3

JPN /
The tearoom is “mobility”
that invites one on a
journey to the
extraordinary.

The tearoom is “mobility” that invites one
on a journey to the extraordinary.

  • Souryou Matsumura

    Tea Ceremony Master, Tea ceremony classrom: SHUHALLY

In the world of “chanoyu”(the Way of Tea), there exists a concept of “living in the mountains while in the city”, or feeling as if one has slipped away to a mountain retreat upon entering the tearoom. The goal of the i-ROAD, a vehicle designed to provide a personalized transportation space that enhances the way we enjoy cities, can perhaps be called an urban equivalent of this chanoyu concept of living in the mountains while in the city. We spoke with Souryou Matsumura, a tea ceremony master exploring the modern Way of Tea, about his thoughts on how to have even more fun in the city as a member of the world of tea.

    • Souryou Matsumura

      Souryou Matsumura was born in 1975 in Yokohama City. He graduated with an MBA from The University of Wales Graduate Japanese School in 2004. While exploring Europe as a student, Matsumura realized that he didn’t know very much about the culture of his homeland, and thus began learning the way of the tea ceremony upon returning to Japan. Upon completing his courses at the Urasenke Tea Ceremony Academy in 2009, he opened his own tea ceremony classroom “SHUHALLY” the same year. In 2010 Matsumura was christened the 16th head of the Urasenke Zabosai ※ House of Tea Ceremony, and also received the 2010 Good Design Award for his “Bunsai-an” tearoom.

      ※ Urasenke literally means "The rear Sen House" and is one of the top three schools of tea ceremony: Wikipedia

      http://www.shuhally.jp

A modern means of
“living in the mountains
while in the city”

3

JPN /
The tearoom is “mobility”
that invites one on a
journey to the
extraordinary.

You awakened to the value of Japanese culture and decided to learn the Way of Tea while touring Europe after studying in France. What was it about tea that fascinated you so? What did you find enjoyable about it?

I was born and raised in Yokohama, and like many other people in Japan, I wasn’t especially conscious of our culture as I went about my life. Once I went abroad, though, everyone was very interested in Japanese culture. This was especially true in France, where I met many people who knew much, much more about everything from the classical theater to modern films of Japan than I did, even though I’m Japanese. I was made very aware of just how little I knew of the culture of my homeland. This chagrin prompted me to begin studying under a tea ceremony master I met through an acquaintance of my father.

The world of the tea ceremony is full of strict rules and etiquette, but these are nothing more than formalities. True enjoyment of the tea ceremony comes in the way it is projection of the entirety of how the participants live their lives. Contemplating the tea and ceremony is contemplating the proper nature of one’s existence. When I learned this from my teacher, I knew that I wanted to share these profoundly enjoyable aspects of the tea ceremony with others of my generation.

So, at the age of 29 I made up my mind, attended the Uransanke Gakuen Tea Ceremony Academy in Kyoto for three years, and opened my own tea ceremony classroom “SHUHALLY” upon graduating.

What is the origin of the name “SHUHALLY”?

It originates in the chanoyu teaching of “shu-ha-ri” left to us by the tea ceremony master Sen no Rikyu. The term was first used to describe the process of growth in Noh training. “Shu” means being faithful to tradition and the fundamentals. As you repeat and master the fundamentals, you begin to find your own ways of applying them, thinking “perhaps it would be better if I did things like this.” This is what we call “ha”, or breaking from tradition. Finally we have “ri”, which is the parting from what you have learned and crafting of your own style that follows the stages of shu and ha.

I decided to write the name out European style as “SHUHALLY” in order to make the Way of Tea as accessible to as many people as possible. Also, while shu-ha-ri is deeply rooted in the values of Japanese culture, the word itself doesn’t sound very Japanese. I thought this fit my concept of the Way of Tea perfectly, so I decided to adopt it as the name of my classroom.

Your tearoom “Bunsai-an” is located within an apartment building within the metropolis of Yokohama. What sort of state of tea ceremony are you searching for within a modern city such as this?

The best way to consider this is to start with the history of the Way of Tea. Tea arrived in Japan from Tang dynasty China ※1 during the Heian period ※2, with many thinking it was used as medicine at first. In the 15th century tea master Juko Murata devised the concept of rustic soan (“grass hermitage”) tea ceremonies. The modern four-and-a-half tatami mat ※3 tearoom also has its origins in this period.

※1 Tang dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China generally regarded as a high point in Chinese civilization, and a golden age of cosmopolitan culture, from 618 to 907: Wikipedia.
※2 Heian period was the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185: Wikipedia.
※3 In Japanese tea ceremony, a room with four and a half tatami mats in floor area which is about 7.4m2 :Wikipedia.

Then in the 16th century we have the arrival of Sen no Rikyu, who brought tea to great prominence with his wabi-cha style ※4 of tea ceremony. But, as a confidant of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, Sen no Rikyu also lived in a society characterized by civil war. In other words, the Way of Tea developed in a world full of social burdens and restrictions. Military commanders and merchants of the era longed for seclusion; moments of quiet and tranquility spent tucked away in mountain retreats or other places rich with nature.

※4 Wabi-cha is a style of Japanese tea ceremony particularly emphasizes simplicity.: Wikipedia.

So, the tea masters created spaces that resembled these mountain retreats within the cities like Kyoto and Sakai where they could entertain guests looking to get away from the world. Those were the origins of the tea ceremony, and where the concept of living in the mountains while in the city was born.

My tearoom Bunsai-an was conceived as an interpretation of this idea for the modern era. I decided to create my own version of “living in the mountains while in the city” that even busy people living in the city today can pop by and visit on the way home from work to enjoy an hour or two of peace.

Looking around Bunsai-an, it is dotted with work by contemporary artists and there are “light tatami” that sparkle with LEDs within the tearoom itself. You’ve applied many innovative touches to the space and implements. There are some who think that it is important to always maintain the form of traditional cultures such as this, but what is your own mindset towards the shu-ha-ri concept of respecting fundamentals, breaking from tradition, and parting from traditional wisdom?

People often say my way of doing things is quite innovative (laughs). But, the important thing to keep in mind is that breaking from traditions doesn’t mean simply updating those traditions. Even after you part ways from traditional wisdom, it is the process of going back to the fundamentals then breaking with them and going your own way again that will bring you true learning.

For example, what is it that determines that something is “tearoom-like” in the tea ceremony? In my mind, the emphasis is on whether the space has a boundary that makes the guests feel they are being invited on a journey in the extraordinary.

A traditional tearoom will have formal features like bare ground, a small entrance, and the four-and-a-half tatami mat size. However, I believe that anything can be a tearoom as long as it has been designed by the host to take guests on a journey into the extraordinary, even if it doesn’t have tatami or these other things. Sound, light, color... Anything is fine. So, you could even say that mobility that invites people on a journey to the extraordinary is a form of tearoom, too.

The power of creative
destruction
passed down
over 400 years

3

JPN /
The tearoom is “mobility”
that invites one on a
journey to the
extraordinary.

What is the modern Way of Tea?

400 years ago when the Way of Tea was at its height, the tearoom was a place where the latest, most advanced culture of the day came together to birth entirely new aesthetics. This is precisely Sen no Rikyu’s concept of creative destruction and the creation of aesthetics that I perceive. I believe that adopting and evolving upon the most advanced presentation, best techniques, and premiere hospitality of the era, even today, is the original tradition at the heart of the Way of Tea.

Can you tell us a bit more about Sen no Rikyu’s concept of creative destruction?

Perhaps the easiest example is the raku-jawan (hand-moulded earthenware teacup) Sen no Rikyu used with his tea utensils. This cup with its gentle irregularities creating natural curves on its surface was a very unusual choice given the values of the times and thus drew many curious glances.

The reason why is that this was during the height of the pomp and splendor of the Azuchi-momoyama era ※5. Those with wealth back then had popularized the beauty of sparkly, shiny things. But then here we had Sen no Rikyu choosing to use an earthenware cup handmade by a former tile craftsman because to him it fit better with the logic of tea.

※5 1568 to 1600 which is a chaos recovery period just before the establishment of Tokugawa Shogunate and the beginning of the Edo era.: Wikipedia

At first many were surprised by his choice, but over time the values of the day came around to his way of thinking. It was around then that the simple and austere Japanese aesthetic, akin to what would later be expressed as “wabi-sabi”(imperfection and transience), came into being through the use of hand-made earthenware teacups, or using nearby bamboo tubes to hold flowers instead of lovely celadon green vases.

The “aesthetics of subtraction” that Sen no Rikyu fathered were passed on to the other tea masters and political elite of his day, as well as all of us here 400 years later. I feel respect but also at the same time a sense of vexation at his sense of beauty and capacity for innovation.

Daily journeys
transformed
by personal mobility

3

JPN /
The tearoom is “mobility”
that invites one on a
journey to the
extraordinary.

The i-ROAD is personal mobility that enhances daily transportation experiences. What sort of image does mobility have in the world of the tea ceremony?

I believe in the past tea masters highly valued such daily journeys. When I read over journals they left behind, they had no problem with walking distances along the narrow city streets of Kyoto that we would probably use the train or bicycle for today. You might think that this simply means that people back then had strong legs. But, going back to that oft-used saying that all encounters should be cherished as once in a lifetime events, the result was that they viewed meetings with others as something even more special, and the tea enjoyed at such times as a moment of profound bliss.

Today was the first time I’ve ever driven an i-ROAD. Compared to a regular car the eye line is lower and the world seems much closer, so it felt like I was one with the car, almost like I was wearing it. It’s as if they have pared away all functions of the automobile as something I would ride, and made mobility into something more personal that I can clad myself in. It’s nice to think that I can clad myself in something cool as I get around, much like I would enjoy strolling the city in some stylish apparel.

Living in cities today, most people have smartphones that they use to freely move between their personal digital spaces on SNS and real physical spaces. I think that vehicles are also going to become much more of personal spaces. The i-ROAD is a place that is all your own where you can have memorable transportation experiences, like enjoying the breeze or scents by opening the windows, or making a quick stop to pick up some flowers. These could lead to new once-in-a-lifetime moments.

Edit by Arina Tsukada / Text by Akihico Mori / Photo by Takeshi Shinto / Translation by Luke Baker