In tea ceremony, observing the change of the seasons is a way to enjoy every moment as unique (一期一会, ichi go ichi e), within the ever-changing nature.
Japan has 4 main seasons; spring, autumn, winter, and summer. However, in the Japanese calendar, these seasons contain 24 micro seasons. Furthermore, in the ancient Japanese calendar, there were up to 72 nano seasons.
Between the 7th – 21st December, we are on the 大雪 season. It is pronounced “taisetsu”; and the combination of the two kanji characters means “heavy snow”. As the name indicates, is the season where there is a higher likelihood of heavy snow.
Through the years, the seasons have shifted a bit, bringing the start of winter to around 8th November. From then on the nights are getting longer. By December, it is already dark at around 17:00. It is this time of the year, when “Yobanashi no Chaji” (夜咄の茶事) is held.
Yobanashi translates to “night story”, and Chaji, means a formal Japanese tea ceremony. It is a magical and relaxing one; with the sun setting so early, the tea room gets dark, and so, a candle is lit. The ceremony is performed in the dark, and the candlelight is the only illumination of the room that evening.
This ceremony offers the opportunity to enjoy the long nights of the winter, gather with your guests for a hot cup of tea, and appreciate that they came on a cold, and probably snowy, day. It starts around 18:00 with the preparation of charcoal, so the water inside the chagama (teapot) can start heating up. Then guests are served a light kaiseki meal, made of winter ingredients: soup, vegetables, hot pot, and sake. Thick and thin tea will be served in this solemn atmosphere as well, and the whole ceremony will last around 2-3 hours.
In terms of the tea room decorations, there are several styles and options. Some people think that as the room will be dark, the decoration might not be appreciated, and so they may decide to go with a simple decoration such as the fly-whisk, which is a Buddhist symbol of “sweeping” ignorance. On the other hand, other people may decide to have a white flower, reflecting the winter snow, or hang a kakejiku (hanging roll) with very big characters, so is easy to read in the dark.
You are free to choose. At the end of the day, what is important is to enjoy this unique time with your guests, in this humbling and sensorial experience that is, the “Yobanashi no Chaji”.