Continued from Tuesday With Norwood: In Japan – Part 2

A tea tournament was rather like a wine tasting and not, one supposes, without the attendant foolishness. The point of this jeu de societe was to guess which tea came from where, and the one who guessed correctly was awarded one of the treasures adorning the tea pavilion. The rules of the ceremony as it was then practiced, however, ordained that the winner should bestow his prize on one or more of the singing and dancing girls who were always present at these revels. Such affairs might be dubbed “10 bowl,” “50 bowl,” or even “100 bowl” tea tournaments, depending on how many teas were served. Japan’s Lorenzo de’ Medici, the shogun Yoshimjasa, even abdicated the shogunate to devote himself to his art collecting and tea parties full time. (This in 1473.) His drinking buddy, so to speak, was an apparently lapsed Buddhist abbot named Shuko, who might be said to know both sides of a tea bowl. (It’s claimed he was once ousted from a temple for gambling on and judging the same tea tournaments.) Shuko, pleasure-loving but a good Buddhist at heart, was the first to formulate the cult of tea as a sort of sacrament, a “Way” as Asians put it, with something approaching the status of a separate religion. He attained satori, enlightenment, one day when it occurred to him that filling an ordinary tea bowl with hot water also expresses the Law of the Universe.

An excerpt from New Tea Lover’s Treasury, by James Norwood Pratt

To be continued in Tuesdays With Norwood: In Japan – Part 4