The following essay was written by John Seavitt, a student of both Iaido and Urasenke Tea Ceremony. It may not seem to be about budo, but as you read it, you may notice the constant attention to even the smallest details (zanshin), and respect and etiquette at every turn. These are intregal parts of budo, and awareness and application of them should be constant. --The editor.
This past weekend, the senior students of the Boston Urasenke group organized a formal tea gathering, complete with meal preceding tea, as a gesture of congratulations to our instructor. Aiko-sensei received her Kyoju certificate during last fall's visit to the United States of the Urasenke Oeimoto (headmaster) Soshitu Sen. As in other classical arts, technical accomplishment, permission to study, and license to teach are expressed as a series of certificates, and this one is an advanced teaching certificate.
The theme of the gathering was sakura, of course - the spring cherry blossom. The components of the meal and the sweets to accompany the tea were prepared entirely from scratch by about seven students. The day was beautiful; spring has been very slow to come to Boston and it was only the second day above 60 degrees. It had been arranged to use the sanzashi-an tea room at the Boston branch of Showa Women's University. The campus has a small Japanese garden where we were able to relax while waiting for everyone to assemble. Most cooperatively, the cherry tree there was perfectly in bloom.
It is traditional to present guests with a bit of loose tobacco along with some narrow pipes while the company is arriving. The tobacco was folded inside a piece of pink paper with a cherry blossom pattern. Normally, it would be lit with a bit of charcoal that is placed at the peak of a combed cone of ash inside a cup-sized piece of pottery, much in the manner that rare incense is burned. This was also present though, amusingly, no one took the opportunity to try it.
We ate a light meal together prior to retiring to the tea room. It was preceded by a bowl of 'tea' made with hot water in which a pair of preserved cherry blossoms had been placed, providing a delicate but distinctive flavor. The meal was then brought out on individual trays. The presentation was simple but beautiful - and the food was really good. Things that stood out in particular included a piece of salmon treated with a teriyaki wash and gently grilled; a slice of a terrine-like preparation of chicken and sesame; boiled carrot sliced to resemble the iconic, five-lobed cherry blossom; egg cooked very thin and flat, like crepe, and then rolled up and sliced to show all the layers. Mashed potatoes were tinted light pink and green, formed into small balls and served on a skewer. Fresh bamboo garnished with miso was presented inside a stout piece of bamboo shoot, perhaps an inch in diameter and three inches high. Rice pressed into a pair of small ingots, some pickled vegetables, fresh vegetables, and fruit completed the tableau.
We moved to the tea room, where the incense in
the tokonoma was already alight. Folks enjoyed the aroma while they
examined the scroll also hung there which suggested: "In and of itself,
the day is neither good or bad - it is we who make the day what it 'is'."
(and it said all that in just five kanji ... my translation just makes
it sound more complicated). We also noted that the usual flower container
was hung but empty. Later, our hostess politely suggested that no
flower was required, since Aiko-sensei was our 'flower' for this gathering.
We arranged ourselves in the room after everyone had an opportunity to
admire the hot iron kettle and the ceramic cold water container.
Two okashi were served - the first a molded confection, tinted light green,
which is essentially meringue stiffened with a lot of sugar, very crumbly.
The second was a small ball of adzuki bean paste, robed with white bean
paste which is pulled out slightly into 'stems' all over its surface, tinted
half pink with the remainder left white. Both were flavored cherry-blossom.
Tea was served in a matched set of bowls glazed blue-green with three small
pink sakura on the front inside. Some light conversation followed
while several folks had a second bowl of tea (hey - if you don't ask for
more tea, you don't get any more sweets). The tea container and the
tea scoop were passed around for everyone to appreciate. The scoop,
normally made from bamboo, was in this case made of cherry wood, again
as a complement the theme. Our hostess removed all the utensils from
the room, and we said our goodbyes.