Typically, we don’t have tea lessons in August. It’s not just that people tend to go on vacation; it’s the heat. Shofuso is a traditional-style Japanese house, which means, of course, no air conditioning. It was fine this year until the last week in July, when the weather turned very hot and humid.
In tea, we have techniques for dealing with hot weather, most of which revolve around tricking yourself and your guests into thinking that they’re not really melting into tiny liquid pools on the tatami mats. It falls under the deceptively simple heading of one of the seven rules of Rikyu: in the summer, suggest coolness.
In July and August tea people use utensils of cool-looking materials – glass is one that’s become popular in the past fifty years or so (which in tea terms makes it one of those newfangled innovations that them young ‘uns came up with). There are glass tea bowls, glass tea containers, glass tea scoops – almost any element of the tea ceremony can be done in glass. Other popular materials for the summer are dark wood and baskets, or anything unusual and playful. It’s no fun being serious when you’re hot, right?
There are also special kimonos for the hottest season of the year, made of a mesh fabric called “ro.” Of course, it’s good to choose colors that look cool, but the fabric itself also allows some breeze to come through, so instead of wearing body-covering underwear, a full-length under-robe, and a full-length kimono, it feels like you’re only wearing two layers of clothes in 95-degree weather. (Actually, I exaggerate – they do make ro kimono under-robes that, in combination with a ro kimono, do let the air in, and they’re a vast improvement over a normal kimono.)
However, Sasaki Sanmi’s tea almanac probably says it best: “Clear your mind of all mundane thoughts, and you will be able to find coolness. This is true; whether you can beat the hot weather or not depends on your state of mind.”
I’ll be raising a bowl of hot tea to you all!