If a student of The Way of Tea can only host an event once a year, then their best bet is to present Tea for the New Year. It is a great way to start everything off on the right foot. Guests usually understand the importance of the occasion and come with a spirit of celebration and good tidings. Many symbols and visual cues are seen to bolster the feelings of happiness and good luck for all who are present. With this in mind, my next en devour was to host a gathering to usher in the ‘Year of the Rooster’. Hand written invitations were sent and the date was to occur on the 14th at 3:30 p.m. Snow and wind had conspired against me so once again I had to rake the lawn after it had melted to make sure that the leaves were picked up, the side walk was clean, and the steps were salted. At this time- in Japan- great displays of the ‘Three friends of the New Year’ (Pine, Plum and Bamboo) are set for all to see so that anyone who views it will be blessed with longevity, flexibility, and purity. I made this arrangement and hung it on the wall of my waiting room. With the water basin, scroll, candles, and writing desk, there was a lot going on to keep the guests occupied as they waited to enjoy the occasion.
Because special foods are presented called ‘O-sechi Ryori’, I figured that it might be nice for those who wished to bring a dish to share in the celebration. ‘O sechi-
Ryori’ cuisine is complicated and takes a lot of preparation; and my finances are very limited. I did my best to cater the event in ways that we would all enjoy. There were going to be certain changes that I had thought of from the last Tea gathering in order to make things a little easier for me host. I will discuss these changes as I relate the gathering that took place.
The guests were four in number (a surprise that I had to adapt to) when they showed up at the appointed time. The waiting room greeted them with a scroll painting of ‘Nanten’ and Suzume’ (Sparrows nestled among Heavenly Bamboo capped with snow by the artist Watanabe). The Sho-Chiku-Bai (Pine, Bamboo, and Plum) arrangement hung on the opposite wall, candles were lit, and the water basin was filled for their use. When I was ready- I ushered them into the Tea room. I provided one of the guests with a table and chair for the comfort of her knees. The each was greeted warmly. The main scroll was written by Suga Gendo Roshi of Daitoku-ji Zen Temple in Kyoto which read “Fuku-Jyu Kai Muryo” (Oceans of good fortune and blessings). Arching over the wall behind the area for making Tea was a tube containing switches of Willow cascading down to the floor with a few circled round to corral the others. This Willow is presented for the guests to view since it is thought that Willow is a very ‘Yang’ tree. ‘Yang’ is the opposite of ‘Yin’ and is very vigorous and vital. Under the ground- covered with ‘Yin’ snow- wet-cold- and dark, is found ‘Yang’ energy. The roots are growing and plants are getting ready to burst forth into the coming Spring. It is hoped that when viewing Willow that we may share in this aspect of ‘Yang’.
Two fresh white candles sitting on raised green holders lit the back of the ‘Temae-za’. Opposite this, in the corner between two of the guests was a low table draped in hot red felt. On its top was presented the ‘Horai-kazari”. The ‘Horai-Kazari’ is a display of things that bring good fortunes and luck to all who view it. It also brings the same happiness to the host who presents it. Usually there are foods that are also placed on the display for the guests to eat when the host fetches them to share. Such tings as Mochi rice cakes, Tangerines, Seaweed, Black beans, sweets, a Lobster carapace, Ferns, and other things are found placed on a fresh wooden Shinto raised offering tray decked out with ‘shimenawa’ twine laced with white prayer papers cascading from its chords. For Tea people, we are thankful for Charcoal to boil water with so three large pieces are used instead of rice cakes. For my guests, I featured home made sweets that were sent by my good friend Jenelle Rogers. ‘Horai’ is the Japanese term for ‘Penglai’ which is the name of the fabled ‘Isle of the Immortals”. Legend has it that there exists five islands whose shores were so steep, rough, and rocky that no mortal ship could dock, nor any swimmer could find landing. It was a paradise circled with opaque mists and fog and they floated on the back of a giant Sea Turtle. Only those who were blessed by the Gods, or who concocted the ‘Elixir of everlasting life’ (Taoist mythology and the drinking of the first Sake’or
Champagne of the New Year!) could land on its craggy mountain tops carried there by Cranes or magical beasts…symbolized by the guests’ sojourn through the Tea garden as worldly cares drop away. Two of the Islands were captured and taken north never to be seen again. To eat food found growing from the orchards of fantastic trees would grant life everlasting…Tangerine, and sweets, black beans, etc. To find ones’ self housed in the glittering mansions found in those misty valleys would bring happiness with no end…symbolized by the fresh clean Tea room itself. The first Emperor of China sent virginal envoys of 70 youths and maidens to find this island. They never returned; but legend has it that they landed on the Isles of Japan. To even catch a glimpse of these glamorous keys would bring good luck to the viewer.
After relating this legend, I brought out five wine glasses and a bottle of Champagne. I retrieved Jenelle’s sweets from the “Horai Kazari” to share with the guests and we all ate and toasted to the New Year. In this way the guests symbolically ate food from the ‘Isle of the Immortals’ and would enjoy happiness, long life, and good luck!
Then came ‘Hatsu-Shozumi’ (first laying of the charcoal). It went well for the most part because I could actually see what I was doing. There are three things that one hopes to dream of during new years Night- Hawks, Eggplants, and Mt. Fuji. I featured an incense box in the form of Mt. Fuji made of wood and Red Negoro lacquer. The feather ‘Hane’ used to dust off the Furo came from a Hawk. Two down- one to go. We caught a slight whiff of incense as the meal was presented. I had learned a lesson by making the miso soup ‘weak’ to my taste (the last guests had to endure my attempts at serving a salt lick with miso on the side). I served a single helping of rice per person since there was a lot of food still to come. I stuck with a smoked Salmon Mukozuke dish since my butcher looked at me strangely when I asked for ‘Tai’ and/or Red Snapper fish. One would have thought that I had asked him for motor oil by the way that he looked at me. The Nimono dish was a chicken croquette with Bamboo, Carrot Crane, Shroom, grilled Eggplant, and greens with a Lemon twist soaked in Yuzu juice. Then came the guest’s offerings of Inari sushi, shrimp Wan Tans, and delicious home made crackers snacks! After this came sweet Sake’ with Hassun of ‘Drunken Goat’ cheese and Turkish Apricots. Pickled Plums were also used along side Takuan pickles and a smoky green pickle with hot water. Inside the black lacquer were the crusty nibbly bits of rice that had scorched on the side of the pot. This is a traditional favorite that I had forgotten in previous gatherings. This time I remembered! I coached them through the use of this- I was previously not going to do this but I figured that it would make my clean up easier. I cleared all of the dishes and then came the sweet. One of my guests had given lessons in Yaki-mochi sweet making and my attempt was in her honor. It looked like a chicken.
The brake with the guests housed in the waiting room was a flurry of activity. The charcoals had burned a bit but then went out- again! I stoked the Furo with a big pile of fresh embers, took out the scroll, replaced by a Camellia with Baby’s Breathe for ‘snow’, swept the room, brought the ‘chakin toshi’ (wiping cloth bucket for guests), and more incense. I lit all the candles, left the hanging lamp on, and made ready for thick Tea- Koi-cha.
I was going to serve ‘kazu-cha’ (thin Tea made in the back area) but it seemed like a bit much for the guests. I took the Gold bowl for the ‘Shima-Dai’ set used for New Years and did “O-Mizusashi” Kiocha temae. Ferns had been placed under the white Mizusashi water jar made by William Ward. There is a type of fern in Japan, used at this time, that has a whitish underside. It is a symbol in hopes that you will greet the new year with purity and ‘be white on the back side’ (be pure and fresh and clean all the way through). The Tea scoop was called ‘Fuku jyu” by Ei-rin So Atsu. The Chaire was ‘Takatori Yaki’ ware (pun intended) with a shifuku bag of ‘Shi-zan kinran’ fabric. The Koicha Tea was called “Ryo Kumo no Mukashi” favored by Zabosai. The Flower container was an old Bamboo with gold repairs. The Ewer was Kyo yaki ware.
All in all the gathering went a bit smoother then the last one. The guests felt blessed and said so. One presented me with the glass plate that her inari sushi had been placed and also gave a beautiful Origami lotus with a light in it. This was an unexpected surprise!! I plan on using it in future gatherings and deeply appreciated all of my guests for coming and celebrating with me. Happy New Year!
Apologies– some of the photos won’t be added vertically due to the limitations of the site.by