stories of the early warrior tea practitioners.

During the height of the “tea craze” that swept through Japan’s elite classes during the 16th century, it was not uncommon for high-ranking samurai to accept a bowl of tea before heading out to face battle. Often was the case that this would be their last. The notions of ephemerality and impermanence that permeates chanoyu was, in many ways, the very essence of these individuals whose lives were marked by endless martial conflict.

Words we now may casually admire upon a scroll such as 一期一会 ichigo ichie, were brutally realized by many in their own, often short lifetimes. Now facing these uncertain times, will I, too, or those near and dear to me come to realize this with the passing of their own lives? To avoid such realities is itself a delusion.

In tea, we practice recognizing the evanescence of all things that come and go. A season. A flower. A moment. A life. There is an uneasiness when we try to hold on to something that must, in truth, pass. We all feel this. To ignore it is a delusion as well. To sit with it, however, to meditate upon what it means and how it feels, perhaps this is the way.

As I cleanse the teabowl once again, I wipe away the remaining residue of tea from the ceramic vessel. Traces of green collect in the woven fabric of the white linen 茶巾 chakin. I brush off the remaining tea dust that clings to the chashaku, and shake this off into the 建水 kensui.

I place the objects back to rest, their purpose being met. I sit back once more and admire the wares.

The small kettle. The old tool box. The array of teawares of ceramic, bamboo, tin and cloth. All to be packed up again, collected into a box. Ready to make a move. Ready for action. Ready to create a space for tea and for time at any moment.

I remember looking up to the window peeking out the gabled roof. What world resides out on the other side? What world will that be tomorrow?

Now back in New York City, days since this bowl of tea, the moment long since faded, these questions still have no resolution. The tomorrow I had envisioned in the past never came. Something else, entirely unknown and unexpected, has come in its place. Yet the broad expanse of sky that I peered out upon back then is the same that I see today. What change will come?

Leave a comment

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

The Fragility of Spring

With the first few true days of Spring upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere, the world feels fresh, the air crisp and easy. While trees still appear barren from Winter’s icy grip, upon closer inspection, each branch is laden with tiny buds, waiting to burst into leaf or flower at any moment. The pines stand with their new needles clumped together in their bright electric green. The 梅 ume plum blossoms are deep sanguineous red. The magnolia flowers still remain wrapped in their thick and fuzzy sheaths. Below, the new shoots of bright green grass push up through the soil and a light Spring shower brings earthworms to the surface, frogs to the full creeks.

There exists a sense of newness everywhere. Yet, as with every moment we encounter, early Spring holds with it a sense of fragility. The season is not yet at its full apex. Its energy, while rising, presents itself through the most delicate of means. The ume plum blossoms can be pulled down by the slightest of breezes. The shoots of grass are thin and pliable. The pine needles are soft to the touch. On the warmer days, butterflies come out and dance on the early blooming flowers. Both blossoms’ petals and butterflies’ wings are translucent and transient, gone by season’s end.

In Japan, early March is marked with a number of observances that reflect the evanescence of life. On March 3rd, 雛祭り Hinamatsuri, “Dolls Festival” or “Girls’ Day” is celebrated. In ancient times, as is still done now, dolls made of fine paper and brocade depicting the ancient imperial court are arranged in celebration of childhood. Traditionally, dolls were also placed on small grass boats and sent down the river (流し雛 nagashibina) as a means to rid oneself of potentially dangerous impurities.

Older, still, was the practice of 曲水の宴 kyokusuinoen, where courtiers would float cups of wine down a winding river, sending them to other scholars downstream who, upon collecting and imbibing the contents, would compose an impromptu poem. Older than this, March 3rd was celebrated by the ancients as 桃の節句 Momo no Sekku, “Peach Festival”, marking the moment when the delicate peach blossoms would emerge.

With all this activity in early March, the days can feel full, a new page turning with every day that passes. For the tea practitioner, the emerging of Spring feels all the more palpable as each moment had with tea brings new opportunities to reflect upon the newest developments and those soon to come. For myself, I find this activity to drive me to wanting quietude and time in nature. While I have been planning a trip up the Hudson River, I find myself restless, still caught in New York City. With talk of a spreading international pandemic and the ever-swirling political environment of the United States churning, the sense of fragility seems all the more present in my mind.

Settling down in my tearoom, I find my 取り合わせ toriawase to be a mirror onto this moment. Rather than sit with my old bronze brazier, I bring forth my small ceramic 涼炉 ryōro, atop which I place a white clay ボーフラ bōfura kettle.

Equally informal, I pair this with a lacquered 盆 bon. For a teabowl, I use a blush-colored vintage 萩焼茶碗 Hagiyaki chawan.

For a tea container, I improvise with an antique Chinese enameled cloisonné box, decorated with a bright butterfly and flowers motif against a black background.

Removing teabowl and tea container from the bon, I go through the process of initially cleansing each item.

Wiping the surface of the tea caddy with the 袱紗 fukusa, I lift its lid to inspect the mound of 抹茶 matcha powder held within.

After cleansing the 茶杓 chashaku, I turn my attention to the 茶筅 chasen and teabowl, rinsing each with the warm water from the small clay kettle.

Once purified, I scoop matcha into the warm chawan. In the warm light of the day, the color of the Hagiyaki glaze glows, reminiscent of the pale hue of a peach blossom.

The color of the bright matcha beaming like a fresh leaf.

The remaining tea residue against the dark bamboo, bright like fine moss against a branch. Each ware, a celebration of this brief moment caught within the season.

Fully whisked, the tea looks inviting, as relaxing as a Spring day. Its aroma pungent and fresh. Its flavor full of vigor and vitality.

Lifting the bowl to my lips, I sip the tea down to its last dregs, enjoying the remnants of tea that still clings to the chawan’s interior.

Turning the bowl over, I enjoy its shape in my hand and the unctuous glaze that had collected along the edge of the exposed clay around the 高台 kōdai.

I sit and let this moment wash over me. The sound of a cardinal outside my window. The tinkling of the clay kettle chattering as it boils. The lingering warmth held within the walls of the teabowl’s clay. Each of these moments exist only for this one time and then vanish, never to return again as they are.

Seasons cycle and recycle themselves constantly. What you might expect to arise again upon Spring’s return comes later than supposed and emerges differently. What forms you once thought were unbreakable are in fact fragile. A teabowl. A butterfly’s wing. One’s childhood. One’s parents. All float down the river, we catch them if we can, compose thoughts that come to us, and send them on their way. Towards the river’s end. The ocean’s beginning. To the end of a moment. To its point of no return as we once knew it. Tea affords the practitioner a view into this dynamic, yet this, too, is fleeting.

I finish my time with tea by cleansing the wares once more. Wetting and whisking and wiping away the residue of the past until each object rests again pristine upon the round lacquered tray.

Uncharacteristically to this informal setting, I decide to arrange a small 拝見 haiken. Having just practiced 香道 kōdō earlier that morning, I pull out the old wooden 香盆 kōbon tray to double as a surface to present the wares upon. The improvised tea container is set beside the chashaku.

I open it to inspect the mound of matcha as I had when I first sat down to make a bowl of tea.

Its surface is marked now by the removal of three scoops. It is marked by the memory of a bowl of tea.

The chashaku, with the small node of a new bamboo shoot pressing out of its 節 fushi. A memory, too, of life, of time, of a moment of newness, of the fragility of Spring.

2 Comments

Filed under Ceramics, Education, Green Tea, History, Incense, Japan, 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.

Leave a comment

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

Returning to a Beginner’s Mind

In the practice of tea, one is nourished on the many simple and everyday pleasures that come from brewing tea. To boil water, to assemble tea objects, and to taste the resulting brew is enough. In observing what arises through the passing of time, one can learn everything that they need in this life and, in this meditation, one can truly find all that their mind requires.

In these past months, my mind has felt restless, if not uneasy, as I mark the more than fifteen years of practicing tea. For almost two decades, the daily practice of 功夫茶 gōng fū chá and 茶の湯 chanoyu have played a critical role in the shaping of my consciousness, from the enjoyment of the mundane to the exploration of the vastness of time and space. In my recent restlessness, I have attempted to break out of these daily practices to investigate other arts, namely that of 香道 kōdō (the Way of incense), only to feel the edges of my own knowledge. Similarly, while my practice is mature, I feel only at the very beginning stages of my comprehending chanoyu. I still make mistakes and I continue to stumble along the long and twisting path.

Today, feeling this way, I sit and work-out this unease with something more familiar to me: a Winter-harvested 台灣高山烏龍茶 Táiwān gāoshān wūlóngchá (Taiwanese high mountain oolong) from 杉林溪 Shān Lín Xī brewed with a large 黑泥《西施壺》 hēi ní “Xīshī hú” (black clay “Lady of the West pot”) Yixing teapot. The teapot, which I named 座蒲, zuò pú/zafu, “meditation cushion”, is the perfect tool to realign my way of thinking and my approach to an art and practice.

Pulling forth an antique bamboo teascoop, I issue a healthy amount of tea leaves, just enough to break through the barrier that seems to be blocking my mind.

Each step in this process feels reductive. Adding tea leaves into the pot feels like a weight lifted.

Each second the leaves steep they expel their complex flavor and vibrant color.

Sealed within the black walls of the teapot, all seems to disappear into a boundless void.

Poured out into a Korean 분청사기 buncheong-jagi sookwoo (water cooling vessel), the tea liqueur is pure.

The exposed and opening leaves left to cool within the pot seem as if they have just begun to give that which they eventually will offer.

The three cups merely hint at that which has yet to come.

What I felt was an apex in my practice has revealed itself as just the beginning of a longer path. To climb a mountain and to see another, loftier summit in the distance. How terrifying. How refreshing. A world without limits. Never to see the end of the horizon. Returning to a beginner’s mind.

5 Comments

Filed under Ceramics, China, Education, Incense, Japan, Korea, Meditation, Oolong, Tea, Tea Tasting

All Labor Has Dignity

A day after friends gathered for incense and tea, I hesitate to put away the assembled wares. With the golden light of a cold January day streaming through the windows of my apartment, each object seems to glow against the blonde wood and white plaster. Hearing the gusts of swirling wind outside, I want to stay indoors, and in the still of the day I sit to meditate. It is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day here in the United States, and a meditation seems fitting to reflect upon a man who promoted nonviolence. As the warm light cascades across the table where I sit and read excerpts from a speech Dr. King gave in 1962 to an assembly of the Wholesale and Department Store Union in Monticello, New York, sunlight touches a Japanese 鬼萩 Oni-Hagi (“Demon Hagi”) teapot, a gold lacquer-repaired porcelain 宝瓶 hōhin (handleless teapot), an American-made 茶碗 chawan (teabowl), and folded paper envelopes of incense.

“There are three major evils…” King spoke… “the evil of war, the evil of economic injustice, and the evil of racial injustice.”

As light shifts and moves along the beetle-green ceramic edges of an ash-filled incense cup, my mind focuses on these words.

Not much has changed. Such evils continue to grip this nation, keeping people of all genders, races, occupations, classes, and creeds locked in mindless competition and conflict.

In tea and in incense, there is no competition. In the meditative mind, we only sit with ourselves.

Comparisons, desires, and greed can be observed and fall by the wayside. Our daily work, when done full-heartedly, brings its own sense of dignity.

In the tearoom, we leave our worldly trappings and our markers of status at the door.

One sheds a layer of red dust and enters a pure space.

Sitting amidst the quiet, on this day, a bittersweet contemplation rises. In the cold of a bright and shining Winter’s midday light, sadness sits peacefully side-by-side with joy.

To be part of a practice that honors peace such as tea, to be part of a method such as nonviolence, and to walk in this world in such a way, brings questions to the meditative mind. How to use each moment as if it were your last to further such causes? How to touch the heart so as to redirect one’s spirit towards love? Where will our future be when our present is currently such?

Leave a comment

Filed under Ceramics, China, Green Tea, History, Incense, Japan, Matcha, Meditation, Sencha, Tea, Tea Tasting

Preparing for an Incense Gathering

While much of what we think in terms of tea occurs during the tea gathering, one mustn’t overlook the hours of preparation that happen prior to the event. The mindset this creates is as much part of the “action” of tea, and certainly is equally (if not more so) meditative.

As I collect items for an incense gathering that is due to happen later this weekend, I begin the “first steps” in putting together the affects for the “listening of incense” (聞香 mon kō). Pulled from their respective 桐箱 kiribako (wooden storage boxes), I produce a ceramic 聞香炉 kiki-gōro (incense cup) and complementary three-tiered 香箱 kōbako (“incense box”). Their shapes, when set together, reflect an ancient conception of heaven and earth, represented by a square and circle.

Once opened, the kōbako reveals a tiny world within, comprised of a thin mica plate, finely-cut chips of 沈香 jinkō (aloeswood), and wrapped-up slivers of precious 伽羅 kyara (highest grade of aloeswood).

As I continue to pull from my collection of items for incense, I find an antique fish-shaped 香合 kōgo (incense container).

Once opened, tightly-rolled balls of hand-produced 練香 nerikō (kneeded incense) are revealed, their scent to remain a mystery until pressed into the hot ash of the 炉 ro (sunken hearth) set for tea.

As I ready for the event, fine ash and charcoal are pulled together.

Each void of missing charcoal is a reminder of past gatherings.

Larger pieces of antique jinkō are found, as is a Korean celadon incense container.

Additional incense woods are pulled together (sandalwood, aloeswood, and kyara), all neatly wrapped in folded washi paper.

A final moment is spent mindfully setting-out and purifying the utensils to be used for the weekend’s gathering.

Once cleansed, I delicately set each into a small container made of sandalwood.

As I go through these motions, both physical and psychological, the sense of intention becomes profound, palpable. Motions meet mindfulness, breath meets the natural cadence of unfolding thoughts, and distractions fall by the wayside. Clarity arrives.

In taking time to prepare, a meditation occurs before a meditation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ceramics, Incense, Japan, Matcha, Meditation, Tea, Tea Tasting

Listening to Incense

For many, December is a time marked by an intense flurry of work in anticipation for upcoming holidays and the beginning of the New Year. During this time, there is not much celebration nor moments to pause.

Aching to “just sit” I opted to do something a bit different today, a bit outside (though not entirely outside) the realm of tea.

Taking the briefest of moment prior to beginning my busy work day, I rose and began to heat charcoal. From a small wooden 桐箱 kiribako (wooden storage box), I produced a ceramic 聞香炉 kiki-gōro (incense cup), filled it with white ash, and set it atop a lacquer tray. To the side of this, I arranged the utensils needed for 聞香 monkō (“listening to incense”).

Retrieving the now smoldering charcoal, I pressed it into the center of the ash within the ceramic incense cup.

Shaping the ash into a mound that fully enrobed the charcoal, I then began the meticulous act of shaping the ash into a refined, low apex.

With one metal chopstick, I inscribe the ash with a pattern of lines resembling an antique millstone, finishing-up by gently wiping away any excess dust from the ceramic incense cup with a feather.

Once fully shaped, a single hole is pierced into the ash, allowing the buried charcoal to “breathe”. Peering down this, the live charcoal visibly glows within the mound of white ash.

Finally, a thin mica plate is placed atop the ash peak.

From a wooden 香合 kōgo (“incense container”), I draw out a single, tiny hand-cut fleck of 沈香 jinkō (agarwood).

This is then delicately set onto the thin mica plate.

In a matter of minutes, the subtle fragrance of the incense wood is detected.

Lifting the kiki-gōro to my nose, holding with both hands, I bring it close to my face. Rather than smell the incense, I allow the scent to envelop me. The fragrance is deep, complex, warming.

For a moment I enjoy the presence of this beautiful aroma. For a moment I pause in the bustle of the closing year.

4 Comments

Filed under Ceramics, Education, History, Incense, Japan, Meditation, Tea