Sunday, March 1, 2009

In Memory of Dr. Samae Hayashi

This is an Inuyama-yaki tea cup that the late Dr. Samae Hayashi (1932 - 2004) who was an authority on the history of tea in Japan and used to work for the Imperial Household Agency gave me as a gift, and I've been using it carefully, as he told me that the cup had to be 'used' to 'come alive'.

When I first poured some fragrant Taiwanese oolong tea into it I soon found out what he meant. The pale interiors of the tea cup suddenly transformed into a pale rosy color and the cup became more beautiful than ever. I later on found out that the glaze changing color was typical of wabi-sabi aesthetics, but I have to tell you that finding this out first hand was an entirely different experience from understanding this in an abstract academic way. I was delighted and have taken it out of its wooden box and used it very carefully a few times since.

Dr. Hayashi would probably have smiled gently and said that it didn't matter if the tea cup broke and that I should use it for a lot of things.

"You can put Miso soup or rice in it. The important thing is to use it."

I'll try to remember this if this tea cup should ever break.

Sen no Rikyu who probably had the most profound influence on the Japanese Tea Ceremony used very tiny rustic tea rooms in his later years and preferred simplicity over ostentatiousness, so it's in keeping with this wabi-sabi spirit that tea cups should be used casually and not treated like some treasure that can be only used as an ornament.

I couldn't find any information on Dr. Hayashi in English except for some references to a book he published years ago, but I'll always remember him as a good natured, cultured, well-educated gentleman who was a good friend of my family. It's sad but when he passed away I was caught in the bureaucracy of getting my residency permit issued in Spain, and I was unable to return to Japan for his funeral. Because I couldn't go to his funeral, somewhere in my mind I still believed he had never passed away and I'd ask myself from time to time: Has he passed away or hasn't he? I think this is why I had to write this post so that there could be some kind of closure and I could accept with some finality that he was no longer with us.


Elra said...

One really fine tea cup! Beautiful, especially with the history that came along with the cup.

Murasaki Shikibu said...

Thank you, Elra. :)