This past weekend was our Robiraki celebration, the opening of the winter hearth. This time of year the weather can be so variable around here, which is of particular concern in a house with no heat! But a tropical storm was just on its way out, so it was a little rainy, but not too cold. And the leaves were still on the trees, making for a beautiful day when the sun peeked out later.
For this gathering we tried something a little different – sumi shomo, in which the host invites the first guest to lay the charcoal fire. Of course, in a gathering you would never do this without arranging it with the first guest in advance; it’s very bad form to spring it on your guest as a surprise. In this case, most of our guests were inexperienced at doing the first guest role, which is a bit complicated, and so one of our teachers sat in as first guest. Because I was acting in the “host” role, I got to sit in and watch him lay the fire, which is something I very rarely get a chance to do. It was a great experience.
But probably the best part for me was actually being able to make tea. Last year about this time I suffered a knee injury, and it’s been a long, slow process of healing and getting my joints back in shape to sit seiza (kneeling). Even as recently as August, my knee wouldn’t bend completely into a sitting position – if I tried to kneel, my backside wouldn’t quite make it down to rest on my legs. But for Robiraki I was able to sit without a supporting bench and prepare thick tea (koicha) for the guests. I feel like I’m really “back,” even though I still have some work to do on my sitting and standing.
More importantly, I think the guests had a good time, too. We had nine total, which is a good, comfortable number – more than that (as is a necessity at big branches like New York) starts to feel a little impersonal. Less than that is fine, of course – you could have a tea gathering with just one guest if you wanted to – but it was good to see some old friends again, and to give some of our newer students a first-hand experience of how everything we’ve been teaching fits together. But even beyond the number of guests, everybody got along really well – there was a good feeling between the people who were there, which is the hardest thing to prepare for beforehand, but one of the most important aspects of a harmonious gathering.
Now it’s time to gather around the sunken hearth and think warm thoughts for the wintertime. It’s going to be a beautiful season coming up.