Sunday, February 27, 2011

Haru Ichiban

After a cold, cold winter, a week or so ago we had our first real thaw of the season with a warm wind from the south. A Japanese chajin (tea person) I was with called it “haru ichiban,” “the first of spring.” That’s the feeling that’s in the air right now -- the early flowers are just getting ready to bloom, we’re in the middle of plans for cherry blossom season, and we’re getting ready to go back to have lessons at Shofuso again.

Shofuso is a traditional Japanese house, which means, among other things, that it has no heat or indoor plumbing. The indoor plumbing is easy enough to deal with – we just carry buckets of water to the “mizuya” (literally “water room,” it’s the preparation area of a tea room, most often translated “kitchen”). But during the winter the heat is a challenge, because for safety reasons we aren’t allowed to use the traditional solution, which would be to build a fire in the fire-pit of the tearoom. There are electrical outlets around the house, so we can run extension cords into the room to power space heaters, but the space heaters are not match for truly freezing weather. So in January and February we have a long winter break, and come back to Shofuso in March.

There’s a real sense of renewal there, throwing open the doors and airing out the rooms and getting ready for our busy summer season. In early March it’ll probably still be too cold to sit and look at the garden outside while we do tea, but there’ll still be time to appreciate the warmth of our tea and the feeling of the bowls in our hands. No matter how many times I start this process, it never gets old, and I’m never less grateful for the opportunity to stop and really feel it.