April 8, 2010

Umisei Yamasei Chaya

The earthen road binding the coastal city of Mi-Nôzu to the inland city of Osaku stretches through lush green valleys studded with black stone and clumps of venerable trees. In the cleft of one of these valleys lies the farming village of Kakuno. Rice paddies border the road on both sides of it. Tis a typical small farming community with it's tiny shintoist shrine next to a flowing weeping willow and a mere handful of wooden and thatched houses. Just beyond the village, a tangeant path leaves the main road. A plain wooden sign is posted at the foot of the way that winds it way up the valley's forested side. Upon it, in skillfully simple calligraphy, beautiful black Kanji (ideograms) announce, "Umisei Yamasei Chaya" (Trans.= the Mountain and sea spirits tea-house).

Ages ago dark volcanic mountains reigned herein but the spirits of rain and wind softened them, so that now all that remains of them is a holy stone. Twas said to have been a tear shed by Amaterasu at the death of Yoroishiku, human hero of old who saved her from wedding Yanami and was said to have been her lover. As the path winds up the valley, trees gradually block the village from view. The stone stands, at man height, just a short ways off of the path in a clearing amidst ancient red-trunked firs. It’s bound with two plaited straw ropes adorned with white paper twists, and looks like naught more than a rounded shard of black stone, yet somehow one feels the presence of positive Tama (energy or identity of a shinto spirit). A nearby yet invisible delicate waterfall fills the clearing with a gentle whisper. Local legend has it that the stream's waters once came from the evermelt of a mountain glacier. With time the melting glaciers had disappeared but the waters had gathered 'neath the earth and flowed forth, following out of love the same path as it did before though the mountain it cherished had changed into a valley. Thus exceptionally pure water flowed down the valley to feed the rice paddies and the village therein. Exceptionally pure waters that would make a tea lover's delight.

Which brings us to the chaya... It stands atop of the valley as if carried by the surrounding trees and lifted to the sky, affording it an impregnable view of all the surrounding lands. On exceptionally clear days one can see distant mountains on one side of the horizon and the sea on the other. No garden implements the house and none is needed as nature’s beauty requires no human intervention for perfection herein. The crystal stream takes its source next to the house and delights the eyes before running away amongst the trees. Some plum and cherry trees were planted long ago, so as to delight with their blossoms in spring and to make umeboshi (pickled plums)in fall. The leaves are now brilliant red and gold and have just begun to fall: at sunset they seem to fill the sky. The leaves that lazily find their way into the stream are swiftly born away dancing merrily on the currents.

The chaya itself looks more like a large country home than a tea-house: a square wooden building, with lested earthenware shingles, built around a fireplace in the main room, with a small kitchen and bathhouse annexed to the main building. The interior is sparsely yet sufficiently furnished and decorated. There are a few sumie (ink paintings) paintings and calligraphy on the walls left by inspired guests. One of the paintings, in haboku style (strong stroked impressionistic monochromatic ink painting), depicts a squirrel as it hesitates between tasting a nearby stream’s water and eating the nut it holds in it’s paws. Another, in ma-hsia style (a monochromatic highly detailed classical Chinese style), depicts a heron somewhat condescendingly observing something -possibly everything- from a perch on a branch of pine. Some of the caligraphy are poems, yet two stand out as puzzling : a simple circle like figure “O” and a rotund “Q” like figure, obviously a story untold lies behind them.

A few hours from dawn, within the house, a man sits at a low table in front of an ink set and some drying sketches of a kaki (persimmon). He is the host, Terruro Magunojo, and is awaiting his guests, the food is ready and the fire burns bright. Perhaps one of the guests will add to the works on the walls?

Picture by the awesome Michael Kenna