A late eighteenth-century feudal-lord Tea-practicant, Matsudaira Sadanobu, has left us the following sage admonition:
As host any guest’s blunder
is ultimately your own
As guest any accident caused
by your host is the fault of you and your fellows
This should be well thought over
and taken to heart
His guests’ feelings no perfect host
ever ignores while admirable guests
strive always to become one
with the intentions of their host
In addition, our present Grand Master rightly points out that few Tea-assemblies can be conducted perfectly without the empathetic exertions of at least one participant who customarily remains unseen and unheard by any guest. This person is the tactful manager of the preparation-room, who must, from behind the scenes, fully take to heart, and also spontaneously intuit, the needs of both the guests and their host. This involves listening for certain sounds – taps and different tricklings of water, hot and cold – and, through these, grasping what may need to next be done in the preparation-room, and how soon and swiftly this requires being accomplished.
This participant is, in short, just as important as are both the host, who presents (at least) sweetmeats and then serves tea, and the chamber-master, who offers whatever explanations may enhance the impact of the occasion.
The interaction among these three key participants forms an important (though easily-unnoticed) example of what any Tea-occasion essentially constitutes: a collaborative endeavor. And, in this respect, the praxis of Tea quite perfectly exemplifies a major, because so long-enduring, component of Japanese culture. The cultivation of Asian rice (Oryza sativa), Japan’s most prized staple food, requires not only (like that of wheat or corn) collaborative planting and collaborative harvesting, but also (unlike the case of wheat or corn) collaborative and uninterrupted distribution of running water. This means that, during three quarters of any year, channels for such water must be scrupulously maintained; and managing this requires almost ceaseless collaboration.
Consequently, Japanese culture’s worst non-physical sanction, imposed upon breakers of accepted social codes, has always been a community-ostracism – We can do quite well without your help, thank you – so complete as to be suspended only in cases of either threat from conflagration or the funeral of a member of the offending family.
The cult of Tea, however, is one major example of collaboration also imbued with both spiritual and artistic aspects; and that is why we at The Tea Crane love and revere it so much.
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