A Samourai's Last Matcha

March 30, 2023
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A samourai's last Matcha (by Marie Bilodeau)

Illustration : Marie Bilodeau

Imagine that you are a seventeenth-century samurai. On the orders of your ruler, you must fight in a losing battle. There is one thing you must do before taking up arms: walk down the roji until you reach the chashitsu, where your last bowl of tea awaits you.

The chashitsu is built out of the way at the end of the garden. You notice the clean path, the freshly watered-down stones, the garden’s colourful flowers. The path leads to the tsukubai, the stone basin. You cleanse your mouth and hands with the fresh water.

The host is ready to receive you in the tearoom. The low, narrow door gives you no choice but to leave your sword outside. This is the only place where you allow yourself to be disarmed. For the ceremony, a small fan attached to your belt symbolizes your sword.

The light inside the chashitsu is subdued: a mild incense fragrance floats in the air, and water is heating up in the kama. You move towards the tokonomato read the poem written in calligraphy. The flowers are beautiful. You kneel to take your seat.

The ceremony’s theme has been wisely chosen by the host, who sits serenely on the tatami. You are deeply concentrating and your senses are alert.

His first gestures are precise and admirable. The perfectly arranged utensils are simple, noble, and beautiful. He handles them with respect, purifying and placing them harmoniously. He puts two spoonfuls of green tea powder in the heated bowl. Then, with a more sweeping motion, he draws water from the kama, pours it over the tea, picks up the chasen, and whisks the tea for a few seconds, until he obtains a jade-coloured foam.

The host puts the bowl before you. You wait a moment before taking it. The tea is a gleaming green, conjuring up an image of glistening grass after a rainfall. Hypnotized by this colour, you let go, your mind free.

Time stands still. Outside, war is no longer. Your life appears to you like a pure, straight line.

You take the bowl with confidence , placing it in your left hand. You turn it halfway around and slowly draw it close to your lips. The first sip surprises you like a whiplash: the liquid is smooth and its bitterness illuminates your mind. The following sip, which is mild and tasty, comforts you in an unexpected way. You enjoy it calmly. The third sip is a sublime pleasure. You are overcome by a pleasant feeling of lightness.

And as your lips touch the bowl for the last time, the ground outside trembles.

You contemplate the bowl and the utensils, absorb the poem on the wall. You bid your host farewell and return outside, your senses still alert and your mind now at peace.

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