Kuchi-kiri (tea ceremony)
In Japan, special tea ceremonies are called Chaji.
The Chaji is a long formal tea ceremony which includes Kaiseki cuisine and two types of tea (thick tea and thin tea).
Among them, Kuchi-kiri (tea ceremony) which we call “Kuchi-kiri-no-Chaji” in Japanese is the most formal.
Because it marks the New Year in the world of tea ceremony.
In the world of tea ceremony, the New Year starts at the beginning of November, which is the best season to start using new tea leaves.
In Shizuoka prefecture, this Kuchi-kiri (tea ceremony) is celebrated as a festival related to Tokugawa Ieyasu (the founder of the Edo Shogunate) .
To understand Kuchi-kiri (tea ceremony), it might be better to know about 茶道 Sadou. Sadou, which literally means “the way of tea”, is the Japanese name for the tea ceremony.
In fact, recently, a simple word O-cha is used to mean tea ceremony.
As you know, Cha means tea in Japanese and O is an honorific prefix.
However, as the Japanese love the word 道 dou, the word 茶道 Sadou will never obsolete.
Japanese people love to add the word “dou” at the end of some practices to extract something mental or spiritual.
In 茶道 Sadou, we cultivate our mind and learn courtesy through inviting guests to the tearoom called 茶室 and serving tea.
The word which represents the spirit of the tea ceremony is the phrase of Ichigoichie (一期一会).
“Treasure every meeting. Because it will never recur”.
This is the meaning of Ichigoichie (一期一会).
All the encounters in a tea ceremony is a special occasion which occurs only once in a lifetime.
In Sa-dou, we divide a year into two main seasons:
1) the sunken hearth (Ro) season,
2) the brazier (Furo) season.
Traditionally, November to April belong to the former and May to October belong to the latter. Different utensils and manners to make tea apply for each season.
Thus the New year starts from November in Sa-dou.
For the Kuchi-kiri (tea ceremony), we newly arrange the exterior and interior of the tea ceremony room.
Kuch-kiri (口切り) means “cut the seal”.
In the Kuchi-kiri (tea ceremony), we cut the seal of the special tea jar and start to use the new tea leaves.
By the way, 口 means mouth and 切り means cut.
り is hiragana phonogram which we pronounce as “ri” or “li“.
In the Japanese language, there is no difference in the pronunciation of ri and li.
Maybe that is the main reason why we cannot pronounce them properly in foreign languages.
At the beginning of the 17th century, Tokugawa Ieyasu solemnly conducted this Kuchi-kiri (tea ceremony) at his Sumpu castle.
In this ceremony, they opened the pot which has kept the special Ten-cha made from the tea leaves newly harvested in spring time.
As is usual with feudal lords in this period, Ieyasu (who is also known as a great lover of Miso) was a great lover of tea.
This ceremony has been kept until today in Shizuoka prefecture as a part of local festivals.
Even today you can see a parade of many Kimono-wearing people walking along the street heading for Sumpu castle.
Of course, the center of this parade is the special tea jar.
3. Sa-dou and seasonality
Although the climate of Japan is very humid, we have very distinctive four seasons and we have enjoyed all the seasons to the maximum.
Probably, this mentality has derived from Sa-dou which extremely esteems seasonality.
Sa-dou requires us to use all five senses .
For example, the flower arrangement and Kakejiku scroll on the alcove are for sight.
The sound of preparing tea is for auditory sense.
The aroma of tea and incense are for smell.
The warmth and texture of the tea cup are for touch.
The tea and cake are for taste.
There is no doubt that this sensibility polishes our sense of seasonality.