July Seasonal Notes

July 2008

a summer shower
hits the hot cement pavement
raindrops disappear

The summer months of July and August are the most challenging for tea people.  Asa chaji held in the early morning to beat the heat for this time of year is considerate of guests.  Images of water, waterfalls, rivers, streams and water dripping on moss project coolness.  A larger room with reeds instead of shoji to let in any cool breeze can be used.  Sunlight in the tea room is to be avoided, so a darker room will seem cooler. White flowers, unfinished wood utensils and images of water birds also add to the illusion of coolness.

I have also made iced matcha tea in the tea room at this time of year. When bringing in kensui, also bring in a chawan of ice cubes with a porcelain spoon.  Put the bowl of ice near the wall with your left hand. Make tea as usual but use a little less water.  Before putting out the teabowl for the guest, take the bowl of ice in your left hand and with your right hand scoop one or two ice cubes and gently float them in the matcha.  The hot water will melt the ice, and the tea will be cooled without disturbing the foam on the top.

 July 2007

white hot sun beats down
on airless days of summer
wind chimes faint tinkle

The seventh day of the seventh month is the Tanabata or Star festival. The Star festival dates back to the Chin-Tang dynasties in China. The legend is that the lord of heaven’s daughter (the star Vega) who lived on the East bank of the Milky Way (amanogawa or river of heaven), was so intent on weaving that she did not think to ever get married. Her father gave her to the goat heard (the Star Altir) who lived on the West bank. They were so happy that she gave up weaving and angered her father. He separated them on each side of the river and they could only see each other one day of the year on the seventh day of the seventh month. If it rained, however, she would not be able to cross the river, but the magpies would spread their wings and make a bridge for her.

Thus any utensils that relate to this legend such as stars, bridges, thread spools, weaving looms, goats, or magpies would be good to incorporate into your theme. A tradition also for Tanabata is writing wishes or poems on strips of paper and hanging them from bamboo branches and leaves.

The Gion Matsuri is said to be one of the most famous, if not the most famous, festival in all of Japan. It spans the entire month of July and is crowned by the beautiful parade, the Yama-boko Junk? on July 17. This festival first originated as part of a purification ritual. In 869 the people were suffering from plague and pestilence which was thought to be a result of the rampaging deity Gozu Tenno. The emperor ordered that the people pray to the god of the Yasaka shrine. Sixty-six stylized and decorated halberds, one for each province in Japan, were prepared and erected at Shinsen-en Garden (at the intersection of Oike Street and Omiya Street) along with the portable shrines from Yasaka Shrine.

At the hottest time of year the parade of large wheeled carts, some more than two stories tall, are pulled by men through the main streets of the city. When I saw this parade, we were sitting near a corner and since the carts are very simple two wheels on an axle, they are difficult to turn. On each cart there were men who would jump down and place bamboo under the cart wheels so that the men pulling the cart could turn the whole thing. Then the men would gather up the bamboo and jump back on the cart. Both men and women are dressed in colorful yukata and you hear the clack, clack, clack of the geta all over the place. There is much visiting and temples and shrines serve tea to visitors.

References:

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

 

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