Monday, September 5, 2011

The Broken Tea Bowl

"Dad," the boy asked his father, "Do you remember that story you told me about the samurai that broke a famous tea bowl?"

"Yes," his father replied.

The boy continued, "And how even though the samurai were all very brave, they didn't think that a samurai should die on account of a broken tea bowl?"

"Yes,"his father replied again, warily drawing out the word.

"That's good, 'cause I don't want you to be angry about this." As he spoke, the boy reluctantly revealed his father's black raku bowl, cracked into two ragged pieces.

That bowl belonged to our first sensei, Professor Lloyd Fulton, who passed away ten years ago this month.

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The story goes like this:

Kato Kiyomasa and the Broken Tea Bowl 
Once when Kato Kiyomasa was going to give a party for Cha-no-yu he brought out a famous Tea-bowl and put it in the Tokonoma. This bowl his pages took up and passed round to examine it, when one of them let it drop and broke it. They were much dismayed at this accident, but as befitted the sons of distinguished warriors they bound themselves not to reveal the culprit whatever might happen. After a while Kiyomasa came in and when he saw the broken bowl his face darkened. "Who broke that?" he demanded, "You must know, so you had better say." But no one answered a word. Kato's expression grew more fierce, "You young men are a lot of cowards. Behaviour like this is a slur on the name of your fathers, however brave they may be!"
Then one of the pages named Kato Heizaburo, a boy of fourteen, looking straight into the face of Kiyomasa, asked him; "And why is it that you say we are cowards who bring shame on our fathers' name?" "The reason you will not tell the name of the one who broke the tea bowl is because you are afraid he will be condemned to commit seppuku, I suppose," retorted Kiyomasa, growing even more wroth, "And what is a coward but one who fears for his life?"

"Among us," replied Heizaburo calmly, "there is not one who is afraid to die. But the reason why we do not wish to say who broke the Tea-bowl is because we do not think it right that one of ourselves, who certainly is of some use, should suffer anything on account of  a Tea-bowl however famous, which can well be done without. In keeping the peace of the Empire of what use can a tea utensil be? But if an enemy should attack us now we should at once hasten to repel him and to protect our province, holding our lives of no account whatever and willingly throwing them away in defence of our lord and his domains. So however great a treasure a Tea-bowl may be, is it in reason to consider it worth the life of even one of us?" "That is true, admitted Kiyomasa, overcome with admiration at this clear and logical defence, "you are a fine lot of young fellows. You may become even better warriors than your fathers but you certainly will not be worse. Yes, you are well worthy of my trust." And he said no more about the Tea-bowl or the one who had broken it.

-- from Cha-No-Yu The Japanese Tea Ceremony by A.L. Sadler
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