Saturday, October 2, 2010

Everything has shomen

At a recent Tea practice, I lent Pia my keiko-gi. I thought it would be good practice for her, but when she had trouble putting her fukusa through the loop at the waistband we discovered she'd put it on inside out and the waistband loops were on the inside. Sensei took that opportunity to point out that everything has shomen -- a front, or face -- including keiko-gi.

Two bowls for usucha (thin tea) with decoration
that makes shomen easy to recognize.

Shomen is not an entirely foreign concept for Westerners but we might not see that everything has shomen. Tea bowls often have a decoration or glaze that makes recognizing shomen easy, however a tea bowl without a conspicuous "front" also has shomen. For example, the glaze and shape of a black raku bowl appear uniform to the untrained eye, and one might think that one side is as good as any other. Even though it appears to be uniform this type of bowl does indeed have shomen. The host will examine a bowl closely to determine shomen, and will present it toward the guest. This is out of respect for both utensil and guest.

A 16th century black Raku-ware chawan
(Tokyo National Museum)

Guests also honor the host and utensil by acknowledging shomen. When drinking tea, a guest will rotate the bowl so shomen faces away, then turn it back to appreciate the bowl and shomen. When returning the bowl to the host, the bowl is turned yet again so that shomen faces the host.

Making tea in a bowl without obvious shomen can be a challenge for the host. Without a mark or decoration, the host must be well-practiced -- and have trust and confidence in her practice, as well -- so that when she presents her guest with their bowl of tea, her guests may appreciate the shomen of the beautiful chawan.
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