The chakai at Matsumoto Sensei's home in Los Angeles for hatsugama, literally the first kettle, at new year's is a huge undertaking involving some 30 assistants, students / members of sensei's Seian-kai, her tea club, as another blog will detail. To accommodate upwards of 120 guests, about eight sekis, like a "seating" in an exclusive restaurant, of 15 guests are accommodated in five "acts" that cycle through the first floor rooms and gardens of her home. The acts include the presentation of koicha and usucha, thick and thin tea preparations in her tea rooms, and a special tenshin, meal, during which time a parlor game is played to distribute gifts to the guests. It is the latter "game" that will be discussed here.
|"Tale of Genji" Theme. Reading the Scenario.|
As the tenshin service comes to an end, two or three of sensei's students appear from behind the festival curtain (blocking the dining room from the house foyer) usually in some form of costume related to Japanese cultural history. One is holding a basket or box containing folded white strips of paper, the lots or fuda (cards), on which distinct phrases are written inside, usually in kanji, the Chinese characters, or kana, the phonetic alphabets. (Most recently there has also been translations in English.)
In this type of kujibiki (luck of the draw) each person is invited to select one paper and reveal the contents at the appropriate moment to the assembled The game officiants will read a line or poetry or story and stop at the place where one of the phrases will complete the idea. The person who has that phrase is given a gift, and the process continues until all gifts are distributed, one to each guest. In some years the game is based upon key historic poetic phrases that are know by all educated Japanese people; in other cases, the phrases are lists related to the new zodiac year or other seasonal references. The entire process takes less than 10 minutes, after which the guests quickly leave to allow the assistants to prepare the room for the next seki.
|"Saru-San Hear - Speak - See No Evil" Theme. |
Preparing Gift Tray
Because I am not educated in the Japanese cultural system, and cannot read the kanji, as jolly as the spirit of the game is -- certainly much lighter than the deep quietude of the tea presentations that preceded it -- I have never been able to participate without assistance for someone to explain what theme of the metaphorical puzzle is. I have admired the costumes for their creativity and frivolity without a doubt!
About 10 years into my study of tea -- about 1995, one of sensei's assistants came to four of us -- all non-Japanese -- after class on the Monday night before the third Sunday of January, sensei's official hatsugama date, and said that "Your group is going to be responsible for the parlor game that year." We four hakujin / gaijin, white folks / foreigners have never considered ourselves a "group", rather a few people who don't speak Japanese and who enjoy learning together because sensei will be encouraged to speak English to us in class. We were all in our 50s and yet had little else in common. We were each brought up and educated in different parts of the USA. Two of us had been to Japan, two had not. None of us knew any Japanese poetry or other Japanese literary references. What were we to do?
A quick discussion about the predicament revealed several key challenges: 1/ what did we all know in common; 2/ did Japanese women (most of the guests are women in their 50s+) know what we know; 3/ how were we going to actually do it?
|"Wizard of Oz" Theme: |
Lion, Dorothy, Tin Woodman, Scarecrow
|Surrendering the Gift; Note Uchiwa|
|Cross Cultural Doesn't Always Work Well|