Understanding the Rank and Handling of Tea Utensils

In the world of tea, a tea practitioner possesses a collection of various utensils. The selection of these utensils for a particular tea ceremony depends on factors such as the season and the occasion of the gathering, as discussed in the concept of “seasons of tea.” However, the way these utensils are handled also varies based on the specific occasion and the rank attributed to each utensil.

The Rank of Utensils

The rank assigned to a utensil is not determined by its quality or monetary value. Rather, it harkens back to a time when a strict system of social ranking existed, resulting in differential treatment of individuals. Correspondingly, utensils were assigned ranks and treated accordingly. For instance, high-ranking utensils and objects are prominently displayed in the alcove known as the tokonoma. Hanging scrolls, known as kakejiku, receive a bow before they are examined. The ranking of utensils can also be observed in the way they are attended to during the tea ceremony. The host’s manner of carrying a utensil, the order in which they are attended to during Chanoyu, and their placement within the tea room (chashitsu) all reflect their respective ranks.

Understanding the Hierarchy

The ranking of utensils in the tea ceremony provides insight into the cultural values and practices of the time. While the system of social ranking may no longer hold the same significance today, the traditions and customs associated with utensil handling continue to be observed. These practices showcase respect and appreciation for the utensils, acknowledging their historical significance and the craftsmanship that went into creating them.

By understanding the rank and handling of tea utensils, one gains a deeper appreciation for the intricacies of the tea ceremony and the cultural context in which it evolved. Each utensil carries its own story and importance, contributing to the overall beauty and reverence of the tea ceremony experience.

Handling and Ranking of Tea Utensils

The rank of tea utensils not only determines their status but also influences the way they are handled. Utensils perceived to have a lower rank are typically held with one hand by men. Even if temporarily held with two hands, they are never carried while walking in such a manner. This practice is evident in the careful handling of the ash container (haiki) during the charcoal procedure (sumidemae) for the hearth (ro).

During the movement of the ash container, the left hand is often used to stabilize it, but it is primarily held with one hand. Despite the potentially significant weight of moist ash inside, a man will move the container from the front of the hearth to a position behind the host using only one hand. This action involves a substantial movement, yet the body remains motionless, illustrating the tea devotee’s understanding of the appropriate treatment of the ash container.

A similar approach is observed with the wastewater receptacle (kensui). When brought into the room, it is carried exclusively with the left hand. In some cases, the wastewater receptacle may contain the lit rest (futaoki) within it, while the water ladle (hishaku) rests on top. Balancing the water ladle while walking with the wastewater receptacle requires considerable skill and practice, yet it is accomplished using only one hand.

Furthermore, the proximity of a utensil to the body and its position relative to the guests can indicate its rank. Higher-ranking utensils like the tea bowl (chawan) and the tea container (chaki) are carried close to the body, typically at a higher position near the stomach to ensure stability. On the other hand, lower-ranking utensils such as the waste water container are carried at waist height.

The handling of tea utensils based on their rank provides insights into the tea ceremony’s principles of respect and aesthetics. By adhering to these customs, practitioners demonstrate their understanding of the significance and value assigned to each utensil. The intricate handling techniques reflect the reverence and attention given to these objects, contributing to the overall beauty and meaning of the tea ceremony.

Ranking and Placement of Utensils in the Tea Room

The ranking of utensils in a tea ceremony is reflected not only in their handling but also in their order of entry into the tea room. Higher-ranking utensils, such as the tea bowl (chawan) and tea container (chaki), are brought into the room first, followed by the wastewater receptacle (kensui). Once the wastewater receptacle is placed beside the host, it receives less attention until it is eventually carried back to the preparation area (mizuya) at the conclusion of the ceremony.

The location of utensils within the tea room also indicates their ranking. The alcove (tokonoma) is regarded as the highest-ranking area, and the distance from it signifies the relative rank. Guests, who hold significant importance, are seated in a row near the alcove, with the chief guest (shokyaku) occupying the closest position. Utensils strategically placed where they can be easily observed by the guests also denote their ranking. For instance, during the winter charcoal procedure (sumidemae), the rings used to lift the brazier from the sunken fire pit (furo) are initially positioned behind the charcoal box, further away from the chief guest and the alcove. This arrangement ensures that the rings remain out of the chief guest’s sight. Later, when the brazier is lifted using the rings, they are placed behind the brazier, still positioned farther from the alcove than the brazier itself.

The careful placement of utensils based on their rank adds to the overall aesthetic and symbolism of the tea ceremony. It showcases the reverence and consideration given to each item, as well as the significance attributed to the guests and the designated focal points within the tea room. By adhering to these customs, the tea practitioner upholds the tradition and conveys respect for the utensils, the guests, and the ceremony as a whole.

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