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Supporting players

Not everyone gets to be the star every time.  The lead singer or guitarist gets all the accolades and the bass player and drummers get little notice. Quite often it is these supporting players, who make the stars look their best.  We tend to focus on the front men, and ignore the behind the scenes workers.

Every successful business person has said that they didn’t accomplish what they did alone. They all had a team of supporters, mentors, coaches and assistants.  Keith Richards said that his job is to make Mick Jagger look and perform his best.

I had a new student tell me the other day that they thought the teishu was the most important person in the chakai. But in fact everyone has a role to play that is important, too.  For the guests, having an excellent shokyaku really enhances the experience by calling attention to things the host has chosen for the guests.  The shokayku in speaking for the rest of the guests, has a huge responsibility to make sure that she is paying attention to the timing and asking questions at the appropriate time.  The shokyaku also makes sure that things are moving along when the teishu is not in the room, as when the guests are eating the meal.  It is also the responsibility of the shokyaku to make sure all of the guests are included and that they feel comfortable with what is going on and reminding the other guests about small things like RSVP and thank you notes.

The mizuya cho is also an important role that often doesn’t get a lot of attention.  I know that when I have a good cho, that I can relax a little as a teishu, because the cho has everything under control behind the scenes.  I am assured that when I need to bring in the kensui, the cho has already soaked the hishaku so it doesn’t slide off the kensui when I carry it into the room, and that the sweets are ready at the proper time and oriented so that all I have to do is pick them up and take them in to serve to the guests. This and a thousand other things the cho can do to make the job easier for the teishu.

Most of all the hanto has the hardest job.  Even though the hanto is billed as the host’s assistant, he is crucial to making everything go smoothly.  The hanto has to pay attention to what is going on in the tea room, the mizuya and the kitchen.  If there is anything that is going wrong in the tea room, it is the hanto who steps up and takes care of it. Spilled the tea? The hanto is right there to clean it up. Timing going a little long?  It is the hanto who communicates that to the kitchen and mizuya.  Sometimes it is the hanto who is explaining things to guests, or delivering and returning the haiken dogu.  The hanto is the one who stays in the room with the kinin. And all the while the hanto has to make sure that the teishu is taken care of without calling attention to himself.

Recently, I had a compliment from a teacher. She said that all of my students were modest, didn’t put themselves forward, or call attention to themselves, and deferred to other teachers and senior students.  Yet they were always there to help out, clean up, and make sure others felt comfortable.  It is not often that people notice these kinds of behaviors, let alone compliment them. In our society we celebrate the leading scorers, the star players. Everyone knows their names and what they accomplished. But it is the unknowns working hard behind the scenes that really make everything successful.

In the tea room, the supporting players, though little noticed, make everything run smoothly. If they do their job properly, they don’t call attention to themselves, yet the experience for everyone is enhanced.

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