Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shop Local

When we first began to study Chanoyu we had no Japanese utensils to practice with. We weren't going to let our lack of dogu keep us from learning the Tea Ceremony, though. We resolved to practice using household objects to substitute for dogu: a stock pot in place of the kama, a soup ladle for the hishaku, a spoon for chashaku and so forth. We arranged them on our living room floor and practiced until our knees ached. We learned our temae, but perhaps more importantly, we learned that to study Chanoyu we needed only a few simple tools and a willing spirit. It was in this spirit that Harvey-sensei gave us a homework assignment: "Find a Western (non-Japanese) object that will function as dogu for usucha-temae and bring it to practice."

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Throughout its history, Japan experienced tides of influence, mostly from China and Korea. In between periods of openness and acceptance of foreign culture, Japan would isolate itself and its own culture would develop with minimal outside influence, sometimes for a generation or more. While picking and choosing bits of foreign culture that best suited them, the Japanese became masters of cultural synthesis.

During a period of openness, during China's Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), precious objets d'art were imported in quantity from China and Korea. Shoguns and wealthy collectors amassed these objects, but without discrimination. In the 14th century, during Japan's medieval period, collectors became aware of the need to evaluate their art collections and establish authenticity and provenance. The shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) himself acted as an appraiser. He and later shoguns employed doboshu, culture ministers or "commissioners for Chinese goods," to appraise artwares -- much like on today's TV show, "Antiques Roadshow." Doboshu were often artists in their own right, and they furthered the thriving art market in the trade of Chinese and Korean wares. Tea gatherings during this time were of the aristocratic and formal shoin style, held in reception halls and featured imported wares elaborately displayed in a cabinet or on shelves or a daisu (a large stand).

In the decades that followed, artistic sensibilities turned from shoin style formality toward the informality of the soan or "grass hut" style of Tea. This trend was the foundation of the wabicha (rustic tea) sensibility. Soan chanoyu and wabicha were further developed and promoted by Sen no Rikyu (1512-91), Grand Tea Master to two of Japan's most powerful warlords, Oda Nobunaga (1534-82) and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-98). Rikyu himself was a powerful and influential man, so much so that, it is widely believed, Hideyoshi eventually found disfavor with him and ordered his Tea Master to commit seppuku.

Daisu tea, said Rikyu, was "the basis of the chanoyu," that one must appreciate shoin style tea in order to appreciate wabicha. Regardless of this sentiment, Rikyu favored the use of domestic wares over imported Chinese objects in the soan chanoyu: rustic vases from native kilns, scrolls by Japanese artists, raku bowls inspired by local roof-tile makers. In promoting soan chanoyu he gave voice to Japanese craftsmen and artists, the medieval Japanese version of "shop local."

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Our homework assignment resonates with this development of wabicha. It directs our attention away from imported Japanese wares to examine everyday objects and consider their utility in the chanoyu.

Laura brought an American dish for okashi

Here we use a bowl made by Humboldt County potter Mark Young. Laura also brought an Amish saffron container to use for a chaire and a container purchased at a second-hand store and made by an unknown pottery artist to use as a kensui.

My $1 Dollar Store hanaire with lily chabana looked
quite graceful until the flower opened up.


Further Reading

Chado, The Japanese Way fo Tea. Soshitsu Sen, Weatherhill/Tankosha, 1979.

Japanese Arts and the Tea Ceremony (Heibonsha Survey of Japanese Art, Vol. 15). T. Hayashiya, M. Nakamura and S. Hayashiya, Weatherhill/Heibonsha, New York/Tokyo, 1980.

Wind in the Pines, Classic Writings of the Way of Tea as a Buddhist Path. Dennis Hirota, Asian Humanities Press/Jain Publishing Co., 1995.
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