November is the perfect time to start writing about the Tea Ceremony. It is a moment of change, and new beginnings.
October in Japan has been warm, but towards the end of the month, close to November, you can start feeling that fall finally is here. The fallen leaves on the floor of the street, the light wind making you put on a jacket, and the smell of chestnut and sweet potato through the streets gives you that sensation, “ah, it is autumn”.
In tea ceremony practice, it is the time to move from Furo (風炉, portable brazier used in summer) to Ro (炉, sunken hearth inside the tatami floor, used in winter). Nowadays, we have climate-controlled rooms, but in the past, it was a way to bring the heat closer to the guests, so they could warm up.
It was also the occasion for a very special celebration – the Kuchikiri Tea Ceremony (口切りの茶事), also known as the New Year for the Chajin (persons that practice the way of tea).
In the early summer the very best of harvested tea leaves were selected, wrapped and placed into a beautiful jar, called Tsubo (壺). The jar was sealed with a wooden lid, and beautiful cloths and ropes (壺飾り), so that the air would not enter.
When November arrived (亥の日), which in the old Japanese calendar was about the start of winter, the tea jar was showcased and Kuchikiri Tea Ceremony took place. During the ceremony the main guest requested gently if it was possible to see the jar, and taste the tea, which the host accepted gladly on this occasion.
The moment of opening the tea jar, in front of the guest, was an honorific moment. Imagine for seconds passing in your mind; the sound of the old jar being unsealed, and suddenly, the entire preserved tea aroma coming out. A moment to stop and think, how simple things in life can be so fulfilling.
In the past the tea leaves were ground on the spot with a stone mill, and served to the guests to enjoy the high quality tea of the season. Nowadays, since grinding takes a lot of time, and we have better ways of tea preservation, the tea is usually already ground, and the Tsubo jar is more of a decoration to admire, like a piece of art, rather than a tea storage utensil.
And so from here, we open a new tea, and a new year (of tea ceremony).
Which tea will you open this autumn?