On Mitate |
by Midori Furuhata | February 7, 2022
On Mitate - by Alicia Jungwirth
Blurring the line between the performing arts and the art of living
You could say the Japanese tea ceremony is a sophisticated game of hospitality, or esprit, that can be enjoyed via sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. The serendipity of Mitate in a tea ceremony is not just a question of formality—it is a question of making an effort to be creative. Mitate presents an occasion for enjoying yourself alongside companions, or once-in-a-lifetime encounters, in any place and with any person you meet. Regardless of how casual the style is, it is important to be able to entertain and be entertained, and to bring yourself closer to the various utensils, tools, and objects used in the tea ceremony. In doing so, you create space to form all sorts of relationships.
According to Soshin Kimura, “If you come to a real tea ceremony, you will see that it is not just performing arts. It’s about shortening the distance between utensils and people.” He is a Japanese Tea Grand Master, but he insists there is no single word in English to describe his profession. The same is true for “tea ceremony”—also known as Sado and Cha-no-yu. This is simply because it does not exist in other countries the way it exists in Japan. The culture of tea for the Japanese cannot be described by the term “tea ceremony.” It is more than merely drinking tea; it is closely linked to an aesthetic, and to aestheticism. It is the very philosophy that underpins Japanese daily life and hospitality. On the other hand, it has elements of both the performing arts and L'Art de Vivre (the art of living).
In addition to presiding over the Urasenke and Hoshinkai schools, Soshin Kimura has written books on Cha-no-yu, appeared in magazines, on television, and supervised the construction of a new tea room in Salone del Mobile a Milano. He doesn’t believe that a tea ceremony necessarily has to be conducted on a tatami mat. However, just because it’s conducted at a table, for example, doesn’t mean it’s okay to be casual. In his conversation with smART Magazine, he recommends finding an opportunity to experience the real and authentic tea ceremony through architecture, gardens, flowers, hanging scrolls, utensils, space, atmosphere, temperature and humidity, the scent of incense, the subtlety of sounds, serenity and tension, confectionary, provisions, green tea, tea cups, brief conversations, and hospitality.
How do you understand and translate the concept of Mitate?
SK: “The word Mitate originally comes from Japanese Waka poetry. Wabi is one of the ideas that inspired the act of Mitate in Cha-no-yu. Wabi is a sensibility and philosophy that underpins not only Cha-no-yu, but also the Japanese people to this day. Wabi-Sabi is more than just a love of asymmetry and imperfection. Sabi is not just tranquility or quietness. The word Wabi is derived from the word Wabu, which was used in Japanese poetry. Initially, the word had a negative connotation, expressing feelings of sadness or loneliness. However, with the development of Cha-no-yu, Wabu was transformed into Wabi, an aesthetic with a more powerful and positive value. The two terms Wabi and Sabi are often used to describe Cha-no-yu. For example, I myself would explain the difference between the two in the following way. Sabi can mean tranquillity, but in simpler terms it can also mean rustiness. It means “to deteriorate,” “to decay,” or “to rust.” If we think of iron as decaying and rusting, it is deteriorating and we should usually feel sad. However, we should not take it as a negative thing, but rather as a metamorphosis of beauty that has come to have a different beauty from its original state. Wabi is the dynamic action of the mind, the sense of beauty, and Sabi is the beauty of the new metamorphosed form. To reevaluate this new form, and contemplate its unique exquisiteness: that’s what Mitate is all about.”
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