Chapter Number One: Seiza is Not the Only Proper Way (Part 1)

Transforming a Japanese Room

Since it came to be that I studied the ways Japanese move our bodies as handed down from old, it seems fate that this author began to study tea ceremony.
Just drinking tea is literally an everyday bread and butter [lit. tea] sort of thing, but has adopted all sorts of Japanese culture in to its sphere, extending its world to include kaiseki cooking, flower arrangement, fine art, incense listening, ceramics, gardening, sukiya style architecture, and so on. When first preparing to study tea ceremony, I studied Japanese culture well and efficiently. Thus was my impure motive as a beginner. Advancing along the road of research when I was first a student at graduate school, happening to have a chance to visit the temple affiliated with the tea master Katagiri Sekishu called Jikoin, the thin tea served while we gazed at the scenery of the wide plain of Nara was exceedingly delicious. Upon explaining that I wanted to study tea ceremony, I received an introduction from the wife of the previous head priest to a teacher in Tokyo who if I wanted to study Sekishu style tea I should definitely visit.
The person I was introduced to was in the nearby residential area of Setagaku in Todoroki Valley, and it being hidden without even a signboard, it had an air that the grand master was protecting this handed down tradition. Also, it didn’t have any spacious Japanese garden or tea house connected to the roji. Looking like a normal house, it merely had a small 6 tatami mat Japanese room with a hearth cut into it.
Sometime in summer, it was custom for the students to gather and practice the kaiseki. We divided the 6 mat room into two with a kekkai (a type of chadougu which is placed to show where a boundary is), made the chosen machiai, and were first treated to sakura tea in which cherry blossoms floated by our sempai who had the duty of being the hosts. Those on mizuya duty took away the kekkai on an organized signal, and then that place was changed into the main seating of the chaji. The six mat room, depending on how the kekkai or furo screen is placed, can be completely changed into a four and a half mat room or even into a two mat machiai. According to the goal of the practice, in short, according to the intimacy of the relationship between the host and guests, we can choose how formal it is.
Such a technique of transforming the scale of the open space at will, for myself who has become used to modern rooms, was at first astonishing. I was shocked. The space there I knew had instantly transformed into a different world. My body quaked at this tiny spectacle.
The location of a person is not defined merely by the walls and doors of the room encircling them all around. There where a person sits, when one or two division are placed in appropriate places, acquires a place which calms the heart. For those who practice tea, since there where the gathered guests and host is a thing at times subtly created, when there is an open space without any tables or chairs, the nature of the “seat” becomes a space where it is possible to create partitions at will.