Mar 13, 2008

What to bring to a tea gathering

I have a class graduating from the 10 week introductory class and we are holding our final chakai (tea gathering) in a few days at Kashintei, the Japanese Garden tea house. Most people cannot believe that it takes ten weeks to learn to make tea. My students get to invite family and friends to show off what they have been studying and these guests will have a Japanese sweet and a bowl of powdered green tea (matcha) prepared and served by the students.

Most of the students want to dress in formal kimono for this special occasion so one must come dressed in kimono or bring everything needed to change into kimono for the chakai. The experienced guest will also make sure to bring their fukusa basami (tea utensil pouch) with fukusa (silk cloth), kaishi (sweets papers), sweets pick, fan, handkerchief and a packet of pocket tissues. Experienced guests always bring extras, in case someone else forgets or doesn’t have these things. Sometimes, a very conscientious guest will bring something for the host and kitchen crew as well – a light snack, a box of sweets or something small to show appreciation. And an even more conscientious guest will leave a discreet envelope with some money in it to help defray the costs of the tea gathering.

Most important of all, the guest must bring a good tea attitude to a tea gathering. While the host does his best to prepare everything for the guest, it is an experienced created by both the host and the guest. The guest role is every bit as important to a tea gathering as the host. The host’s role is to serve the guests. The guests’ role is to receive and to appreciate everything that the host has done to prepare for the gathering. A good way to show this is to ask questions or comment to the host about everything that the guest sees or experiences. How refreshing the garden looks, how beautiful the flowers are arranged. The guest can ask about the meaning of the scroll hung in the alcove, and about any of the utensils used to make tea or serve sweets. In fact, it is not unusual to ask about the names of the sweets and the tea – they often have poetic names.

After the tea gathering, it is polite not to linger too long. The host has many more duties to clean up and close the tea house before they can rest. And a well written thank you note is an essential part of being a guest.

So the next time you receive an invitation to a tea gathering you will know what to bring.


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  5. "Experienced guests always bring extras, in case someone else forgets or doesn’t have these things."

    This whole post is full of fabulous advice, but I love this bit because it really shows a considerate heart.

    Once I was at a chakai and was the third in a group of 5 guests receiving koicha. The jikyaku received the bowl and when the time came to wipe it, she suddenly realized she had forgotten to prepare kaishi. I'm sorry to say that I sat there like a bump on a log while the lady hastily folded a square of kaishi and wiped the bowl before passing it to me. Afterwards my sensei (who was among the next group of guests) scolded me for my inaction, pointing out that I should have promptly offered the jikyaku my own prepared kaishi to save her embarrassment. That was one of my most memorable lessons, and I was grateful for the reproof. (Since then I've always made sure to bring extra folded kaishi and to have them moistened and at the ready. That mistake, at least, I hope never to make again :-)

    1. Anonymous,
      Thank you for your comment and for your story. It is from mistakes like these that we learn lessons so much more thoroughly. Being prepared was drilled into us by my sensei, and considering others was also something that we were ecouraaged to do strenuously, just as your sensei did.