Feb 21, 2013

Gomei discussion

I have been having an extended discussion with a commenter about gomei.  See this post and the comment thread.

For the guests, learning the gomei is of particular interest and in our discussion the commenter said,
"It sounds like the choice of a seasonal name is, at least partly, also the gift of reminding the guests of a shared cultural experience. . . . Perhaps the best gomei is not only one that is seasonally approprite [sic], but also unites the host and guests in the warm feelings of a shared remembrance."
This is a nice way of putting it and I really want to make the point that the gomei while seasonal are also allusional, that is they evoke feelings or remind people, of the seasonal moment.  The gomei themselves are a shortcut to those feelings and shared experiences.

So if you are going to use a local seasonal gomei,  make sure that everyone in the room can relate to what you are talking about and that the gomei can evoke some shared cultural or seasonal experience.  The kigo, or words that evoke the season in Japanese culture are a great reference for seasonal gomei.  You might try this link,  HAIKU KIGO Poetic Seasonal Expressions.

Another part of the discussion was about zen gomei for koicha.  I am not a Zen practioner, and I have not studied the Zen sayings, so it is difficult to come up with good koicha gomei. I tell my students to think of the tea scroll that they know.

Wa kei sei jaku - or a combination of wakei (harmony and respect)
Nichi, nichi kore ko jitsu
Ichigo, ichie
Matsu kaze
Buji kore kinin

Are some scrolls you know, so take a phrase from them.  Also: 
"It pays to pay attention. When someone else offers a Zen gomei, or your teacher suggests one, write it down with notes on meaning(s) or if it was from a Zen phrase or poem. Whenever you go to chakai and they give a name, write it down. I keep a notebook of good gomei both seasonal and Zen. If you are ambitious, you might try to research them from famous utensils . I found Haku gyoku "White jewel" from a famous (meibutsu) bunrin chaire with a drip of glaze, in an exhibition catalog."
Do you have other suggestions?   Please let's continue the discussion in the comments.


  1. Thanks for your remarks and for pointing out revived conversation in a older post. It is quite interesting to follow.

    One of our local teachers has emphasized specificly to me that he sees locally-seasonal seasonal themes and flowers (so to speak) to be most appropriate, perhaps moreso in chakai than okeiko - his thinking being that when really doing tea one should be reflecting the setting that really is.

    Your comments lead me to a question; how strongly held is the sense that koicha gomei should be strongly Zen-oriented in nature - and how much so: that is - would someone use, say, "ichigo, ichie" as gomei (as opposed to having the sentiment on a scroll in the tokonoma)? I've had one senior Japanese instructor suggest that koicha gomei needn't be selected only on the basis of direct Zen references (though, even so, the ones that meet approval in class are often more than simply seasonal in reference, so there may be some gray in there that I'm not interpreting correctly). Anyway, your thoughts would be very welcome.


    1. Dear Anonymous, thank you for your comment. When choosing your gomei, please follow the suggestions of your teacher. I personally like local seasonal gomei if all the participants can relate to the reference, it doesn't necessarily have to be Japanese for me. For those tea people in South America, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia the seasonal references would be entirely different and it would make little sense to refer to spring flowers as the leaves are falling.

      As for koicha gomei, they don't necessarily have to be Zen words, but I have been told that the gomei should be more spiritual or have more weight than just a seasonal reference. There are some famous chashaku gomei that are not Zen words such as Rikyu's "namida" (tears) that was used at his last chaji before he died. Yonaga - long night, is another one that is not a Zen word.

      I was once told that the gomei -- "tobi ume" - flying plum, after the story about Sugawara Michizane who was exiled from Kyoto and he so loved the plum blossoms and they so loved him that a branch of plum from Kitano shrine broke off and flew to him in exile -- this gomei was a little too lightweight for a koicha gomei. (It is a good one though for February).

      Readers, your thoughts?

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  2. Thank you for this post. (I'm the anonymous who made those belated comments on the old thread :-)

    I do still struggle a bit with choosing a seasonal gomei that will be (roughly) equally meaningful to both Japanese and non-Japanese guests. It's a tricky one, especially when I don't know the poems (or other cultural references) that can help make a particular gomei especially appropriate to Japanese listeners.

    So for example, if it's early February and there are Japanese guests present, I'll probably select a gomei that makes reference to Setsubun; but if all the guests are non-Japanese it becomes trickier because they may not know about Setsubun. So do I choose a Setsubun-related gomei and explain why it's apposite; do I choose a locally relevant gomei ("Groundhog de gozaimasu", implicitly expressing a wish for spring to appear as soon as possible), or do I pick something that's generic enough to span both cultures ("Shitamoe/a shoot of new grass" or somesuch)? Probably the latter.

    Anyway it's an interesting question and one I'm still struggling with; but I feel that if the motivation is good, the right gomei will come... eventually :-)

  3. Dear Anonymous,
    Thank you for your comments, both here and in the older thread. As you take notes, you will accumulate seasonal references for the Japanese calendar. Nobody expects you to be perfect at this all the time. You can get ideas for your chakai from the practice you get in class.

    If there are both Japanese and non-Japanese people in attendance, you can go with more accessible gomei such as shitamoe, or kan ko bai (little red plum buds). Check the link for haiku kigo above. The month of February is all about the plum, see reference to flying plum above, and the uguisu- the nightengale. So with those as your themes you can generate plum gomei all month.

    If you are willing to take the time to explain your gomei, tell the story in Japanese/English, you will be able to give your guests a cross-cultural shared experience.

  4. What a great resource! Thanks and more power to you.