"Making up the Fire"
Charcoal setting procedure for the Japanese Tea Ceremony
What is Sumi?
In a narrow sense, charcoal (sumi) is a combustible material containing carbon as a main component, which is obtained by steaming and carbonising organic matter. Products such as charcoal , bamboo charcoal, and coconut charcoal are used as fuel. In the Japanese Tea Ceremony it refers to the pieces of coal of varying sizes and shapes which are placed into the Ro (hearth) in order to ensure that there is sufficient fire available to heat the water for the Tea Ceremony.
The SumiTemae Ritual requires the following items: 1. the kettle (kama) 2. a basket container which contains most items needed for the ceremony - various types of charcoal (sumi) - hooks (kan) for removing the kettle from the hearth - a feather (hane) - iron chopsticks (hibashi) for placing the charcoal - ceramic container holding the incense (kogo) 3. a special folded piece of paper for placing the kettle on 4. a container of ash with a metal scoop for placing the ash in the hearth 5. large feather for final cleaning of tatami mats
From bringing all the necessary items into the room to the placing of the various pieces of coal, along with the incense the SumiTemae ceremony has strict rules and sequences that must be adhered to. The Kettle (kama) is removed from the hearth in a specific way and the area is cleansed by a feather throughout the procedure. refilling the kettle is also a part of the process as is the final cleansing of the tatami mat after replacing the kettle and before leaving the tea room. There is so much more involved with the process which can only be understood through years of practice.
At the beginning of my Tea Ceremony journey in 2017, I never thought that i'd ever be able to complete this ritual. It seemed so difficult as well outside of the realms of things I would be capable of doing. But that's the thing about practice. The more we do something, the easier and easier it seems to become. The same goes for the Japanese Tea Ceremony. The journey towards perfection is the gift not the act of perfection itself.