Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Visit to a New Chashitsu

This weekend several members of our tea group were privileged to be invited to the opening of a new tearoom in Washington, D.C. The tearoom is located in an office building in the downtown area, a few blocks away from the White House. From the outside it looks like any other office, but once you go down a long hallway and into the tea space, you’re greeted by an open area where they can (and did, while we were there) have a ryuurei tana set up. (Ryuurei is a type of temae where tea is done sitting at a low table, with the host and guests sitting on stools. Because of the weight of the table and chairs and the potential for damage to a tatami mat, this is usually done in a room without tatami flooring.)

In a traditional tearoom, the guests will travel from the waiting area through a roji, a path leading through a garden, and then into the tearoom itself. In this particular arrangement, we stepped outside onto a deck overlooking the city, where a roji-style space had been set up (with the path but no living plants). We walked down the path and then entered the tea space from the outside, coming in and viewing the alcove with the scroll and the kettle and other utensils that had been set out.

The tearoom is set up in two parts; a main eight-mat room with the tokonoma (alcove) and the hearth at one end, and a six-mat room at the other. Removable doors either separate the two rooms or are removed to create one, as they were for the opening tea.

Urasenke provided the resources to build the room, and as a further show of support the head of the school (Oiemoto) sent his wife, daughter, and nephew to celebrate the opening – he himself was unable to come because it’s Rikyuki, the time when tea people remember the passing of the founder of our school (his ancestor, going back sixteen generations) and he’s not allowed to leave Japan at this time. (Someone said that he’s prevented from leaving the country by law, but I’m not certain about that.)

During the opening, we were honored to have Oiemoto’s daughter prepare tea for us, while her mother sat in the room and acted as assistant, and explanations were provided by a gyotei (high-level sensei) from Kyoto who also flew in for the event. In addition to everything else, Oiemoto personally wrote the calligraphy for a scroll that was given as a gift to the Washington tea association.

After being served tea and sweets, we were given a chance to take a closer look at the details of the room. One very nice touch was that on the crossbeam dividing the room, there are five types of wood. One type of wood was used to inlay cherry blossoms into the wood, so that anyone who visits the room will remember that the room was completed at cherry blossom time.

Speaking of, I also got a chance to visit the Tidal Basin area, where the Washington D.C. cherry blossoms are planted. They were just past full bloom when we got there – starting to shed their petals, but still very beautiful. Here are some photos:

I’m not sure what type of cherry trees these are, but they’re a bit different from the type we have planted in Philadelphia. Take a look. This first photo is from Washington:

And this is from a previous year’s bloom in Philadelphia:

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend, and we were all thrilled to be invited to this opening and very jealous of the Washington group’s beautiful new tearoom! Hopefully they’ll be able to use it in prosperity for many years to come.