Sen Soshitsu XVI, Zabosai Oiemoto:
Reflections on the Occasion of the Urasenke San Francisco Joint Anniversary, April 2012


The Desert and The Tearoom

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Essays on Tea

Firefly Light
by Dr. Sen Genshitsu, Hounsai Daisosho

Uemura Shôen, one of the most renowned female painters of recent times, left behind numerous masterful paintings, many of which had as a theme that essence of the sixth month, the firefly. Among them, I am drawn particularly by the one entitled New Firefly [shinkei], executed in 1932. It seems to concern firefly hunting along the banks of a stream. Her painting captures the image of a mother and daughter tenderly gazing at a firefly within an openwork basket. Perhaps what we may call the animating spirit of the work is a sense of pure and refreshing stillness.

The very glow of fireflies cleanses the hearts of those who gaze at them. When one is able to view from close up this pure light, a glow radiating indistinct beauty, it hovers with a mysteriousness that suggests a star fallen to earth.

As you know, fireflies can sustain their existence only in streams without impurities, streams that do not have quantities of agricultural chemicals running in them, currents whose pure flow does not cease, streams supported by grassy earthen banks. I truly hope that this June, fireflies will flourish in rivers and streams over the entire country of Japan.

Speaking of fireflies, the thirteenth generation Head Master of the Urasenke Tradition of Chanoyu, Ennôsai, produced a utensil known as the Firefly Basket Sumitori (hotaru kago sumitori). Taking the idea of the openwork baskets for fireflies, this container for charcoal has a square, footed frame of vermilion lacquer over which is stretched forest green silk gauze subtly figured with two phoenix. The design suffuses refinement with gorgeousness. If this utensil is adapted for use as a container for serving sweets, then it is as if fireflies had danced into the tearoom itself.

Furthermore, each year in June a Firefly Light Tea Gathering is held on the grounds of Tadasu no Mori, a wooded site within the Shimogamo Shrine renowned from ancient times in Kyoto. The gathering is hosted jointly by the Tadasuno Mori Kenshô Foundation and Urasenke Konnichian. The gatherings are part of an effort to re-establish fireflies along the Mitarashi Stream that flows through the shrine precincts and to reclaim the purity of the stream. The fruition of these efforts over the past five or six years occurs at dusk in the sixth month. Here and there fireflies wing about. Yearly the number of persons who come to view them increases.

Starting from around six o'clock in the evening, the Firefly Light Gathering attracts not only firefly aficionados but also many who come seeking a few moments of tranquility.

In the same way that fireflies cannot live without the flow of beautifully pure water, tea that elicits gratitude from the heart's depth cannot be partaken of if there are no sources of crystal pure water. For the task of ensuring the purity of flowing water, each individual must expend his or her energy. Let us join together in creating a world environment that encourages gazing upon the light of fireflies and sharing a delicious bowl of tea.

Firefly Basket Charcoal Container A design in the taste of the thirteenth generation Head Master of the Urasenke Tradition of Chanoyu, Ennôsai, this work contrasts the strong geometrical lines of a vermilion frame with delicate walls of green silk gauze figured with patterns of phoenix. The floor is in amber-colored lacquer, with the cipher of Ennôsai’s son, Tantansai, on the obverse. Whether used as charcoal container or sweet container, the Firefly Basket Container captures the essence of summer chanoyu.

Translated from Tankô Magazine by Christy A. Bartlett.

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