The humble elegance of the chawans stood out to him as he placed them on the bamboo mat in front of him. They were of various colours and their imperfection stood out to him as beautiful. He greeted each guest with a courteous bow as they entered, and began to gently clean each utensil in full view of all those around him. He was the host; his gaze was steadied on the task before him. Each utensil had been used previously hundreds of times. The nostalgic feeling did not shake his demeanour in front of all the guests at all.
Their clothing was plain and consisted mostly of singular colours. Green, grey, blue. The host was draped entirely in white. When the utensils had been all thoroughly cleansed, to the silent satisfaction of the guests, he positioned them nearby on the bamboo mat. Only when this was finished did he look up. Each guest was then handed a sweet, which they immediately placed in their mouth. There was no change of appearance in any of the guest’s countenances as they sampled the sweets given to them. However, their stone faces belied a truth that only he could perceive – childlike eagerness.
He proceeded to purify the simple chawan in front of him with an equally simple cloth. Each motion was done with minimal effort, and no wasted movement. The warm water was gently deposited into a waste water receptacle, which stood out to him at this very moment. He thought back to the birth of children. Their first time joining their father for tea. The errors he had to correct in their own behaviour and the satisfaction of their transition into adulthood.
All his guests were kneeling around him. He sensed an almost imperceptible shift in the weight of one of his guests. This guest felt uncomfortable, perhaps even anxious, he thought to himself. But did not react. The ceremony must go on. Reaching for the bamboo tea scoop, he placed two helpings of powdered tea into the first chawan, which he promptly handed to a guest. The guest bowed politely and drank, both hands enveloping the simplistic chawan. Satisfied with the taste, the guest made an audible slurping sound and handed back the empty bowl. Each guest receiving their portion, and handing back the empty chawan to be yet again cleansed by the host. Motions were always precise. Efforts never exerted beyond what was necessary.
Drink. Cleanse. Pour. Bow.
It was a dance with a purpose. His final one.
It was a tradecraft being passed down from an older generation. His own.
Each item placed in front of him a tool of this exquisite trade. A trade he was displaying for all to see. The simplicity of tools glimmered and shone in his eyes. It represented his life’s work and he knew his time was coming to an end. He was already a very old man. He reached for his simple whisk. Its bristles were already fraying and bending. Looking up from his knelt posture he passed this whisk to a guest and bowed. The guest bowed in return. The cloth next caught his eye. It represented cleansing and purity for him. He passed it to the next guest, bowing and handing it both hands. The tea scoop instilled in him stability and consistency. He passed it to another guest.
This continued until all guests had received an item from the tea set.
All the items had disappeared from his view, except the chawan.
He felt satisfaction not sorrow at the loss of his tools. They were in safe hands.
This last item was how one savoured the tea, tasted the simplicity of the ceremony.
No guest should ever drink from this bowl again, he concluded.
Pulling out a dagger from his belt, he proceeded to strike the chawan with one swift strike. Not a guest flinched. The bowl shattered and pieces spilled everywhere on the bamboo mat. An assistant shifted in order to come and collect the shattered pieces; however, he raised his hand and spoke. The assistant paused and bowed. He told all the guests that misfortunate will no longer befall the chawan laid broken in front of him.
The assistant scooped up the pieces, disposed of them, and quickly returned carrying several hanging scrolls. The kakemono scrolls were presented to the gathered room and the unique design on each explained. The assistant passed the scroll to the host who then passed it to a guest. Complimentary words were exchanged and the host informed all that they can keep the tea ceremony tools as souvenirs along with the kakemono.
Almost in unison each guest bowed while continuing to kneel around the host. They were extremely satisfied, and the change in their faces betrayed their emotionless demeanour. One by one each guest gave a personal thanks to the host. A few select words were exchanged regarding the tea ceremony and proper procedure. The guests were encouraged to conduct their own ceremonies to spread the knowledge.
All guests had eventually departed but one. The assistant attended to the tea room door, seeing to it that all the guests had left. A second assistant entered the tea room, gently sliding it shut behind him. The host looked up from his kneeled posture at the final guest who had not yet departed. He made eye contact, nodded his head and proceeded to bow while saying a word of gratitude.
Both assistants entered the room, with the second assistant standing directly behind the host. The first assistant brought a bamboo basket to the room and placed it to the right of the host. She then elegantly tip toed to the corner of the room and stood motionless.
The host addressed all who were present, giving thanks and reading a scroll poem that had been written earlier. Each guest listened with great reverence at this master of tea ceremonies. With the poem read, the host rolled up the scroll and placed it to his left. He picked up a thick piece of hemp fabric and placing it between his teeth, bit down forcefully. Simultaneously, he began opening up his own robe to reveal his bare chest and belly. All his actions belied his true purpose, as they were done with the same agility and elegance displayed during the ceremony. To all gathered, it seemed as if another ceremonial dance were taking place. The host then placed his right hand on the dagger, which he had earlier used to smash the chawan. With the blade facing himself, he thrust the handle of the blade forward, and quickly retracted it back, impaling his own abdomen. The lone guest batted an eye and momentarily looked away. Immediately the host’s white kimono was stained red. A profound contrast of colours, he thought to himself as he lacerated his own belly diagonally. The thoughts of his own children once again flooding his mind as he dragged the blade from left to right. Their lives would certainly be more joyous and meaningful. His legacy would endure for hundreds of years, he assured himself as the pain became almost unbearable. And then the pain was gone.
The second assistant, carried out what appeared to be a single action to the two gathered onlookers. Withdrawing his long blade from its sheath, he made a precise downward cutting motion, then using a white cloth near the entry-point of the sheath, he wiped the blood off as the sword re-entered.
The host’s head hung to its body by a single flap of skin. The second assistant would give the host the honour he deserved and not allow the head to simply fall to the ground. The first assistant gracefully walked over and detached the head from the body using a small dagger. She then placed the head in the basket as all present bowed to show gratitude for their host’s exquisite tea ceremony.