SeizaSesshaMany people have difficulty sitting in seiza. While I have hesitated to boldly state my own ignorant opinion on the matter, I have decided to do so with this post. So this is not a translation, but just my own insignificant thoughts.

Seiza and Japanese culture are inseparably intertwined. There are tea procedures that have been created to avoid seiza: The Victorian-flavoured ryuurei style uses specially made tables and chairs affordable to only independently wealthy aristocrats, but lacks the intimacy that is in the heart of tea ceremony. Zarei is a newer temae that is more intimate and allows the host and guests to sit in seiza, agura (cross-legged), or on a small stool as they please. However, it still requires a special tana (tea stand) that has a very good price. By good, I mean expensive. But even with such temae, being able to sit in seiza is an indispensable part of learning Tea! Having been praised by my (Japanese) classmates for being able to sit in seiza for a long time, I hope my limited experience can give my dear readers some good advice.

As an aside, I started sitting in seiza after I became an adult. When I first started, it was not easy. My feet immediately fell asleep to the point I could not stand again. So seiza is a skill, not nothing some people are just naturally good at.

How I learned to sit in seiza:

When I first started sitting in seiza, I made a deliberate effort to sit in seiza at home, while reading or watching a movie or surfing the internet. I usually did this sitting on my bed, mostly because I lived in a very small room and there was no room to sit elsewhere. Now that I live in Japan, I live a rather “Japanese-style” life, meaning without high tables or chairs. I sit on tatami mat floor when using my computer, when reading, when eating…pretty much all the time. About half of this time, I am sitting in seiza. The other half of the time I sit in agura or tate-hiza (with one knee up). At work, I have a western-style desk and chair, but sometimes I will tuck my legs up in seiza on the chair, because I find that more comfortable nowadays.
As for where you should practice, I personally recommend, of course, tatami (real tatami is softer than foam-core tatami btw), but also other soft surfaces such as a zabuton (cushion), bed mattress, or even carpet. To sit comfortably in seiza, your body should slightly adjust its shape, so practicing while taking a hot bath helps this.

Don’t Sit Still
I can sit comfortably in seiza for hours, but my feet do still fall asleep. To help this, I am constantly moving my feet and weight*. Obviously, I can’t be fidgeting through an entire tea ceremony, but I can wiggle my toes or switch the position of my big toes. If my feet have fallen asleep and I know I will need to stand up soon, I start waking them up by wiggling them about five minutes before. The process of waking my feet up is a little painful, but it means that at least I can exit the room gracefully, rather than falling over when trying to stand on numb feet. I should also mention we sort of shuffle rather than pick up our feet when walking in a tea room. When your feet are in that painful half-asleep condition, this is a great blessing.
By the way, there are many opportunities to encourage sluggish circulation back into your feet. When you bow, fetch utensils, do haiken, and reach for the tana or kettle, these all allow you to move your body and take weight off if your feet.

*Nota bene: At one point I did field work at a Russian Orthodox church. Orthodox churches traditionally do not have pews, so this often included standing as an observer in a formal position for three hour long services. But for participants, this standing is broken every five or ten minutes by bows or even prostrations upon the floor. Standing in the same position was painful, but when interspersed with bows and other movement, it wasn’t so difficult at all. I think seiza is similar to this.

I think it was Shigenori Chikamatsu who said that if you are healthy and have good circulation, you should have no problem with seiza. If you consider the sort of people who practiced tea when these forms were established, they had much more active lifestyles. I despise sports and can’t recommend anyone taking them up. But instead, take up another hobby that is more useful. Start a garden, try tai chi, take up charcoal making, or go on nature hikes on the weekend. I myself practice kyudo (Japanese archery) whose focus on “still activity” and etiquette has much in common with Tea.
By the way, when sitting in seiza, I am under the impression we shouldn’t sit all relaxed with all our weight on our feet. Keeping your posture straight and the muscles in your legs active helps prevent the feet from falling asleep too.

Dress “Comfortably”
I find wearing pants makes my feet fall asleep very quickly. If I am wearing kimono, I also try to be careful about not tying it too tight. I think that people, if they are not used to wearing kimono, tend to wrap and tie the kimono very tightly around the body. But there is no need for that and having the kimono bound around the thighs too tightly makes sitting in seiza more difficult.
I’ve also had recommended to me that I leave the upper most clasp of my tabi undone.

The above is just my opinion and based upon my experience, so while I hope it can give some good advice, only use what you find works well and experiment for yourself.



Nakabushi and Tenbushi Futaoki. Also, the hishaku’s gou is 1 sun 9 bu to 2 sun large with the ro and 1 sun 7 bu to 8 bu large with the furo

This month’s Tankou had an article talking about the differences between Furo and Ro. While the things it mentions are fairly basic, I think it is easy to get them mixed up, especially if you haven’t studied tea that long. Two differences that I forget/mix up still are shifting towards the kensui when retreating from the tea room, and the position of pointer finger when holding the hishaku. What other differences are there between furo and ro?

The Difference in Utensils Between Furo and Ro
A bamboo futaoki is generally used for hakobi temae, and the position of the bamboo joint differs from furo to ro. In furo, it is a “tenbushi” (the joint is towards to top) and in ro, it is a “nakabushi” (the joint is around the middle). There are also special futaoki with two or more joints. There is an anecdote which says that Rikyuu told his sons Douan and Shouan to make a futaoki. One of them made a “tenbushi” one and other made a “nakabushi” one. Both of them being beautiful so hating to discard either one, Rikyuu Koji designated them for different using depending on the furo or ro, it is said.

The size of the gou of the hishaku (the cup) also differs. On a whole, the gou used with the furo is smaller. However, if a hanging kettle or a tsutsugama is used with the ro, a smaller hishaku can be used along with it. The difference of the hishaku is not limited to just the size of the gou. The kiridome (end) of the hishaku handle also differs. In order that the front side of the handle is longer for the furo and shorter for the ro, the end of the hishaku is cut diagonally. The reason for this difference is because way the hishaku is placed is different: For the furo it is placed face up and for the ro is it placed face down.
There is a famous poem that can be used to remembering this:

At dusk a gentle breeze blows along the streams of Nara
The only sign of summer is the misogi purification

“禊祓ぞ夏の印” (written with different kanji) can also mean “a sign of summer is the handle cut towards you”.
Translator note!–> The above poem is the 98th poem in the famed collection called “Ogura Hyakunin Shu”

Question: What sort of different utensils are used depending of the furo or ro?

Answer: The furo starts in May when we welcome the hot weather, so we use many dogu that express cool and freshness. The charcoal is shorter and thinner compared to the ro, and since less of it is used, the charcoal utensils are smaller. The kettle becomes smaller and the furo is placed in the corner of the room in order that the guests don’t feel as hot. In reverse, in order to help the guests feel cool, utensils relating to water become larger. For example, as the height of summer is neared, the large “hira-mizusashi” is used. Just viewing it, the guests will be able to feel refreshed. And in the tokonoma a basket vase is used.

A Word from the Teacher
What other differences are there between furo and ro? Let’s take a look at Rikyu’s 100 Proverbs.

“With the furo, the charcoal in a vegetable basket, metal hibashi, a lacquered kougou, and burn sandalwood”
“With the ro, know to use a gourd sumitori, handled hibashi, ceramic kougou, and blended incense”

These teaches us that a woven sumitori, metal hibashi, a lacquered kougou, and wood incense is used with the furo. A dried and hollowed-out goard for sumitori, hibashi with wrapped handles, and ceramic kougou and blended incense is used with the ro. The ro sumitori is not limited to gourds, and baskets can be used too, but when first opening the ro, everybody knows to use a new gourd sumitori.

DSCN4699There is also the poem:

“The furo habouki is a right feather and a ro habouki is a left feather, of course!”

Whether the right side of the habouki feather is wider or the left side changes whether using it with a ro or furo. However, as you progress in your studies, you will find this is not always true such as in a gyakute room.






DSCN4268The Basics of Ohakobi (Bringing in Tea)
At a large chakai, even beginners have the chance to bring in tea, so it’s necessary to clearly remember how. Also, experienced practitioners should recheck how it is properly conducted.

Bringing in Thin Tea

  1. With the tea bowl steadied by the right hand and set on top of the kobukusa on your left hand, enter the tea room with your right foot and sit before the guest.
  2. Turn the bowl twice to the right, so that the front of it faces the guest.
  3. Place the bowl outside of tatami’s edge, as viewed from the guest’s seat.
  4. Fold the kobukusa in half.
  5. Place the kobukusa to the side of your right knee. With both hands on your knees, scoot back a bit, left, then right.
  6. Give a formal bow.
  7. Take the kobukusa with your right hand.
  8. Return the kobukusa to your breast pocket.
  9. Turn towards the lower seat, shift your knee back, stand with the left foot, and return to the mizuya.

The Direction of the Kobukusa
When the kobukusa is open upon your left palm, the wasa (unsewn edge) should be on the right.