While I couldn't read any of the available (Japanese language only) texts that native speaking students of chanoyu have, nonetheless I have been so fortunate to have had an extremely fine aural transmission of this knowledge. That said, nonetheless, learning the words for utensils (i.e. hishaku, chashaku, etc.) during my formative years as a (hidari-kiki mid-life aged) student of chanoyu proved to be one of my greatest challenges. Mimicking gestures and trying to remember phrases that might have wide daily application seemed doable. (A sushi chef, however, admonished me that the highly formal language of the chashitsu should stay in the chashitsu, however!)
I was so overwhelmed with new words that one evening I decided to forgo learning any more names of things and to concentrate on those of my fellow tea students. For a long time I wondered why so many of the first names of the more advanced students began with "So".
Haiken was completely another matter. It took me a while to penetrate the unasked question about why the poetic names and other provenance distinctions change from week to week. For example, the same chashaku had one poetic name one week and something else the next. I understood that it had to be seasonal at least. I finally realized that we were learning the Urasenke generational oiemoto names as they related to the month of the class date and used this as the answer for the maker of the scoop. (March was always Gempaku Sotan Koji, Urasenke's 3rd Generation master.)
Some things didn't seem to change much, and I relied on them to get me through the class if my language brain was asleep. Always popular, like Coco Chanel's "little black dress", was the basic black nastsume: Rikyu's shape, black lacquer, and middle size. Likewise a repeat, was the answer to the question, "Who did the lacquer?" It was usually attributed to Sotetsu. (Later I learned it was Nakamura Sotetsu.) Likewise, the shifuku was always attributed to Yuko, who I always thought was a woman because we had several Yuko-sans in class.
Inasmuch as for the koichademae, we only used two chaires whose shapes were observable cues (tsurukube and katatsuki, crane neck and shouldered, respectively) this was easy to remember. As for the kamamoto wa ... the choice came from a list of historic kilns: Seto, Akahada, Zeze, Tamba, etc., but I never knew which our prêt-a-porter pieces they actually were. The kireiji, fabric, of the shifuku usually didn't change, but it was years before I learned that one of those words meant "stripe" and another "brocade" and that fabrics were very complicated to learn because of the huge variety.
When it comes to the point of the "ceremony", the tea, again we learned classic names of favored growers and the poetic names given by our oiemoto, but was it really Kambayashi? We also never have the opportunity for side-by-side taste / smell comparisons. (Please see my article Much Ado About Matcha originally published in Kyoto Journal.)
"Utsushi promotes a dialogue between the artist and the masters of the past, connecting past, present, and future."
From the Museum’s website:
- Introducing Jisshoku, the Ten Tea Ceremony Artisans of Japan: Their Traditions, Activities and Artworks -- Why Jisshoku at Minpaku? In this section the history of each Jisshoku family and their work will be shown, along with representative artworks from earlier generations of each family.
- Jisshoku Inspired: What They See, Feel and Create -- An artwork created by each of the Jisshoku that was inspired by exploring Minpaku's collections is exhibited in this area, along with the artifacts chosen from the exhibition that stimulated the new works.
- Artisans and Their Work from Around the World -- The artwork created by Jisshoku and their skills are compared to those of artisans around the world, through a comparison of activities such as beating, casting, molding, baking, painting, socketing, bending, weaving, bonding, cutting, and sewing, skills used at various stages of the creative manufacture of art and the tools used for these activities.
While I loved the idea of a riff on the old stuff ... I now, more than ever, prefer the classic versions, each one of them likely avant garde (or at least very garde) during their time. We begin to understand the issues of tori awase when what seems to be a disparate group of utensils begin to interact inharmoniously with each other to the detriment of their becoming a single means to an end. Change one element, and everything else must must be reconsidered. There must be an algorithm that can explain it ...
For those of us who do not have the resources to obtain utsushi chadogu, we are forced to improvise. This often honors Necessity, the Mother of Invention. During various situations she has brilliantly offered for the chashaku ... a sterling silver butter knife that's been in the family for generations as well as a plastic swizzle stick in the shape of a ski from an alpine resort. Of course, each has a great story behind it!