Jan 20, 2010

Guest Etiquette for Chakai

I hope everyone had a happy new year celebration.  I apologize for the long absence from the blog, but I had to take care of a few family matters over the holidays.

We have already reviewed what a guest should bring to a chakai: your fukusa basami with fukusa,fan, kaishi sweets papers, sweets pick, handerchief, tissues, and plastic baggies.  The guests should arrive 15 minutes before the chakai is about to start.  There may be a guest book sign in and a place to put your monetary contribution.  When I was in Kyoto the minimum you would contribute for a chaji was $100 and often it was more. It is always nice if you can go to the bank and get crisp new bills.  If you do not know how much to contribute, please ask the shokyaku when he calls you.  Please put your contibution in an envelope with your name on the outside. You can also get fancy paper envelopes with red and white knots to put in your monetary contribution.

The host or hanto (assistant) will bring hot water called kumidashi to the guests in the waiting room and invite them out to the koshikaki machiai (outdoor waiting bench).  The shokyaku is served first and the otsume or last guest will collect the cups. The shokayku will say to the next guest "osakini" and make his/her way through the garden to waiting bench.  Sometimes there will be a tobako bon and enza (woven cushions).  The shokyaku will distribute the cushions and and guests can examine the tobako bon while they are waiting.

The host will then bring a pail of water to the tsukubai (hand rinsing basin)  and dampen the plants and stones around it.  Then the host will empty the pail into the basin, return it to the tea room and rinse his/her hands and mouth.  Finally the host will come to the middle gate, open it and bow silently inviting the guests into the tea room.  All the guests will rise when the host is rinsing hands, and bow back to the host.

The first guest will say "osakini" to the next guest, rinse his hands and mouth and enter the tea room.  Other guests will follow with the last guest closing the gate, and the nijiriguchi (crawling in entrance) with a sound so that the host knows when all the guests have entered the tea room.  Before entering the tea room, guests will put their fan in front of them and look inside the room before entering.  Then they will slide over the threshold, turn and place their slippers together and stack them outside the entrance.  The guest will proceed tot he tokonoma, view the scroll and other displays, then go to view the kettle before sitting in his assigned place.

When all guests are settled, the host opens the sliding door and the shokayku invites the host in for aisatsu (greetings).  Each guest in turn is welcomed with a few words. The shokyaku askes the host to read the scroll and makes a few comments about everything that the host has prepared so far:  displays in the entrance and waiting room, kumidashi, tobakobon, garden.

After the greetings, the host will either build the fire (if sumi is to be layed) or serve the meal. The shokayku is served first and all guests wait until the last guests is served before beginning the meal.  The host may come in for subsequent courses and sake.  It is considered polite to stop eating while the host is serving. When the host leaves the room guests may eat again.  Please do not dawdle over the meal.  If the charcoal fire is burning and it takes too long for the meal to complete, the timing of the gathering will be thrown off.  Usually the shokayku will try to keep everyone on track. At the completion of the meal, the guests will put any left over food or decoration not edible in a plastic bag to dispose of later. (that is why you bring plastic bags to a chakai).  Then the guests will wipe the bowls with tissue (blotting is actually better so as not to scratch the lacquer).  This is not scrubbing to clean up, merely to be polite and not leave anything unsightly for the host to clean up.  The guests put bowls, sake cups and other utensils on the tray.  When the guests have all completed the meal, they tap or drop the chopsticks to signal the  host that they are done.  The host will come and get the trays one by one.

Finally, the host will serve the sweets for koicha  and ask that they pass them around before going to the garden to rest while he cleans and prepares the tea room for koicha.  It is the otsume (last guest) job to see that the sweets dishes are left by the host entrance before leaving the room.  The guests then exit the room by going first to the tokonoma, then the kettle before leaving.

Once outside the guests can use the facilities and sit in the outdoor waiting bench.  The host will call the guests in with a bell, gong or some other device and the guests will go to the tsukubai and enter the tea room just as they did previously:  viewing the tokonoma and then the kettle and now the display for koicha.

Koicha is served and then if there is a charcoal fire it is replenished before usucha.  Before usucha is served the tobako bon is brought in or cushions or benches for the guests comfort.  The host then brings in the dry sweets and makes usucha.  The host is prepared to make at least two bowls of usucha for each guest. After the final bow after usucha, the door is closed. 

By now the guests legs are aching, but are reluctant to depart. The guests once more view the tokonoma and kettle and depart the tea room. It is the otsume's job to put all the cushions, sweets trays, extra bowls etc. by the host entrance before he departs.  The guests leave the tea room but stay close while the otsume shuts the door with a sound so that he host knows all the guests have left the tea room. The hosts immediately enters the tea room and pokes his head out the nijiguchi and says a final goodbye to the guests.  He waits until all of the guests have left his sight before closing the door and begin clean up.

The guests should gather their things and depart immediately.  There is a tendency to linger and chat, but it is not considered polite to the host who really cannot begin to clean up until after all the guest have departed.  If there is going to be a second seki, you will be preventing the host from doing the necessary preparation for next guests. It is better to depart and stop somewhere else to visit and chat.  Again, please do not inconveinece the host by staying any longer than necessary.

After the chakai, please WRITE a thank you note to the host. This is not just polite, it is necessary to aknowlege all the preparation the host has done.  You may include something memorable about the tea gathering, and let the host know that you appreciate how much time and effort he went through to make you feel welcome.

8 comments:

  1. Very interesting again. Thanks.

    This is the first I've ever heard of guests being expected to give a gift of money for a chaji. I know this is the custom with funerals, to assist with expenses, but I've never seen this done for any kind of chaji either inside or outside Japan. Certainly the host will incur a certain amount of expense when having a chaji, but probably no more than s/he would by inviting people over for a regular meal, since s/he must already own all the necessary dogu (and in any case will only have to purchase it once).

    Indeed, I thought it was unusual for guests to bring *any* sort of gift to a chaji, since the host will already have prepared all the foods and drinks and equipment needed for that particular event, and being presented with a gift would put the host in the position of having to use whatever the guest has brought, which might not suit the theme of that chaji on one hand and might cause the items the host has prepared to go to waste on the other.

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  2. Nick,
    Thank you for your comments.

    In my experience, I have never attended a chaji without making a gift of money, either here or in Kyoto. It has always been expected and that is what I thought those fancy envelopes were for. It was considered kind of bad form to not give a monetary gift of some kind to help offset the expenses of the chaji. If I could not afford it, I would politely decline the invitation saying that I had a previous engagement.

    The host does incur many expenses, such as the very best ingredients for the meal. I have spent more than I care to admit on the ingredients for kaiseki (fresh tuna at $38/lb. you know, the very best cut of the fish) in Japan, including the appropriate sake, not to mention koicha at $100 or more per 40 grams, new disposables such as chakin, chasen, fukusa etc. There are also ingredients for the sweets, and charcoal is very expensive, (about $100 per set). And gifts for the guests. So it is not out of the ordinary to spend $500 or more for a chaji.

    As far as inappropriate gifts, of course the guests would not want to put the host in such a position. That is why the shokyaku and the host meet a couple of days before the chaji. A good guest will rely on the shokyaku to suggest something appropriate if they want to make a gift of something other than money.

    Also as shokayku, I always bring a snack or treat for the kitchen crew -- fruit, cake, finger food. Those people behind the scenes really work their behinds off.

    A chaji is not a performance by just the host. Both host and guests create the experience together. So being asked to be shokyaku is a big honor and a big responsibility.

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  3. Interesting, and of course you're right: charcoal, and those dogu that are supposed to be new for each chaji are expensive, and somehow I forgot about having to buy tea!

    I'll have to ask my teacher more about this.

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  4. PS: those fancy envelopes are for all types of monetary gifts; they're not specific to tea.

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  5. Well, I spoke to my teacher, and when she mentioned the name of these gifts (ohana-dai or mizuya-dai) it all came flooding back.... Goes to show just how long it's been since I've been to a chaji that wasn't o-keiko-related!

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  6. Nick,

    Thank you for your comments. Yes, fancy envelopes for all kinds of monetary gifts, but I was first exposed to them in the context of my first chaji.

    I have heard the monetary gifts called all kinds of things, but did not mention them because of the confusion. I'll be posting more this month.

    Thanks again for reading and commenting.

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  7. 996,
    Thank you for your comments. I am sorry I cannot read it.
    Margie

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