During the month of February, a narrow and deep tea bowl called “tsutsujyawan” is used to prepare thin tea in Chanoyu, the Japanese Way of Tea. The word tsutsu means cylinder, and I was told that the reason for using this type of tea bowl, whose design makes it near-impossible to whisk and create good foam, is to retain the heat of the tea so that guests can enjoy it hot at the coldest time of the year.
Although I’m skeptical how effective the shape is for keeping the tea hot, the tsutsu tea bowl symbolizes “mid-winter,” and also implies that spring is just around the corner. And getting people into the spirit of the season through the use of seasonal utensils is an important aspect in Chanoyu.
Thinking about tsutsujyawan made me a little sad because I realized that I have not been able to practice tea with my teacher for the past two years because of Covid. Another year will pass before I’ll be able to prepare tea in her beautiful Mishima tsutsujyawan, an ash glazed bowl with white slip inlay decorations that comes out of a little paulownia box only once a year.
I’m surprised to catch myself feeling this nostalgia because, when I was growing up, I thought all this seasonal stuff was such a waste of time, especially the Ohinasama dolls decorations that come out of boxes in February to celebrate Girls’ Day on March 3rd. Families with daughters display dolls depicting a married couple in celebration of the Peach Flower Festival, which is also known as the Doll festival.
My parents originally had a simple Ohinasama comprised of a dressed-up couple already glued in position side by side in a glass case with a fitting box. Then my mother won a spectacular nanadan kazari (seven-tiered Ohinasama) in a giveaway by a radio station in the late 1970s. I still clearly remember the day she won it. We were having breakfast before going to school when the radio host started reading a letter from a mother of three daughters who could not afford a nanadan kazari…, at which point my overjoyed mother screamed, “that’s me!”
A few months later, several large boxes arrived at our house containing the nanadan kazari. The decoration was huge with a total of 15 dolls, equipped with miniature furniture for the bride, and because it took up most of our living room, it was totally incongruous. We were all excited to decorate them for the first few years, then gradually lost interest, except my mother. Her enthusiasm for the hard-won Ohinasama continued and she insisted that we take the whole set to Singapore when my father was transferred there for work several years later.
Year after year, the Ohinasama came out of the boxes in tropical Southeast Asia and went back into the boxes promptly on March 4th. This is due to the superstition that daughters will not be able to get married for a long time if the dolls are left out past March 3rd. I think I was not alone in questioning if a happy and early marriage should be my primary goal in life, but more than that, I dreaded the task of boxing and unboxing these dolls and wished that they stayed in their boxes forever.
These days the Girls’ Day spirit of the season does not arrive unless I step up to the task of taking out the Ohinasama. My older sister in Japan inherited the nanadan kazari for her daughters, but whether they are out of boxes right now is unknown and I dare not ask.
When I pull out my own little Ohinasama and put it on a shelf, I think back to the time we decorated the nanadan kazari. We could never remember where all the dolls went, and it was fun figuring them out with my sisters. Many friends came over to our apartment to take pictures in front of the dolls because few people had such a display. Over the years, the Ohinasama evolved into a marker of the coming of spring and its subsequent gatherings.
Which brings me back to my Tea teacher’s tsutsujyawan. The winter tea bowl is just one example of many utensils that are taken out and put away throughout the year, just as with my family’s Ohinasama. Like Christmas lights in December, these symbols give support to the traditions that anchor us and provide stability and comfort. I think that perhaps the Way of Tea is also a training in resilience to repeat these traditions. Through the simple act of preparing tea, we are learning to step up and to bring people together. I’m keenly looking forward to resuming the practice with my teacher, which shouldn’t be too far away now. She has been hanging the lights patiently for over 50 years.