May 19, 2009


May is when we change to the summer season in tea. The fire is moved from the sunken hearth to the furo or brazier, to the left side of the temaeza away from the guests. It makes sense in the winter we want the fire closer to the guests to warm them, and in the summer we want the fire away from the guests. The first time we prepare tea this way is called shoburo.

It is amazing how we are creatures of habit. The change from ro or winter season to the furo or summer season can be very disconcerting for students. Suddenly the way you have been making tea is backwards because the fire and the cold water are now switched from right to left. Handling the hishaku or water scoop is different. I always feel like a beginner again after the change of seasons. After many years, I look forward to the change.

When I was in Kyoto, one sensei said that in Rikyu’s time, “When the yamabuki flower blooms it was time to close the ro and move to the furo. When the yuzu turns yellow it time open up the ro in the autumn.” Rather than go by the calendar, tea people would go by the seasonal changes. I looked up what the yamabuki looks like and here is a picture of the yamabuki in bloom.

The scientific name for yamabuki is Kerria Japonica. It literally means "mountain breath". These bright yellow flowering bushes grow wild all over Japan, especially favoring riversides and gorges. Other translations are "Mountain rose, wild rose, Easter rose". The flowers have five petals, while the doublel-flowering looks like a pompom with many petals. They paint whole mountain ranges in bright yellow in late spring. Since olden times, these flowers have been a part of Japanese poetry, especially the Manyo'shu and the Tale of Genji. The bright yellow has been used to describe the yellow color of gold, especially the gold plates of Japanese money during the Edo period.

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