Essential Utensils for Guests in Japanese Tea Ceremony

Participating in a Japanese tea ceremony involves not only savoring the tea but also embracing the cultural significance of the utensils used. This article sheds light on four indispensable items for guests attending a tea ceremony: Youji (stainless steel sweet forks), Sensu (Japanese folding fan), Kaishi (paper dish or napkin), and Dashibukusa (small brocaded cloth).

Youji (Stainless Steel Sweet Forks)

Youji (楊枝) sweet forks are essential utensils for guests attending a tea ceremony. They are used when serving moist sweets known as Omogashi before drinking Koicha, the thick tea. The Omogashi is placed on a Kaishi paper alongside Kuromoji chopsticks. Since the Omogashi is moist, it is considered impolite to handle them with bare hands, as it would make the fingers sticky. Therefore, the Youji sweet forks are used to bring the Omogashi from the Kaishi paper to the mouth. In some cases, if the Omogashi is too large to be eaten in one bite, the Youji can be used to cut it once or twice. It’s important to carry the Youji together with the Kaishi paper to ensure proper etiquette.

Sensu (Japanese Folding Fan)

The Sensu is a traditional Japanese folding fan that is widely used by people in Japan, especially during the summer. It offers great convenience due to its folding design, allowing it to be easily stored in pockets, purses, bags, and more. The Sensu holds significance in various traditional Japanese arts such as Kabuki and dancing. However, in the context of the Japanese tea ceremony, the Sensu serves a different purpose and is not used as a fan.

During the tea ceremony, the Sensu is placed in front of the knees as a respectful gesture when greeting the Teishu (host) or bowing to the Kakajiku (hanging scroll) and the Chabana (flower arrangement). The Sensu is positioned on the right side of the Shokyaku (chief guest), while other guests place it behind them. It’s important to note that the Sensu remains closed throughout the entire tea ceremony, from beginning to end. Even on hot summer days, it is advisable to bring an additional Sensu for personal cooling.

The Sensu can be beautifully decorated with various drawings and paintings that depict seasonal themes, old folk tales, scenic landscapes, and more. In some cases, the Sensu may even have writings or inscriptions. Historically, people used the Sensu as a memo pad to jot down things they needed to remember. Famous expressions or poems were sometimes written on the Sensu, allowing them to be revisited and cherished throughout the day.

Kaishi (Paper Dish or Napkin)

Kaishi paper (懐紙) is an essential item carried by all guests during the tea ceremony, and sometimes even by the Teishu (host). These papers are placed in the overlap of the Kimono at chest height. When guests are served sweets, the treats are carefully placed onto the Kaishi paper using Kuromoji chopsticks. Before placing the chopsticks back on the Fuchidaka, Higashibon, or Kashiki sweets bowl, they are wiped clean with the top right corner of the Kaishi paper. This cleansing ritual is performed regardless of whether the chopsticks are visibly soiled, as it signifies cleanliness and respect for the next guest who will use the same utensils.

Kaishi paper usually comes in packs of around thirty sheets and is folded in half. Before placing Omogashi or Kashi (sweets) on the Kaishi paper, one sheet is taken from the stack and positioned on top of the others. To consume the sweets, the entire stack of Kaishi papers is lifted, and a Youji (short Kuromoji) is used as a fork to eat and sometimes cut the treats. After enjoying the sweets, the stack of Kaishi papers is placed in front of the knees once again, and the Youji or short Kuromoji is wiped clean before being returned to the pocket.

The used Kaishi paper on top of the stack is folded a few more times and stored in the left Kimono sleeve, while the unused Kaishi papers are kept in the Kimono at chest level. The Teishu may carry additional Kaishi papers to wipe the Chashaku (tea scoop) at the end of the tea ceremony, particularly when a valuable Fukusa (silk cloth) is used to prevent it from getting dirty. The Teishu can also use the Kaishi paper to clean up any spilled water or tea on the Tatami mat, ensuring a tidy environment.

Dashibukusa (Small Brocaded Cloth)

The Dashibukusa (出し帛紗) or Kobukusa 古帛紗) serves as a protective cloth, about one fourth the size of a Fukusa used by the Teishu. Its purpose is to safeguard valuable utensils like the Tabakobon or a Chawan from any potential damage. Both the Teishu and Shokyaku should carry a Dashibukusa when participating in a tea ceremony.

During the serving of Koicha (Thick tea), the host places a Dashibukusa beside the Chawan. This signifies the use of a precious Chawan and indicates that the Macha is intended to be shared with all the guests. In the rare event that the host fails to provide a Dashibukusa, it is advisable for the guests, particularly the Shokyaku, to carry one as a precaution. To use the Dashibukusa, it is unfolded to its full width and placed on the palm of the left hand. With the right hand, the Chawan is placed on top of the Dashibukusa, securely held by both hands. This allows for enjoying approximately three sips of Koicha.

After drinking, the Chawan is placed in front of the knees once again, and the Dashibukusa is carefully inspected before being passed on to the next guest using the right hand.

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