Sep 7, 2009

Shin, Gyo, So

In chado, there are usually three levels of formality designated as shin, gyo and so. These are formal, semi-formal, and informal. This permeates everything from the types of bows to utensils, fabrics, ceramics, and many other aspects of tea.

Often the differences between these types of formality is subtle and you must pay attention to details. For example, with the bamboo tea scoop, where the node, or fushi, is placed on the handle of designates how formal it is. The tea scoop with the node (joint) in the middle is an informal tea scoop. The fushi at the end is a gyo or semi-formal scoop and one with no fushi is shin or the most formal of bamboo tea scoops.

When bowing in the tea room, there is no difference in the length or time it takes to bow, but there is a very slight difference in how the hands are placed on the tatami. In the formal shin bow, the whole hand is placed on the tatami mat and the head aligned with the back (about a 45 degree angle). For the gyo, semi-formal bow, only the fingers are placed on the mat, and for the so, informal bow, only the fingertips touch the mat. Be sure that you are not placing the weight of your body on your hands.

I think part of this classification of shin, gyo and so is teaching us about etiquette and appropriateness. It makes us pay attention to what is going on and gives us guidelines to help determine behaviors and choices. Just as you wouldn't go in beach wear to a reception at the White house and belch at the hostess, or you wouldn't wear a tuxedo to family picnic and eat with your gloves on, there are appropriate dress codes and behavior in tea.

Even when preparing for a tea gathering, while paying attention to the seasonality of the utensils, don't forget to also pay attention to the formality of the occasion. Big events such as New Year's celebration, or Robiraki - the change to winter time hearth, are more formal occasions than a spontaneous gathering.

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