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October Seasonal Notes

October 2008

red and yellow leaves
gather the color to store
it through the winter

The autumn season is ablaze with color and full of tastes.  Two of my favorite things this time of year are yuzu and kuri the citron and chestnut.  All kinds of tea sweets incorporate these flavors. You find them in garnishes for foods prepared for this season.  Roasted chestnuts are available from vendors on the street.  And there is nothing like opening the nimono soup dish with the scent of yuzu enveloping you.

Also at this time you see a lot of insects:  mushi, bell bugs, crickets, on tea utensils. I am not sure why the Japanese love insects so much. Perhaps it is because insects symbolize autumn.

There is a general feeling of farewell and nostalgia this month as we say goodbye to the furo and to bright summer days.  The last of the tea from last year’s harvest remains at the bottom of the chatsubo, and the nights are getting cold enough for frost to form.  This month we also change from summer unlined kimono to winter lined kimono and get ready for the winter hearth.

To give guests a feeling of warmth, the furo is moved to the middle of the tatami called nakaoki and a tall slender mizusashi is used to the left of the furo.  An oita or large board can be used or the gogyodana, the five elements tana developed by Gengensai.  The five elements are fire, water, earth, metal and air.

A scroll that is often hung in the tokonoma at this time:

sei
fu
ban        pure wind, 1,000 leagues of autumn
ri
aki

 

October 2007
Notes on wabi

October is the most wabi month, but wabi is a difficult concept to communicate. What does wabi mean?  A simple explanation is  simple, rustic beauty.  But the concept of wabi is much more than that.

It has its origins in the verb wabiru. The original meaning of wabiru is to be disappointed by failing in some enterprise or living a miserable and poverty stricken life. According to the Zen-cha Roku, wabi means lacking things, having things run entirely contrary to our desires, being frustrated in our wishes. It goes on to say that to feel what is lacking is deprivation, or to believe that not being provided for is poverty is NOT wabi but rather the spirit of a pauper. Wabi means to transform material insufficiency so that one discovers in it a world of spiritual freedom. Although the beauty of wabi is not simply a beauty of mere poverty, unpretentiousness or simplicity, there are times when that is what it may seem to be.

Three aspects of wabi:
• Simple, unpretentious beauty
• Imperfect, irregular beauty
• Austere, stark beauty

The simple, unpretentious beauty is certainly one of the most obvious features of the wabi aesthetic, but it should not be confused with empty simplicity, or misshapen features with imperfect or irregular beauty. Wabi is a kind of beauty which stores a nobility, richness of spirit and purity within what may appear to be a rough exterior. There is a restraint that does not call attention to itself, yet attention to the smallest detail has been lavished on what cannot be seen.

An example of imperfect, irregular beauty we can see in the many famous tea utensils that have somehow been damaged and lovingly repaired. There is a well known bamboo flower vase made by Rikyu called Onj?ji and it is prized because it is cracked, or the tea bowl named Seppo made by Koetsu that is admired because is has been repaired.

The austere, stark beauty of wabi comes from the tradition of renga poetry, a form of group composition of linked verse and from the Noh theater. The poets called it a cold and withered beauty and Zeami of the Noh called it an austere and serene beauty. This is the beauty of age and experience that can only be attained through a master’s accomplishment. It is a paring away of externals, until only the essence is left.

Mi wataseba
hana mo momiji mo
nakarikeri
ura no tomaya no
aki no yugure

As I look around, no flowers or colored leaves, at the seashore, a thatched hut stands alone in the autumn dusk.

This is the poem that Takenojoo used to describe the feeling of wabi. Without the gorgeousness of the summer flowers and brilliance of the autumn leaves, this forlorn scene has the power to move us. It is fleeting, as the night is coming on. This feeling of wabi is not just the simple, rustic beauty often described as wabi today. There is a depth to this feeling of loneliness, of nostalgia, of impermanence. And yet there is something else here. Something that is more than meets the eye. We want to know, is someone living here? How do they live? Who are they?

Much more has been written about wabi, but hopefully this will help with the understanding of the origins and depth of the wabi aesthetic.

October 2006

wind hums a sad tune
moaning through the window shade
this autumn evening

The early mornings and evenings are definitely chillier but warms to mellow autumn afternoons here in the Pacific Northwest.  Leaves are beginning to show their color. Later this month the first frost begins to appear in the mornings.  Now is the time to prepare the garden for the winter to come.

Traditionally, the tea jars that were packed full from last year are down to the end of tea this time of year. Mostly there are the broken and discarded leaves at the bottom of the jar. The brazier moves from the left side of the tatami mat to the middle to move the fire closer to the guests and ward off the chill. Soon the brazier will be put away and there is a general melancholy at the coming of winter. There is a nostalgic lingering feeling of farewell. This is called nagori.

This is the month where tea utensils that have been cracked or broken and lovingly repaired are used. There is an urge to use precious resources and not waste anything.

Tea sweets and utensil themes for October include frost, wind, colored leaves, chestnuts, autumn grasses, wild mushrooms and mountain paths.

There is the Japanese folk tale kimamori or the guardian persimmon.  That is, one last fruit is left on the tree as a talisman to ensure that the harvest for next year is abundant.

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.

Wind in the Pines: Classic Writings on the Way of Tea as a Buddhist Path, compiled and edited by Dennis Hirota.

Notes from Midorikai lectures, 1996-1997

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