Rank of Tea Ceremony Utensils

Every tea practitioner is in possession of numerous utensils for tea. The choice of utensils used during a particular tea ceremony depends on a various circumstances such as the season and occasion of the gathering (as explained in seasons of tea). But also the way these utensils are handled depends on the occasion and rank of the utensil. The rank of a utensil is not dependent on whether it is a good utensil or how much it is worth. The origin of this comes from a time where there was a strict system of social ranking, and a difference in the way people were treated as a result of that. Naturally a rank was also given to utensils and accordingly they were handled differently. For example, high ranking utensils and objects are displayed in the alcove (tokonoma). And hanging scrolls (kakejiku) and so on are bowed to before being looked at. Another way we can witness the ranking of utensils is by the way they are attended to during the tea ceremony. For example, the manner by which a utensil is carried by the host, or the order in which they are attended to during Chanoyu, and by the location in the tea room (chashitsu).

The manner by which a utensil is carried by the host

Utensils which are thought to have a low rank are not usually carried by men with both hands. They are picked up with one hand and even if they are held with two hands for a short time, two hands are never used when walking with them. This is clearly seen in the handling of the ash container (haiki) during charcoal procedure (sumidemae) for the hearth (ro). Even though the left hand is used to steady the ash container (haiki) when it is moved, it is usually held in one hand. The moist ash in the ash container (haiki) can be quite heavy but when a man moves it from in front of the hearth (ro) to a position behind the host he uses one hand only. This is a large movement but his body stays motionless. This shows the tea devotee’s idea of how the ash container should be treated. Another example is the wastewater receptacle (kensui). This container is carried only with the left hand when being brought into the room. The wastewater receptacle (kensui) contains in some cases the lit rest (futaoki) inside it while the water ladle (hishaku) is placed on top. It probably takes years of practice to make sure the water ladle doesn’t fall of the wastewater receptacle (kensui) while walking with it. But, however difficult balancing the water ladle (hishaku) is, only one hand is used to carry it. Thirdly, we are able to observe the rank of a utensil by how close it is carried to the body and in relevance to the guests. High ranking utensils like the tea bowl (chawan) and the tea container (chaki) are carried very close to the body and quite high near the stomach to improve its stability. Lower ranking utensils like the waste water container is carried at waste height.

The order in which utensils are attended to during the tea ceremony

Higher ranking utensils are brought into the tea room before lower ranking ones. The tea bowl (chawan) and tea container (chaki) are brought into the room first and after that the wastewater receptacle (kensui) is carried into the room. After the waste water container is placed beside the host, it doesn’t get much attention anymore after that until it is carried back to the preparation area (mizuya) at the end of the tea ceremony. - The location in the tea room shows ranking too: Since the highest ranking area in the tea room (chashitsu) is considered to be the alcove (tokonoma), ranks are indicated by the distance from it. Guests are considered to be of great importance (of course) so they are seated in a row near the alcove (tokonoma) and then the most important guest, or the chief guest (shokyaku) will sit first in row closest to the alcove. Utensils which are placed where they can easily be observed by the guests also indicates ranking. For example, during the charcoal procedure (sumidemae) in the winter, rings used to pick up the brazier from the sunken fire pit (furo) are first placed behind the charcoal box while arranging other utensils. This is further away from the chief guest (shokyaku) and also from the alcove (tokonoma). Also, the rings cannot be seen by the chief guest (shokyaku). Later when the brazier is lifted from the sunken fire pit (furo), using the rings, they are placed behind the brazier where they are again further away from the alcove than the brazier and out of the chief guest’s (shokyaku) sight.


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