The rhythm of temae

There is a regular rhythm in our daily lives. From the time we arise in the morning to when we go to sleep at night there is a certain rhythm to our day. Just as the rhythm of our heartbeat, the rhythm of our breathing regulates the processes of our bodies. The movements of our bodies, our energy, and our intention regulate the rhythm of temae.

I sometimes think of temae as a roller coaster. At the beginning, the cars start slowly climbing to the top of the first hill. The tension and excitement builds until we come to the top. For one indescribable moment at the top, the anticipation hangs before we drop down the other side.

Just as in temae during the purification of the utensils, the tension builds until the moment the guest turns the bowl to drink. The anticipation of how the guest will receive our tea hangs for a moment as the guest takes that first sip and down we go to the other side.

Then there is the build up for the next guests’ tea until all have had their bowl of tea. Up slowly, stop for a moment, down the other side, just like a roller coaster. During the closing, rinsing the bowl and whisk is going down until the anticipation starts to ramp up again as the first guest requests haiken.

The anticipation of seeing the utensils close up peaks as the host leaves the room and then haiken begins. Then we go climbing up again as the host returns to the room to tell the guests about the utensils. Down the other side as we realize the temae is coming to a close. This is a natural rhythm of temae.

Even within the high and low points of temae, there is a rhythm. For example, when whisking usucha, start slowly to incorporate the dry powdered tea into the hot water, whisk briskly to get bubbles forming and then slowly whisking across the top to pop the large bubbles before finishing in nonoji.

If the temae were all high excitement points one after another throughout the procedure, think how exhausting it would be. Taking advantage of these natural high and low points gives the guest some time to rest and recover for the next anticipated high point. Also, as the rhythm of the temae is varied, it provides more interest for the guests to pay attention as it flows from slowly to quicker to slower again.

And, Rikyu had something to say about the rhythm of temae. From the hundred poems of Rikyu:


Namaru to wa te-tsuzuki hayaku mata osoku tokoro-dokoro no sorowanu o iu

I have a couple of translations to English:

Putting a so-called accent in (namaru) means to do the steps with uneven rhythm, fast here, slow there.
What is called namaru is the quality of making tea with varied tempo.
Namaru describes the quality of making tea in which one procedure is done quickly and another slowly.


So when you are practicing your next temae, think of the rhythm of it, how it generates excitement for the guests and how to allow space for the guests to rest up for the next peak.

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