The new year for tea is upon us. Frost is forming and the mountain passes are filling with snow. The landscape and people are preparing for winter cold. Once again the fire moves to the sunken hearth and laying charcoal for the first time is celebrated at Robiraki.
The chatsubo, the tea container that has held the tea leaves since the harvest in May, is brought out and opened in a ceremony called Kuchikiri. The sealed jar is displayed in the tea room as the guests enter. The host takes the jar from the mesh bag, allows the guests to see the seal before he/she opens the seal and takes out the tea leaves to be ground for tea that day. Then the jar is sealed up again.
There are two ways to display the chatsubo: in the mesh bag as noted above and with the three decorative knots, formal in front, semiformal to the right, and informal to the left. This is a beautiful way to display the chatsubo if you are not going to take the tea out of the jar in front of the guests.
drifting in the mist
the mountain passes are filled
with the first snow fall
November is an important month for tea people. It is the change of seasons and the fire moves from the summer brazier to the winter sunken hearth. The opening of the Ro or sunken hearth, is celebrated with a tea event called Robiraki. Charcoal is laid for the first time in the hearth below the floor level and the tea that was picked in May and sealed in earthenware jars is ground to powder and tasted for the first time. The traditional sweet bean soup with mochi or chestnuts, called zenzai, is served as a hot sweet before the serving of tea. The shoji is repapered, the pine needles are spread over the moss and bare earth where the frost will form. In each detail, there is the feeling of the quiet and purity of winter. For many tea people, it is the beginning of the new tea year.
Themes for November include charcoal, pine needles, winter wind, sudden showers, frosty nights and winter rain. Wild boars are associated with November, as are momiji, the red maple leaves of autumn, gingko nuts and roasted chestnuts.
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