My first chakai

I’d like to introduce to you a guest blogger, Stephanie. She is a student and has been studying for more than 2 1/2 years. Earlier this year, she put on her first chakai:

Earlier this year I hosted my first chakai (tea gathering) for a fellow student who was returning to Japan. It was fitting that she be shokiakyu (first guest) and I teishu (host) since we had studied together for several months. My senpai (senior students) helped me plan and even agreed to be hanto (serving the tea in the tea room) and mizuya-cho (preparing everything outside of the tea room). One of my senpai painted the artistic work on the front of the invitation! I am so fortunate that Margie sensei encourages us to host chakai and for generous senpai!

Margie Sensei and Honored Guest

One of the best things about planning a chakai is that it’s an integrative learning experience. It allowed me to take the individual learnings from my lessons and bring them together in a whole. Part of the learning, for me, was figuring out what needed to be done and when. For example, I needed to decide upon the guest list; select a theme; make and send the invitations; purchase fresh tea, whisk and chakin (linen cloth for purification); select the utensils and appropriate poetic names; write up the kaiki (a list of the utensils with names); decide upon and make/procure sweets and much more.

Tea Bowl Name: Haru Gasumi, Spring Mist, named by First Guest

I also wanted to honor my friend and teachers by doing my best at making tea and so I practiced the temae (tea procedure) many times at home, until I could more or less complete it without egregious error. I aspired to a place of familiarity so that I could also speak during the tea-making. This can be a challenge, but an important one as much of the theme is revealed through the stories told. I believe that practice is always a worthy path and it has paid off for me in multiples, as my comfort with the basic procedure has grown tremendously through the experience.

The day of the chakai, my senpai and I arrived early. They were so wonderful, I can’t say thanks enough! They helped me clean, wipe the tatami, hang the scroll, arrange the flowers, set up the utensils, etc. We even had time for a dry run which helped me feel much more at ease. One of my senpai dressed me in kimono (so that it would go faster than my 2.5 hour process!), and then the guests arrived.

Stephanie (host, center) and Senpai

Stephanie (host, center) and Senpai

From this point onward, things unfolded in their natural order and I believe the experience was meaningful to everyone involved. My hands shook visibly as I placed the chashaku (tea scoop) onto the natsume (tea container) and I forgot to open the lid to the mizusashi (cold water jar) at the right time, among numerous other minor blunders. Margie sensei had trained me well to make my mistakes as beautifully as possible and carry on. My heart was filled with warmth to honor my friend and the other guests. The tea was made and served, the stories were told and the conversations were lovely, making for a once-in-a-lifetime tea gathering.

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