It is hard to beat the heat of this month. One of the things that tea people do in this month is prepare the ashes for the ro. To remove the impurities from the previous year’s ashes, they are washed and colored with bancha or spices and spread on a straw mat to dry in the sun. This is repeated again and again. It is stored in ceramic containers ready to be used in the winter hearth. After being taken care of for many years like this, the ash takes a silken texture, feel gently heavy and look deeply glossy. Ash prepared like this is very valuable.
Some of my favorite summertime sweets can be made for guests this month: mizu botan is white an colored pink wrapped in a kudzu gelatin which is then steamed (manju) to create a delightful transparent summer sweet. Kayoiji is rakugan (rice flour cake) with Daitoku-ji natto beans sprinkled here and there to suggest stepping stones. The sweet rice cake with the salty natto are a good combination of flavors. I also like the mizu yokan that is poured into small green bamboo tubes when hot and allowed to cool. You poke a hole in the bottom of the bamboo and suck the sweet out of the tube — very refreshing.
the river keeps flowing
there are no cricket secrets
the frogs talk all night
August is an in-between month. It is still unbearably hot in Kyoto at this time of year, yet there is the anticipation of Autumn. The cicadas are so loud at this time of year. And there are a number of utensils with different kinds of bugs featured.
The Obon festival is celebrated this month from about the 7th. The spirits of the deceased ancestors come back to earth. A welcoming fire is lit and at the home altar, vegetables, fruit and small gourds are offered. Food is put out each day. Then there is the sending off fires to light the spirits returning to the spirit world. On the hills surrounding Kyoto the Daimonji is lit along with the boat and other symbols. We went to the roof of our building and could see the fires on all the hills.
A good temae for August is arai jakin, where the wide flat tea bowl is brought into the tea room with cool water in it. When the host lifts the chakin and lets the water drip from it imparts a cool feeling. The bowl is then emptied into the kensui with the sound of a waterfall.
Wide flat mizusashi with large lacquer lids can be used as well as well buckets, and hand buckets. Scrolls to suggest the wind, breeze, waterfalls, flowing rivers are welcome.
An Anthology of the Seasonal Feeling in Chanoyu, by Michael A. Birch
Chado: The Way of Tea, A Japanese Tea Master’s Almanac, translated from the Japanese by Shaun McCabe and Iwasaki Satoko.
Notes from Midorikai lectures, 1996-1997