Sep 5, 2008

The host revealed

In chanoyu, the guests pretty much make their way into the tea room alone, look at everything displayed and settle themselves before host comes into the room. After the greetings, the host brings in the utensils and sets up for the tea ceremony.

Because of the attention and focus of the guests, the host’s actions are magnified. Every gesture is revealing about the host. Because every gesture has emotional and psychological impact, we must be careful and attentive to what we do. How we open the door for example, says a lot of things about the host’s state of mind.

Precision when handling the hishaku, the water ladle, the position of the kokoro no kagami (mirror of the heart) and the sound it makes when it is put down, these first impressions set the tone for the rest of the temae.

When the host begins to fold the fukusa to purify the utensils, it can be a time that the guests begin to breathe in unison with the host. Unconsciously, the host is bringing the separate guests into one with this breathing. If the host hurries through this part of the procedure, the guests cannot catch up and the opportunity is lost to bring guests and hosts together in this subtle way.

The choice of scroll and theme, of flowers and how they are arranged, of utensils chosen are all clues and reveals something about the host. In these non-verbal communications, the host is speaking to the guests and telling them about himself. Guests, are you listening?


  1. This is something I always have some difficulty explaining to audiences at tea demonstrations. People often want to know why there is so little conversation or chatting, since they equate conversation with friendliness and silence with coldness. They need to be reminded that silence can also be comfortable and even intimate.

    I try to explain that, particularly at the beginning, the host and guest are establishing a harmonious feeling through their silent attention to one another. Since the host's every movement is informed by an intent to please the guest, the best way the guest can honour that is to be perfectly attentive, appreciating each step of the temae. Conversation, especially at that point, can take our attention away from what the host is doing for us, and creates a distraction for him or her.

    It can be OK to engage in a little conversation, especially later in the temae; but it has to be undertaken very mindfully, I think, so that this danger can be avoided.

    I loved your description of guests breathing in unison with the host; I have never done this, but I will be paying very close attention from now on! Thank you!

  2. chamekke,

    Hello and welcome back. Thank you for your conversation about host and guest. My beginning class have gotten to know each other and can become quite chatty during other student's temae. I sometimes have to reimind them that as good guests to pay more attention. Or sometimes, I just ask them if they noticed something that the host did during temae.

    Breathing in unison with the host is more obvious in koicha, where you can literally see the fukusa breathing as you inspect the four sides before folding to purify the tea container.

    Thank you for reading and commenting. I love to hear from you.

    Take care,