A conversation with Madam Soshin Kawakami, Associated professor of Urasenke, SADO (茶道), Counselor of Instructors of Follower Arrangement, Sougetsu (草月) , KADO (茶道).



Good morning, everyone, thank you for having graciously accepted to be here today. My name is Soshin Kawakami and the title of today`s speech is: My grandmother`s Kimono. Today I would like to experience this wonderful moment with the spirit of Ichi-go ichi-e ( “one time, one meeting”) a Japanese four-character idiom (yojijukugo) that describes a cultural concept of treasuring meetings with people. The term is often translated as “for this time only“, “never again“, or “one chance in a lifetime“. The expression reminds people to cherish any gathering that they may take part in, citing the fact that many meetings in life are not repeated. Even when the same group of people can get together again, a particular gathering will never be replicated and thus, each moment is always once-in-a-lifetime. Is this, my friends, the feeling I have in my heart today. I would like, now, to introduce myself. I live in Kisarazu city, Chiba Prefecture. Do you know the city of Kisarazu? It is a town famous for the song of Sho-jo-ji (The Hungry Raccoon), adapted from the Japanese folk song “Shojoji no Tanuki Bayashi” (Raccoon Dogs Dancing at the Shojo Temple). Sho sho sho-jo-ji, sho-sho-ji is a raccoon. He is always hungry so he sings of koi koi koi. “He will rub his head and tummy, rub head and rum tum tum”… Is a lovely children song:


Sho sho sho-jo-ji,

sho-jo-ji is a raccoon.

He is always hungry

so he sings of koi koi koi.


He will rub his head and tummy,

rub head and rum tum tum.


Macaroons and macaroni,

jelly beans, and pink abalone,

koi, koi, koi, koi, koi, koi

All he says is koi koi koi


Sho sho sho-jo-ji,

sho-jo-ji is a raccoon.


He is always hungry

so he sings of koi koi koi.

Always a-hungry very hungry

that’s why he sings of koi


Sho sho sho-jo-ji,

sho-jo-ji is a raccoon.

He is always hungry

so he sings of koi koi koi.

He will rub his head and tummy,

rub head and rum tum tum.


Makeruna makeruna,

osho-san ni makeruna

Koi koi koi koi-koi-koi

Minna dete koi-koi-koi


Sho sho sho-jo-ji,

sho-jo-ji is a raccoon.

He is always hungry

so he sings of koi koi koi.

Always a-hungry very hungry

that’s why he sings of koi.


The Samurai spirit

If you ever decide to visit the city of Kisarazu I will be happy to bring you to the temple and guide you through its wonders and history. My home town is Saga, the town where I have grown. In Saga I have established a class named YUKI-TSUKI-HANA (雪月花): Snow, Moon and Flower. There I teach the ancient art of tea ceremony (Sado), a particular form of flower arrangement called Kado and English. I have a particular philosophy which I try to convey and share with my beloved students: each participant should cultivate or develop the spirit of Samurai, the fundament of Japanese culture. It is a way to pursue the enlightenment of the mind to find the best way in life, one common consciousness aiming to bring peace within oneself and to the all world. In the past I have lived abroad and I have came to believe that Japanese need to learn the art of tea ceremony as a way to educate and train the mind, a way to find balance in life.


The power of “Now”

I strongly believe in the destiny of meeting the right person at the right time, everything starts or may happen from an encounter, doesn’t it? Mr. Toshio Maruyama, the founder of Rinri Association (ethics), said once that his life has been inspired and enhanced by the experience of Shodo (書道), the art of calligraphy. He also said that the secret of the success of large undertaking or business is also hided inside Shodo. Maruyama words seem to emphasize the importance of experiencing Japanese traditional arts as tea ceremony or Shodo as a way to achieve a balanced business mind. If you really concentrate on Shodo, with all your heart, you may capture people`s heart. I have one Shodo which I wrote some time ago although my technique is not yet mature:

「我逢人」. How do you read this character? We read「GA=HOU=JIN」. Then, what is the meaning of this GA-HOU-JIN? This is the first phrase a Zen priest named Dogen Zenji (道元禅師), the founder of Zen, pronounced when he encountered Nyojou (如浄) Zen priest, his great respectful religious leader, his life mentor who he have never met before. I suppose that Dogen Zenji had writhed in agony, fought a harder battle in his mind before meeting Nyojou. When Zenji met the respectful leader of Zen, he must have felt that the word 我逢人expressed appropriately the “uniqueness of the moment”, the awareness of knowing that never again, perhaps, he would have meet again such great figure. An “encounter” is not only the act of meeting a person but also the moment in which something may happen or things may occur. Meeting a person crossing our path of life may very well set the course of our all existence as the Dogen Zenji’s words wonderfully express. So, today I am very happy to meet with you at this place as GAHOUJIN. I do hope that in future you will meet and experience the power of the art of tea ceremony, one of the ancient traditional Japanese arts.


My childhood

Let me go back, once more, to my childhood in Saga, there is a very inspiring story which I would like to share with all of you. My grandmother and my mother were my teachers of Sado (茶道), they introduced me to the extraordinary world of tea ceremony. My grandmother was my very first teacher: I was 3 years old when she allowed me into her class. Being a young girl I was innocent and fully unaware of the sacredness of such art, I did accept with the hope to eat the delicious cakes that were served during the ceremonies. Little by little (cake after cake, I shall say) I started to learn. When I was 10 years old we went to America where my father was invited as visiting professor of mathematics. Tea ceremonies were held regularly at the campus of New York University and I was even allowed to help my mother: it was then that I started to learn the way of serving. There were no Japanese cakes in America so I helped my mother baking some of them to be offered during such events. I was still very young and in my childish mind I thought that was a pity that no one could enjoy the Japanese sweets that so much I loved when I was a young child. Such a pure thinking made me serve guests with great delicacy and manner and this experience inspired the idea of tea ceremony as a form of OMOTENASHI. My mother was surprised that such traditional Japanese cakes were not served in those days and even more when she realized that many Japanese living abroad ignored the Chaoyu (茶の湯) tradition. This reality I did also witness by myself during my frequent trips abroad and made me, as Japanese, very sad.


Mr. Haraguchi

One day, the former minister of Internal affairs and communications, Mr. Haraguchi, came to the ceremony at Hanamiziki (dogwoods) in the Kintachi mountains, an event held every spring when the dogwoods are in full bloom and ever since he has came every year. Once he told me how impressed he was and the importance of keeping alive such traditions, to pass them to younger generations, educate them to this ancient art as a powerful way to find peace within. He told me how the ancient Samurai treasured the art of Sado, a powerful way to calm their mind before a war. Listening Haraguchi words was very inspiring for me and ever since I consider him a true great statesman.



The Kimono

My grandmother lost her husband in the war and she brought up my mother all by herself training and teaching her to the art of tea ceremony, not as hobby but as business, a way for her to earn enough money to keep body and soul together. One morning, a day that would change my life forever, my grandmother gave me as present a Kimono, the traditional Japanese national costume. In the course of her life she made for me many kimonos but this one was to become a very special one, a Kimono that my grandmother offered me as a sign of commitment. She made me promise to take care of mother through the continuation of the art of tea ceremony, to keep alive this ancient tradition and to support myself through the mastering of this art. Was a very emotional moment which I did not comprehend as fully as I should have at that time, was one of the last wishes of my grandmother who passed away just three hours after having offered me this Kimono. It was a destiny for me to receive and treasure my grandmother`s Kimono and ever since I have given all my heart and my strength to dedicate my life to improve and master the art of Sado: tea ceremony is today my life.


My mission

I discovered my true aim in life, I became a sort of “missionary” of the traditional art of Sado, promoting it, teaching it. Many were the difficulties I had to overcome, many the moments of discouragement and yet I never gave up, continued the hard path to honor my grandmother final wish. Nowadays I travel often from Chiba and Saga to attend my classes and I have to manage the many expenses involved in such travelling, nevertheless, the words of my grandmother encourage me and in moment of hardship I recite them as a way to find new courage. One of my student in Chiba told to me that traditional Japanese arts could be the way to bring new prosperity to Japan especially nowadays when many dark clouds seem to darken the future of this country. Sado, Shodo, Ikebana, ceramic could be all “mediums” to be used to soothe and enrich the mind of young generations and create a new awareness in Japan. To master those arts is needed a great knowledge, a great commitment and profound sensitivity, promoting them abroad could transform the all world in a more peaceful place to live. Now in Chiba I have a class on ethics, Sado and a class on how to perform tea ceremony. I am now training myself every day as everyday life is the best treasure in life [日々好日] and continuing to concentrate on improving my skills.


The ceremony

Now I would like to practice tea ceremony before you. Do you know the name of this flower? Is a camellia, in the world of Sado, the young flower is the most preferable. It is a flower which has a graceful atmosphere, different from the flower used for the Ikebana. The name of this camellia is: “the first storm in autumn” [初嵐].

Do you know the name of the door of the tea ceremony room? It is called Nijiriguchi (にじり口), a small door which leads into a tea ceremony hut because guests have to bow their heads to go through it gradually, slowly and steadily. Everyone who is inside the tea ceremony hut have to bow his head equally. Everyone is equal in the tea ceremony hut, master and guests. There are three schools within the tea ceremony tradition, Urasenke (裏千家), Omotesenke(表千家) and Mushakouji senke(武者小路千家). My way of performing Sado comes from the Urasenke school. Ryuurei(立礼) is the formal style for the foreigners who are not accustomed to sitting crossing their legs.


Now we purify the tea bowl which is called Fukusa and this is Chashaku. The tea utensils are purified in the backyard called Mizuya. But now I am purifying them in front of you as a sign of respect.  This Hishaku comes from Japanese traditional arts, Japanese archery. The posture is just the same used when performing Japanese Archery.


Please enjoy the tea while still hot.


Then, please, take the two cakes from the cake box and place them on the Japanese tissue paper folded and tucked inside your kimono or suit-ware.


Now, enjoy the tasty of the cake.


How have you experienced the tea at the ceremony? Urasenke, my school, whisk the tea into the froth when performing the ceremony, but Omotesenke, another school of tea ceremony, do not. The front of the bowls      shows a picture, it is not good manner to drink the tea from the front edge, as a sign of respect for the bowl instead you turn the bowl to avoid the front and take your tea with the mind of OMOTENASHI. You drink the tea three times and at your last sip, you may make noise with great appreciation as you would never again experience it, with a Ichigo-ichee (一期一会) mind, a way to show appreciation for the “moment”, an event, an encounter, a cup of tea.

In the past Bushi (warriors) used to have one bowl of tea before going to battle, they would look at the bowl as it was the last time, as a unique and unrepeatable event.


Now you may lie down the bowl looking at it as if you would never again experience it, never again hold it.


Mr. Niinami`s testimonial

I would like to give now, to each one of you, a paper note, it is a column which the president of Lawson, Mr Niinami wrote on the Bunngeishiju magazine titled: “Tea ceremony and I”.


As businessman I visited many places in the world, to realize that I knew nothing about Japan, about my country. Tea ceremony is for me a way to feel the essence of my culture. I have been lucky to attend an Urasenke style tea ceremony and I was so impressed with the way a small cake with tea was served to me. I admired traditional Japanese arts and I was so moved that I said: “Oh, how wonderful”!! I felt truly Japanese: I felt a sense of unity with the history and tradition of my country. I looked at the bowl of tea and noticed a beautiful design, I did not drink the tea from the decorated side but turned it around carefully. I felt the aesthetic politeness and I thanked for the many virtues present within the tea ceremony world. Experiencing the mind of hospitality, omotenashi, I felt the unseen thing which exists in the atmosphere incapable to explain, the importance of the peace of mind. Such feelings are impossible to explain but are very important for the modern Japanese society.


This was the real experience of Mr Niimani with the Urasenke style tea ceremony.


A final consideration

We need to learn to appreciate and feel the “present time” and tea ceremony can help all of us to find the way. Do attend often such events and practice more and more this art, aim to achieve through it peace of mind and perfect balance within yourself and the world. I owe great respect to my grandmother who taught me how to live in this world through the appreciation of Bushi Tea Ceremony and to succeed in all realms of Japanese traditional arts.


In closing my speech I would like to mention about my mother. She passed away three years ago and I clearly feel my grandmother and my mother support when I go through hard times, discouragement and doubts. As mentioned, my grandmother was very strict to me during tea ceremony lessons. I was a child and grew up into it. My mother too, later in my life, was strict in educating me and she taught me everything about tea ceremony. Once, she asked to her tea ceremony teacher in Yamaguchi, to teach me once a month, it was very hard time, strict discipline against my natural desire to play with my friends. But now I appreciate fully such discipline received through the years, made me strong and focused, able to face life and overcome obstacles. I am grateful to my grandmother, through her Kimono and her teaching I am able nowadays to teach tea ceremony to businessman and statesmen.


My mission of tea ceremony is Bushi (warrior) tea ceremony, so called, Soshin tea ceremony. Warriors used to find in the “last” cup of tea the strength to fight wars and enemies, I see my mission as offering the appreciation of the “present moment”, through tea ceremony, a pathway to find the necessary calm and strength to overcome our modern life contradictions. My teaching is not only about etiquette and manners but about offering the right spirit, the “spirit contained into the cup”. If you can learn through my class Japanese culture, traditions and the spirit of the Bushi, warrior, I myself am very happy and I feel that I have made myself a valuable tea instructor which I succeeded from my grandmother and my mother.


At present I have tea ceremony classes in Saga, Chiba, Tokyo and from now on I want to spread my spiritual tea ceremony to corporate management which Mr Kounosuke Matsushita introduced in his school of business. This is my little return to my grandmother’s and mother’s favor.  And this is the Soshin Tea Ceremony.

Thank you for your good attention to my speech.


Soshin, Kawakami,


Arranged and Translated by  Koji Ueda,


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