NIPPONIA No. 39 December 15, 2006


Special Featuresp_star.gifWelcome to the Land of Hospitality

In the summer suggest coolness, in the winter, warmth...

Left: Randy Channell offers pointers to his students during a tea ceremony training session.
Right: Hanging scroll and flower arrangement in the tokonoma alcove of Channell's tea room. (Visit his website at

The Way of Tea takes the idea, ichigo ichie, and raises it to an aesthetic ideal and a way of life.

Randy Channell was born in Canada, became a practitioner of martial arts and the way of tea, and now lives in Kyoto. He is an associate professor with the Urasenke tradition of chanoyu (tea), and goes by the tea name of Soei. He believes that the Way of Tea offers a time to relax, eat Japanese confectionaries and, of course, drink tea.

That might be enough for the guests, but the host or hostess must prepare to welcome them in the best way possible.

"The process of welcoming guests actually starts when you first decide to hold a tea gathering. The desire to welcome them is expressed in every step of the preparation, from writing the invitations to selecting the utensils, to choosing the sweets."

The tea master Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) proposed seven rules for the Way of Tea:

  • Make a satisfying bowl of tea
  • Lay the charcoal so that it heats the water well
  • Arrange the flowers as if they are growing in a field
  • In the summer suggest coolness, in the winter, warmth
  • Be ready ahead of time
  • Prepare for rain just in case
  • Be considerate of other guests

Basically, all of his rules emphasize utmost consideration of others.

For Randy, one important thing is to express a sense of the season.

A casual arrangement of Japanese pampas grass, clematis and patrinia — all early autumn vegetation — decorates the space under the hanging scroll in his tokonoma alcove at the end of summer. His tea room already anticipates the coming coolness of autumn.

In a soft voice he explains, "Ichigo ichie — the moment will never happen again, so I try to find every way possible to help my guests feel at ease. In the tea ceremony, that is the true spirit of hospitality."


Mutual open-mindedness and respect

Buddhism lies at the heart of Japanese culture, and it is a constant thread in the Way of Tea. Buddhism tells us that everything in the world is impermanent (mujo). Another Buddhist concept, engi, suggests that living things are all linked together by fate — that they all depend on each other.

Here, too, we feel the spirit of ichigo ichie: treasure each present moment you have with others, because it may never happen again.

Sen no Rikyu expressed the essence of the Way of Tea with four characters: Wa Kei Sei Jaku (Harmony, Respect, Purity, Tranquility). His four principles tell us: cultivate mutual open-mindedness; respect one another; remain virtuous; and remain unperturbed, no matter what happens.

In the tea room, the guests are always right. If they cannot sit the formal seiza way, kneeling with their buttocks on their heels, they can sit cross-legged. They can sip their tea or gulp it down. The same freedom applies at a Japanese inn. At the heart of Japanese hospitality is a willingness to let guests behave as they wish.

This becomes a two-way street — a mutual respect where guests, too, realize what standards of behavior are expected of them. It is this feeling of mutual respect that has raised the art of Japanese hospitality to a high level.