Path to Peace, The Way of Tea
Seven seas separate
land and people on planet earth. Cultural differences erupt daily
into minor and major wars between individuals and nations. Cocktail
conversations and Washington summits swirl with notions of how to
create peace in this world. For the caustic cynic, Heaven sends
heroes like Mademoiselle Matsumoto who holds a candle to the path
of harmony. Accolades and awards from the Emperor of Japan, President
Clinton, members of Congress and dignitaries can be seen in her
Shizuye Matsumoto, a seventy-eight year old Japanese-American, belongs
to a top echelon of tea masters. Her business card reads, Matsumoto
Sosei, which indicates her role as a composer of the tea ceremony.
Protocol dictates however that she is addressed as, "Sensei" which
signifies teacher, a revered status in Japan. She has mastered the
highest degree one can attain in the "Way of Tea." Chado,
also pronounced Sado, is what the Japanese call this ancient
World War II, Shizuye Matsumoto was born in Hawaii to Japanese immigrant
farmers who desired a better life for their daughter. Their dreams
would have to wait. Prejudice was slapped in their faces. Restaurant
owners and others slammed doors on the family because of their Oriental
origin. At age five, Matsumoto's mother died. Turbulent teen years
brought the passing of her father. Her surrogate parents were shipped
to internment camp while she was visiting her sister in Kyoto.
were suspicious of the young Matsumoto. She cried upon hearing the,
Star Spangled Banner. World War Two had erupted. The western
style clothing that had once been envied was discarded to avoid
severe censure. Immediate action was needed to ease the tension
of gossips and government officials who thought she was on an espionage
mission because of her American attachments.
prompted Matsumoto to matriculate into the Urasenke system
of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Sixteenth century Zen
master, Sen-no-Soeki who took the royal court name of Rikyu, is
the progenitor of Chado and the founder of the Urasenke
into the school, Matsumoto Sosei felt relief. "It feels very relaxed.
Everything appreciate and respect other people. Everything so natural."
Tantansai, the fourteenth Grand Tea Master, and a direct descendant
of Sen Rikyu agreed to her participation in the curriculum. Double
honor was bestowed upon Matsumoto. Tantansai had admitted a non-native
Japanese woman into his system. Furthermore, he approved of her
as a student.
a relation of the Imperial family, also became an influential mentor
for Mademoiselle Matsumoto. She embraced the discipline of learning
when and where to place a cup, a hand, an art piece, a foot, fan,
and flower in a room. Her soul synchronized to the Zen philosophy
of finding freedom through mastery of rigid rules of tea ceremony.
Rikyu had preached
to his pupils that by presenting a cup of tea perfectly to a participant
in a ceremony, one could transcend this worldly plane of existence.
Matsumoto explains: "We have four principle, "wa (harmony)
-kei (respect) -sei (purity) -jyaku (tranquility).
Everything harmony and you know respect is very important and tranquility.
Everything humble." The precepts focus on serving others. "How to
make guests comfortable" is the primary purpose of a tea composer
according to Mademoiselle Matsumoto.
Not only the
hostess but also the guests discard egos at the door. The powerful
Hideyoshi listened to few in his time of rule. But he complied with
Rikyu's demand to keep all swords outside of the sacred room of
the tea ritual. The court advisor also created the "nijiriguchi"
which is a small entrance into a tearoom. All who enter to partake
of the ceremony are humbled by having to crawl through the diminutive
door. The simple act is one of many, which signifies the respect
for all living beings that in spirit are one. Albeit there is "assigned
seating" based upon the status of a guest, the action of bowing
one's head through the nijiriguchi reflects the willingness
of a participant to harmonize humbly with his fellows.
played pivotal roles throughout history in healing past wounds.
In 1951, a Peace Treaty was to be signed by President Truman and
Prime Minister Yoshida. Chado was commissioned. Matsumoto
Sosei received the honor of assisting Hounsai Iemoto, the fifteenth
Grand Tea Master, in the tea ceremony.
In 1951, Mademoiselle
Matsumoto's presentation also caught the eye of Hollywood giants
like Charlie Chaplin. She served tea in the Twentieth Century Fox
is East. However, the carefully choreographed dance of Chado
is more than a casual culinary performance. The Way of Tea is a
spiritual experience brought about by appreciating each prescribed
step that is taken on the journey to taste both the bitter (the
green tea) and the sweet (the rice cake) that is served.
From the choice
of artwork to the flower, reverence for life is expressed in every
aspect of the ceremony. Natural beauty takes precedence over manicured
perfection. In speaking about flowers for her room, Matsumoto Sosei
declares; "You have to pick from garden, field, mountain. You don't
buy in store. In a very natural way, not a gorgeous flower, just
miracle of life is celebrated by paying attention and giving thanks
for the details of the ordinary. Tea is enjoyed, in a standard ceremony,
three times. The aroma is noted the first time around the circle.
The second go around brings about singing praises for the color
of the Macha. Flavor is the topic of approbation on the third
of Sado include harmonizing with Nature. Consequently, kettles,
doors and entire tearoom interiors are rearranged to celebrate the
current season. Different calendar pages bring about displays of
artwork and tea accoutrement appropriate to the time. Mademoiselle
Matsumoto loves the autumn months. She revels in the quiet.
"Matsu-no-kaze" which translates to, wind through the pines,
is a sound she loves to hear in the fall charcoal, as she brews
emerald green Macha.
is a powdered form of verdant leaves that are crushed and used by
aficionados as the standard base for the ceremonial cup of tea.
Koicha is the version of Macha that is used for the
four-hour sessions, which include the traditional country style
repast called kaiseki-ryori. Matsumoto Sensei explains that
Macha leaves used for koicha are picked only in May
and only from a tree that is at least two hundred years old. Abundance
of age contributes to the sweeter quality of the beverage. Mademoiselle
Matsumoto's assistant, Ms. Ota states: "Koicha is sticky,
almost ice cream like in consistency."
is a thinner version of the powdered tea. Usui means thin
and cha translates to tea. On this reporter's visit to Mademoiselle
Matsumoto's home, Japanese cakes were served with the usucha
to allegedly combat the taste of the bitter tea. The steaming liquid
was not at all biting in flavour. Perhaps that can be attributed
to the Sensei's sweet heart, which she pours into every cup.
students from around the globe clamor for her attention and instruction.
The tea enchantress holds the keys of creating and serving a liquid
that melts all boundaries. She brings a sense of serene unity with
the presentation of a single piece of earthenware containing green
tea. In the tokonoma (display alcove), a treasured scroll
from a monk in Kyoto reads: "Every day happy, A good way, This is
the way." The sensei walks the philosophy with grace. Her students
appreciate not only her mastery of the ceremony but also her wisdom
Her eyes sparkle
with laughter as she credits her Caucasian pupils for making her
an expert at teaching. Mademoiselle Matsumoto declares, "Caucasian
people, they say why do this? Why? Why? That's why I had to have
good answer, so I study real hard, fifty years, so that's why I
had good experience."
The Sensei has
not forgotten her past but she has forgiven the grave trespasses.
She chooses to focus on the beauty and the natural art that she
finds in her surroundings. The ancient art of Chado has led her
to this place of peace. Mademoiselle Matsumoto affirms, "That's
why need tea ceremony. Everybody friendly, everybody same. You know,
my teacher used to say, just keep one cup of tea makes everybody
friendly, no war, only peace."