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January Seasonal Notes

January 2008

I forget
behind the grey clouds
the sky’s blue

January is the month of firsts.  Tatezome – first tea;  kakezome – first writing (calligraphy);  ikezome – first arrangement of flowers; hatsugama – first kettle. Since this is the year of the rat, it is also the beginning of the zodiac.  Legend has it that the rat was first because he hitched a ride on the ox who was in the lead, but jumped off the ox and became the first animal of the zodiac.

For those of you born in the year of the rat some personality attributes are forthright, disciplined, systematic, meticulous, charismatic, hardworking, industrious, charming, eloquent, sociable, shrewd. Can be manipulative, cruel, dictatorial, rigid, selfish, obstinate, critical, over-ambitious, ruthless, intolerant, scheming.

Poetic themes have been designated for poetry gatherings since the Heian period (794-1185).  At the new year, it was the custom for poems from each province to be presented to the Emperor. The poems were thought to embody the spirit of each area and add to the Emperor’s spirit. In return, the Emperor’s spirit, embodied in his poem, was given to all the country.

Today, the Imperial Poetry Reading takes place in the Tokyo Imperial Palace in early January. Several poems are selected from the thousands submitted and are read or chanted in the traditional lyrical style before the Imperial family.  Those whose poems have been selected are invited as guests and the Emperor’s poem is read last.

Besides poems with the theme, every year craftsmen who make tea utensils use the chokudai to commemorate the year.  Last year the poetic theme was moon. The chokudai for 2008 is hi or fire.  I wonder what the new year will bring with the theme of fire?  Will it mean that people will get fired up?

Why not compose a poem on new year’s day to commemorate the year?  Everyone remembers writing haiku in grade school.  Try to write a short fire poem with 5-7-5 syllables per line.  Or try writing a poem in the classical waka style with 5-7-5-7-7 syllables per line.

I have a feeling that 2008 will be a very exciting and passionate one.  For me, I hope so.

January 2007

morning star
floats above the trees
a new day

The New Year is considered a season by itself, with its own utensils, decorations and themes.

The first tea ceremony of the year is called Hatsugama.  Literally, the first kettle.  Teachers host the first gathering for students. In the tokonoma (alcove) there are symbolic displays of good luck, abundance, long life and prosperity. The knotted willow symbolizes abundance for its many buds and perseverance because it will stay alive for many days without water.  Pine symbolizes long life; uncooked rice symbolizes abundance.

Other auspicious motifs for Hatsugama include shochikubai, the three friends pine, bamboo, and plum.  Cranes are considered auspicious as well.  Other auspicious symbols include dried persimmon, seaweed, tangerines and lobsters. Displays in the tokonoma may also relate to the chokudai or poetic theme of moon.  You may see the decorated battledore paddles and buriburi incense containers, too.

Other utensils for Hatsugama include a nesting set of red raku bowls called shimadai, representing the Isle of Eternal Youth. The inner one is lined with gold and the foot is in the shape of the pentagon symbolizing a crane. The outer one is lined with silver and the foot is the shape of a hexagon symbolizing the turtle. It relates to the mythology of the crane standing on the back of a turtle to hold up the world.  When tea is made in this set, little flakes of the gold and silver mix with the tea and it is considered good luck.

They say that if you put a paper with the 7 gods of good fortune under your pillow the first night of the year and you dream of Mt. Fuji, it is an auspicious dream.  If you dream of a hawk, is symbolizes bravery and if you dream of eggplant, fertility.

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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