This year, I have several students who have put on a chakai or are planning to put on chakai for guests. It takes a lot of planning and effort to do this, and yes a lot of courage to do it. From the beginning to just decide to host a gathering is kind of a scary thing to do. I am very proud of these students who have stepped up or are about to step up in their training and take the plunge.
The tea gathering can be as simple as sweets and usucha, or as elaborate as a full kaiseki, charcoal fire, koicha, and usucha. No matter what the gathering, planning is essential. At every stage, decisions about the date, venue, who to invite, invitations, toriawase, temae, and a thousand other things crowd together. With food or without food, what kind of sweets, who will make them? It helps to have support, so recruiting fellow students to share the workload is important as well.
Over the years, I have developed a utensil checklist to help with the planning and a countdown, from the first planning, to the day of the event, so nothing is forgotten. Role definition, seating arrangements, and parallel flowcharts of the order of things and of what is happening in the kitchen, mizuya and honseki are helpful as well.
Wedding planners, caterers, event managers, and project managers will recognize many of these tools, because pulling off a chakai is a major event. The more planning up front, the less possibility of an unrecoverable disaster the day of the event.
But even the best planned event probably will have its own disasters, so hosts should remain flexible with a sense of humor, and strive to work out solutions on the spot without resorting to blame. After all, the guest’s experience is what counts.
Besides, what are we training every week in class for? So that when the time comes, you can present tea splendidly and without shame. I hope you will decide to host a tea gathering this year. If you do, please send me a photo or let me know about it.