Saturday, May 19, 2012

今朝茶の湯のお稽古 (Tea!)

Beautiful tea class today. Sunshine, blue sky, cool breeze, many visitors at Shofuso. We were doing 薄茶 (usucha, thin/weak tea), so as sweets we had delicious wafer-like cookies called (I think) zenbei*, with a maple-y flavor and a little outline of a ginkgo leaf on each. We had class in the larger room (書院, 15 mats), rather than in the 4.5-mat 茶室, so I had to recalibrate my walking a bit; went well pretty overall, but I need to practice more over the week so I can be more confident in the flow, especially in お仕舞い (oshimai, closing). My ankle injury made even more clear the contrast between 正座 (seiza, "sitting correctly") and 安座 (anza, "sitting comfortably")—there was no 安 whatsoever in my 正.

The first guest (正客, shoukyaku) really has to be on the ball throughout the event, because, aside from the scripted formalities, the other guests are rarely allowed to speak. After each bowl is returned from the guest to the host and rinsed out, the first guest has to signal to the host whether to make another bowl, to make him-/herself a bowl, or to move on to the closing-up (お仕舞い) activities. The phrase for making a bowl of tea for oneself, when asked to, is one that (I think) is used only in this context: 御自服 (gojifuku, honorific–self–powder/tea). We call it "playing the gojifuku card". Maybe it's just a way of being thoughtful, or maybe it was a way for your enemy, whom you've invited to a formal tea meeting and who now suspects you've just poisoned them with matcha, to make you do the same to yourself. I wonder whether there's a protocol for refusing.

*When I was trying to confirm the word 先生 used for the sweets, Google helpfully suggested I meant "Japanese tea sweet zombie". A few more zenbei, and I could turn into one of those!) 

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