We talked about the New Year of the tea ceremony practitioners back in November. However, Japan celebrates the New Year on 1st January (based on the Gregorian calendar, which is commonly used now) as opposed to its neighboring countries in Asia, which celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Between 1st – 11th January, there is another time to celebrate and gather around a cup of tea. That is Hatsugama tea ceremony. The kanji of Hatsugama (初釜) mean “first/new” and “kettle” (for heating water during the ceremony). Essentially this means the first kettle of the year, and so the first cup of tea.
This ceremony may differ somewhat between schools, but it is usually held around the 10th of January. On this day everyone attending dresses up and uses the most distinguished kimonos. However, the kimono patterns are kept faint so as not to steal attention away from the tea.
Hatsugama being a celebratory gathering, New Year motives are noticeable all around: in the flowers, scroll, tea utensils and sweets. This is also the right moment for the host to bring out the best utensils in their possession and, for example, show the most precious tea bowl or tea scoop.
Contributing to the whole theme of the tea ceremony, the New Year motives can include animals like crane, turtle and the Zodiac animal of the year (tiger this year), as well as trees, especially pine. The crane is believed to live 1,000 years, and the turtle – 10,000 years! While these numbers are not actually true, due to their longevity these animals have become a lucky charm symbolizing a long and happy life.
Pines are evergreen trees and stay green throughout the year, that is associated with eternal life. Additionally, pines can also live for 1,000 years. Hence, they are seen as a symbol of longevity and immortality.
Hatsugama is normally carried out as a full tea ceremony – chaji (茶事). Therefore, the guests are usually served a light kaiseki course, which includes sake, poured from a special server, that is made and decorated just for this time of the year. After that thick tea – koicha and light tea – usucha are served as well.
Traditionally for this ceremony wakamizu – water drawn from a well very early in the morning, is used. It is believed that this water used to make the first teacup of the year, will protect you against illness, and help get rid of the evil.
Given the troubled last two years, it could be great for all of us to pause and make New Year’s tea in our own homes. Go ahead and celebrate this time of the year by sharing a nice cup of tea with your loved ones, even if that may be in a modern space or even a virtual setup.
We wish you a happy new year!