Monday, October 1, 2012

小望月の陰波にうつろう。 (Tea class; chabako; Chinese tea.)

Yesterday, at long last, I was able to get back to chanoyu (Tea) class. Such a pleasure! I had some transportation issues (ie, I couldn't find the right gate), so I missed the first student's temae, but I did get to guest for the second student and then go through my own. I thought I'd be rustier than I actually was; most of my errors were more about doubt than about lack of practice.

This evening we gathered as a small group for tea outside, under the (nearly) full moon (小望月!); it was something between a chaji and a chakai. 茶の湯の先生 performed koicha as chabako, tea service from a small box, for ten guests. There was an additional wrinkle for me, as we were seated in parallel facing lines, five and five, and I was the last guest in the first line and had to come up with ways of interacting with the next guest, who was a few mats away and to my right. I ended up saying my おさきにs across the room, and the guest to my right, Aさん, helped me carry the dougu over for haiken. We were on the veranda just outside Shofuso—what's the word for that in Japanese architecture, again?—so we could see the garden and the koi pond, and eventually the lanterns, and hear the waterfall and the cicadas. (Or maybe they were crickets.) At first the sky was cloudy, so all we could see was strong beams from an intriguing art project currently going on in town, but ultimately the sky cleared to reveal a shining, very nearly full moon. Otsukimi was officially last night, but tonight made a beautiful after-party.

And there was a special treat: five of the guests were from the local Chinese tea club, so after chabako they brewed several of their teas for us, in several Chinese (and Taiwanese) styles. As it turns out, Tea in the Chinese style is almost nothing at all like Tea in the Japanese style; pretty much everything is different, from the teas used, to the guest and dougu arrangements, to the movements, to the overarching philosophy. Apparently in China it's thought of as lao-ren-cha (老人茶), "old man's tea", and the styles are organic and really based on experiencing the flavors of the tea in question. One tea may go through several brewings, using very small tea cups, so that the guests can experience the changing of the tea through its stages of opening, strengthening, and weakening. The pouring technique changes according to the kind of tea in use, the stage, etc.—so, for example, whereas for some teas water is poured around the periphery of the teapot to ensure even warming, others need to be agitated in order to reach their full flavor, and others, such as teas roasted for 60 hours, need extremely hot water to "wake up" and release their flavor. The setup is informal and conversational; the paradigm really is of elders sitting together and drinking tea. Until recently there were no "schools", no licenses, no hierarchy; one simply brewed tea. (Now, I'm told, there are some who have opened schools of Chinese tea practice; but these are in the minority.) The Japanese style has schools with exact and distinctive (school-specific) movements, a progression of styles, and a hierarchy of achievement that parallels those of other disciplines, including martial arts, swordmanship, archery (I think), calligraphy, etc. There are blends used in chanoyu, but all of matcha—e.g., a toasted tea probably never be served—so mastering the service is more about technique and achieving the right temperature of tea, froth, ratio of tea to water, and seasonally appropriate aesthetic choices.

One of the Chinese-tea students described chanoyu as "cerebral"; even from my limited experience I don't think I can agree with that. Probably he meant that it's based on more rules, but I think any student of chanoyu would say that it's more about training the muscles—i.e., one learns the rules and practices in order to forget it all and just do the thing, without a lot of thoughts flying through. The same student said that in Chinese service it's considered wrong to let doubt or frustration—or being scalded by the teapot—show on one's face, as it changes the experience for the guests.

Aさん and I and a few others are undisciplined and laughed a lot—always about tea ideas—but the temae was informal, so some chattering was encouraged. I like that the group includes people who have studied other arts—ikebana, taiko, kimono, juujutsu, calligraphy, etc.—so we can all "compare notes" on how those arts differ. I'd like to take up something else, like karate or koudou (incense) to be able to contribute some more insight.

(Edited for line breaks. Why is Blogger so mean about line breaks?)