Who are you?
I started practicing Chado, ‘The Way of Tea’, for the first time in Los Angeles when I lived there in the 1990s. I came back to Japan eighteen years ago and opened my own Chado school eleven years ago as a 1st-degree instructor of the Urasenke Chado Tradition, one of the largest Chado schools in the world. I teach beginner to advanced classes for students in Japan. I also established the Shizu-Kokoro Chado School in Asakusa, Tokyo, to introduce this unique culture to foreign guests, as well as organize Chado workshops and seminars for international audiences throughout Japan.
Why Chado? What drew you to Chado and what continues to keep you engaged with it?
There are many practices to ease an unsettled mind. Among those, Chado is a unique practice and culture. In Chado, the host invites guests to chaji, a formal tea gathering, and offers heartfelt hospitality in various ways and endeavors to realize a memorable gathering. The host plans the theme or message of each chaji, and then arranges utensils that enhance cooking, as well as matcha tea and sweets. The host and guest strive to be pure-minded and harmonised. The tea ceremony incorporates a wide range of disciplines, so while practicing mindfulness in a fun way, you can also acquire an understanding of history, literature, crafts, cooking, etc. Chado also teaches us the importance of associating with people and connecting with nature. The advantage of Chado is that you can start practicing at any age, at a level and pace that suits your physical strength and ability, and you can continue to practice it forever. My sensei (teacher) remained active until her death at the age of 103. Through the practice of Chado, one’s field of view and eyesight are improved, so it has a positive effect on daily life. Tea ceremony is not only mastering a skill, but meditation in movement and a spiritual discipline as well.
How did you decide to become a Chado Sensei?
There are many practices to ease an unsettled mind. Among those, Chado is a unique Chado taught me how to become tranquil and helped me to widen my perception, and I gained the self-capacity and resilience to overcome any hardships. I became a teacher because I want to introduce Chado to people who need it. Also, I would like to support the inheritance of this unique tradition. I have witnessed the transformations of hundreds of students. Not only have they improved their deportment and knowledge, but they have become more cheerful and more empathetic, and are able to get the most out of their lives.
We live in fast-paced and highly convenient times. What role does the discipline of Chado play in our contemporary context?
We now question whether an urban life with many conveniences has brought us real happiness. In fact, our free time has been taken away from us, and many of our abilities have deteriorated because we don’t need to use our brain or body as much as we did in ancient times. On the other hand, people tend to have low selfesteem and become emotional very easily because they are not fulfilled spiritually. A lack of being with nature has a lot to do with these consequences. In ancient times, people used to have a life cycle based on the law of nature and had to bond with others to survive. But people ignored the law of nature and have developed many systems and structures that enable us to behave expediently toward nature, and we have created a society which makes us compete with one another.
In chado, the host performs a tea making procedure called temae in front of the guests. This is a way of expressing heartfelt hospitality and it also means that the guests should express their polite but sincere appreciation to the host. Host and guests must both be humble and collaborative to make the gathering successful. As a result, people who practice Chado cultivate compassion toward other people which tends to be forgotten in our competitive society.
As long as we live in a society that keeps developing, we must have something to prevent us becoming overly swayed by it and losing ourselves in it. By practicing Chado, we can obtain true happiness that cannot be achieved through the possession of material things, and we can maintain our innate value as human beings.
Chado is inherently connected to the seasons. What can Chado teach us in regard to how we think about our environment?
Nature is not something people should control, rather we should coexist with it. Moreover, we can learn many things from nature. Since ancient times in Japan, we have appreciated the four seasons and expressed our gratitude to nature because it brings us joy and promotes harmony. However, as urban living has become the norm, our chances of being in nature have decreased, and we often live hurriedly and aimlessly.
One of the significant methods which Chado teaches us for obtaining a sense of inner peace is how to tune in to nature and its seasons without actually being in nature. In other words, the tearoom is a space to embody the truth of the universe around us.
Chado is a spiritual discipline that teaches us how to slow down, connect with nature—even when we’re not actually in it—collaborate with people, and become aware of the small but very important things in front of us. In the tearoom, we can experience a variety of sensations which improves human sensitivity. This includes tatami-mats which give off a grassy aroma, fragrant incense pervading the room and the smoky smell from the charcoal used for boiling water.
In the tearoom, people strive to heighten their ability to sense nature from these elements. Eventually, they build up an ability to feel nature in their minds, even outside of the tearoom.
How important are daily rituals to you?
Mindfulness is an important part of my daily ritual. Practicing and teaching Chado is the perfect moment for me to execute that. But other than that, every moment, even when walking my dogs or jogging, I try to see, feel and accept my surroundings as they are without any judgment. And I understand that I should not take these moments for granted. I appreciate people and things around me and accept events as they happen—regardless of whether it is good or bad. In doing so, my mind can be purified so that I can see things as they are without any bias or emotion and sense the power of nature. It is not easy to do perfectly but I do my best because this is a key thing to achieving inner peace.
How do you mark and celebrate change?
In Japan, the seasons are a significant part of our life. So, I think of the seasons when I think of the word ‘change’. There are many things we can learn from nature. For example, there is a well-known verse which appears on a hanging scroll in spring. It says, ‘Hundreds of flowers, whom are you blooming for?’ Flowers bloom majestically when their time comes even though they are not asked to or rewarded by anyone. And they die quietly with no complaint, blame, or regret when their time comes—they accept their destiny. This is something humans cannot do easily. We learn to accept the changes in life from the changing of the seasons.
Also, we celebrate the change of season according to the 24 solar terms created by dividing one year into 24 periods based on the ecliptic. Each solar term has a name and introduces seasonal ingredients, poems and festivals, as well as traditional customs for a particular period. Obviously, the 24 solar terms can be a good theme for tea gatherings of Chado as well.
What does the ritual of Chado teach us to honour?
One of the teachings of Zen is that all agony is created by our own emotions. In Chado it is the same. Therefore, improving our own state of mind and managing our emotions is highly regarded.
Wa, kei, sei, jyaku. These are the most basic and important teachings in Chado.
Wa is ‘harmony’. Always keep in mind the need to create harmony with others. Rikyu teaches us that harmony can be realized only when each person becomes compassionate and strives to feel others’ feelings.
Kei is ‘respect’. Have respect for everything, including people, nature and all living things. In the world of Chado, everybody in the tearoom is equal. Therefore, we respect each other regardless of their class or status. And we all have benevolence for each other. We respect and appreciate everything provided by hosts without judgment or evaluation. And people who are invited as guests also invite others, including the former host, and host them to show respect.
Sei is ‘pure’. Both body and mind should be pure. People of pure mind sense beauty in the atmosphere, feel compassion and a heightened artistic sense, and perceive things as they are, without bias.
And jyaku is ‘stability’ or ‘tranquility’. Strive not to be emotional, but tranquil.
Through the practice of Chado, one can sharpen one’s senses and cultivate selfesteem and inner peace.
Shuko, a Buddhist monk and tea master in the 14th century quoted an old saying to teach his disciples: ‘Be the master of your mind, but do not let your mind be your master.’
Can you think of how aspects of the ritual of Chado would resonate with our world at this moment in time?
The core concept of Chado came from Zen philosophy. Buddhism teaches that everything is based on causality, and nothing exists or happens alone. When we have a bowl of matcha tea served by the host in the tea ceremony, we appreciate not only the tea, but the result realised by a series of actions. This is also described by Mirei Shigemori, a renowned Japanese garden designer in the early 1920s: ‘You do not deserve to drink the tea if you cannot feel the universe in it.’
In order to have a good tea, there should be good matcha powder from good producers, good water and fire, a memorable tea ceremony realized by the heartfelt hospitality of the host, a friendly atmosphere created by the other guests and so on. In the same way, we believe things and events in the world are all connected. Worldwide issues, such as natural disasters, animal extinction, or the terror of viruses—no one can say for sure that they don’t have anything to do with what humans have been doing for their own benefit.
As Chado teaches, we always consider the consequences, so we are humble and careful about our behavior. To realise a sustainable world, we should see a big connection related to cause and effect and be responsible for what we do. Also, we should cherish every moment because anything can happen anytime—in the same way that we never thought this pandemic would become a long-term, huge issue.
In order to cultivate a strong mind, inner peace and tranquility, Chado flourished among the notable samurai and wealthy merchants who were struggling to survive in the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States period) in the 15th century. There is a famous saying in Chado ‘ichigo ichie’, or ‘a once-in-a-lifetime encounter,’ an apt description for the precious moments in the tearoom. In the time of these samurai and merchants especially, being alive was a miracle, and the importance of being present in each precious moment in all situations was their true feeling.
Since then, times have changed and society has changed, but in each era, people have been facing different types of hardships. That is why Chado has been called for in each era—as a retreat of the heart.