"Yobanashi" Tea Ceremony

Madoka Mayuzumi

Japanese people love things that are in constant change. The shadow of fallen bamboo leaves reflecting on shoji (paper) screen. The look of dew on morning glories. Kuzufu, grass cloth, blowing in the wind and changing its shape. We are fascinated by the mutability of things that are transient, ephemeral and gone instantly.

In spring, tasting sake by the reflection of the cherry blossoms.
In summer, pondering at the waterside.
In autumn, traveling through the light of autumn leaves.
In winter, reading letters by the reflection of snow.

The promise made under the dim light through a paper screen or dating in the moonlight remains as sweet memory in one's mind. The shadow, accompanied with the glimmering light, also flickers. The whole thing in the memory is mutable. Images and memories can be reshaped over time.

"yobanashi e shigururu zari no oto tatete"
Yobanashi tea ceremony--
in winter drizzle,
sound of pebbles.

Last winter, I had an opportunity to attend a "Yobanashi" Tea Ceremony in Ohara, Kyoto, at the mountain villa of the long-established confectioner. The host of the tea ceremony was the owner of the villa. "Yobanash" Tea Ceremony is fully presented under candlelight. In the remaining red leaves of winter, guests were lead by handheld candles to the waiting place, walking on the wet pebbles and stepping stones. Whenever the candlelight flickers, wet moss on the stones glimmered. I felt as if I were deep in the water.

When we entered the waiting place, the host welcomed us with a flower and a haiku, as a head verse.

"chanohana ya makkurokuro ni shirosa kana"
A flower--
in darkness
shines white.

After the main guest added the wakiku (second verse) closely followed the host's hokku (the head verse), the guest rang the bell and entered the tea room.

My verse was:
"momijishigure no beni no naka nimo"
In drizzle, maple leaves,
reflects red.

As I was hurried by the other guests in the chilly evening, I had a hard time creating a verse to match the hokku. I used the contrast of colors, white tea flower, black night of darkness in Ohara, and red maple leaves in the winter rain.

The second verses of other guests were as follows:

"kokemederu kokoro o asobu chano shigusa"
Cherish moss
in mind,
the motion of ceremony.

"gankou kiyoshi kangetsu no niwa"
Geese fly in the night sky
moonshine in the cold garden.

"oozora e kumono tanabiku sanzenin"
In the sky,
clouds drift
over Sanzenin Temple.

"izure ro-ma no ano kuukan e"
Through space to Rome
at any point of time.

"ototatete tou o kizukishi yume o mimu"
Dreams of building towers
in sound.

"inishie yorino kaze o hakobite"
Carry winds
from ancient times.

"mirai e to iunano chawan yawarakaku"
Tea cup named future
soft and gentle.

kama naritakaku utsunemo kiyosi"
Sounds of the tea pot,
serene and pure.

The guests added their verses following the other's verse, while they were served tea. They focused colors first: white of a flower, black of darkness, red of maple leaves, green of moss, blue of sky. The verse jumped over space to Rome, and over time to ancient times. Then the teacup called "future" appeared. Following the ancient in the former verse, the host replied offering the teacup called "future". The guests were amazed with the host's witty reply. The whole process was going under the dim and sweet lighting of Japanese candles and flickering shadows. The only sounds were boiling water, serving tea and winter rain over the villa.

The decor and tea utensils by Kobori Enshu, the scroll of Shokado Shojo, a teacup of Rengetsuni, were all seen in the flickering lights and shadows reflected by the flame of candles. We talked and talked, and enjoyed the moment.

"Haikai poetry, the practice of composing linked sequences of waka poetry, is created by the poets' spontaneous ideas and the atmosphere the space provides. When wound up, an interesting play ends, too. I like the instant enjoyment as if I am watching a movie." It is a quote from Hiroshi Kojitani, one of the members of the ceremony.

The memory of the moment woven under the reflecting candlelight emerges more vividly as time goes by.

Madoka Mayuzumi
Haiku Poet

May 15, 2005