Why begin with Ryakubon.

20040221-20040221-IMG_0382_14_1I’m wondering how common it is for teacher to start teaching their new students Ryakubon. I my self started learning Hakobi, since that was the only temae my teacher knew. I have been thinking that maybe it would be beter to start the students with Ireko-date rather than Ryakubon.

Historical perspective
In Rikyus day a new student would not begin learning Ryakubon, in fact they would not even start with Hakobi. They would start their studies with the highest temae, learning how to serve Tea using a daisu and a formal setting. Only when their experience grew did they simplify before finaly arriving at Hakobi as a Tea master. Somewhere around the 1700 this order was reversed. So that we today start our journey into Tea with the simplified temaes.

The virtues of Ryakubon
I have been asking myself; What is the virtue of Ryakubon that makes it the preferred first temae? I can’t think that many. However, I can think of a lot of reasons why it is not.

We are told that Ryakubon does not require much in the way of utensils. comparing the list of required utensils to that of Hakobi there are only a few items that differ.

Why Irekodate
The main argument for starting with Irekodate for me is that it allows a softer transition in to the other temae. Where as there is a large gap between Ryakubon and Hakobi, it is much smaller for Irekodate to Hakobi. Also it allows all the students in a class to use the same setup of furo/ro instead of having to set up specially for the beginning students.

I thought about it, why not start with Hakobi, why Irekodata? Mostly because Irekodate is quicker, so that the beginning studentd does not have to sit seiza for a long time, and it does not require Haiken. One might skip Haiken to shorten Hakobi, but from personal experience I know the students will learn that Haiken is something extra, something special not a natural part of the Hakobi temae. Therefore I think Irekodate is better as it does not need any modifications or adaptations.

Also if one only wants to learn one temae I personally think that Irekodate is the perfect choice.

Finally I cant think of a single movement in Irekodate that is not immediately usefull for the student in other temaes or in the mizuya.

Practical experiences
I haven’t taken any new students in a while, I want to wait untill I have a proper Tea-room. Therefore I haven’t been able to se how it works to begin teaching a student Irekodate.

As mentioned before I started learning Tea with Hakobi, but without haiken. I felt this worked very nicely. However, our teacher did not teach us about haiken. It was only after studying in Japan for 6 months that haiken felt as a natural part of the temae and not as somthing added.

I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts about this, and if you have any experience with starting a students journey into Tea with anything beond Ryakubon.

14 Replies to “Why begin with Ryakubon.”

  1. OK, I like it but it isn’t always practical.

    It is true that including less and less specific utensils, ryakubon is the easiest way to make tea putting together the fewest pieces of warigeiko. In the keikoba I lean towards teaching hakobi first but at the university where there are a limited and specific number of class sessions it seems more reasonable to teach ryakubon.

    I wasn’t taught ryakubon first so I feel inclined to support something else. If the goal is to teach long-term skills why not have the students first learn to use a hishaku? If you can see that a student needs a short-cut, a way to get their hands on a bowl of tea, ryakubon seems like a reasonable alternative. I agree with my own teachers who disliked the feel of the temae itself but everything has its place.

    I’m not sure about all your justification but most of it seems sound. I especially like your comment on how the movements are applicable to both the temaeza and the mizuya. I get frustrated at how many people can’t wring out a chakain.

    Whether or not a temae with haiken is taught as the first temae shouldn’t matter so long as the students are told about it and experience it through the temae of the other students.

    So as for your irekodate idea, I don’t know if I would do it, but it is worth consideration and perhaps a try. I have always wondered if teaching otsubukuro or tsutsumibukusa would likewise be an easier transition to koicha from usucha but I haven’t ever experimented on anyone, yet.


  2. Thank you for the comments. Nice to hear other peoples oppinion. I get somewhat isolated in a country where noone does Tea.

    Just to clarify. I did not mean that you should teach a temae with haiken as the first temae. Rather the opposite. I just meant that if your teaching a temae that has haiken it should not be skipped to make the temae easier/shorter. I say this from my experience. Because I was thought hakobi first, but haiken was left out. And when haiken later was added it seemed like a wierd addon instead of the natural ending that it is.

  3. I actually did not do temae for many, many months after I started tea class. I learned guest part, cleaning and preparing flowers and scroll, mizuya work. I learned warigeiko at that time, too. The first temae I learned was ryakubon because we did not practice in a tea room, but did it on a table.

    I did not learn irekodate until after I had learned most of the konarai and it was a nice break to come back to usucha after doing all those koicha teame. I do irekodate for demonstration sometimes because the utensils get displayed.

    I start my beginning students with warigeiko then ryakubon at a low table because most of them are not used to sitting. Then we proceed to do ryakubon in the tea room. I don’t feel inclined to instill long term anything in my students at this point. If they are serious and make a commitment, they don’t seem to have any problems transitioning to usucha hira demae. I sometimes find more resistance at the change from usucha to koicha.

    I do follow the Urasenke curriculum because that was the way I was taught, that was the way that Midorikai taught us and that is the way that Bonnie-sensei and Christy-sensei teach it: Irekodate comes after the kinin, the kazari and kasane jawan temae.

    Since teaching many beginners, I really love the ryakubon temae. It is useful for learning chabako, too. I also found that I personally appreciated it so much more after doing Daien no so and Daien no shin and then coming back to it again.

  4. 30 years ago when I first began studying tea, my Sensei (Kubose Sensei), had us begin with Ryakubon. but not done in the tearoom, but in her Ryurei Room.
    There was 10, maybe 12 lessons of warigeiko first.
    Later we learned all Konarai both in the Tearoom and Ryurei

  5. I have to make a correction…. my memory fails me sometimes… in the Ryurei room we did only usucha and basic Koicha… not all of the Konarai Temae

  6. Ryakubon/obon temae was the first temae I learned (after a few classes of learning guest/mizuya stuff), but in all the time I’ve been doing tea I’ve only done it a few times — maybe 10 in total — so for me it seems quite disconnected from the other temae.

    If I was teaching, and I had an ideal setup, I would be tempted to start beginner students off with ryurei as their first temae: it has all the movements of other temae without the distraction of coping with seiza as well.

  7. I’m just a student, no teacher, but perhaps it is also good to get the opinion of a student (I’m doing temae with daisu now).

    I was taught ryakubon after warigeiko, I have never done ryakubon since then but I still think it is the best way to start:

    – It is the simplest, complete form. It gives a good feeling to the student finally being able to do a temae completely.

    – there is no difference between summer and winter. important for beginners who get easily confused.

    – It doesn’t require handling of the hishaku, which is very difficult for beginners which have not the right feeling nor respect for such a difficult tool. On the other hand, one could argue that it increases the motivation of highly motivated students, to handle such a special tool. But I think it is better not to start with the hishaku. Too demanding. Handling the hishaku properly is not only a question of learning a single temae. It takes a lot of time. It is better to handle a tetsubin properly than a hishaku improperly. As a beginner you have to focus on other, basic things. when you know the proper order of things, switch to more complicated tools. Don’t overteach.

    – i don’t know how it is outside japan, but I assume many students stop after a first experience (the first temae). In that case it should be ryakubon, again, as it can be learned completely, and as it even can be continued at home. There is no good way of training hishaku temae at home; you need a hishaku and some substitute for a kama, but everybody has a teapot at home as a substitute for a tetsubin

    – it is the order of teaching in the tradition of Urasenke. There might be reasons for that. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it was just since recently (100 years ago?) that beginners start with ryakubon. I wonder when it was “invented”…


  8. one more comment. on ryurei (which I have never done myself yet):

    when I was exposed to ryurei for the first time, I was shocked. I think it is important to understand the importance of doing things on the floor, as in the traditional Japanese world, and our western way of dealing with floor (as something we want to distance us, something dirty). I see the floor and sitting on the floor as an important part of any activity in a chashitsu, and it somehow “roots” us to the place where we are. I could only understand ryurei when I was explained the historical context under which it was developed. I know that it must be possible for people who can’t sit on the floor, to learn tea, but those people who are physically able to sit on the floor, should learn to sit on the floor, as it is so essential, and I think it is so beautiful to sit on the floor.


  9. (I had a huge amount of text here but I decided it was a rant and not very useful to anyone)

    So, I agree with Joachim, sitting on the floor is important both culturally, and esthetically.

    Also, learning ryurei early on is like learning daisu without any background for its appreciation, not the best idea.

    Ryakubon/bonryaku temae is taught first by most everyone, introduced into the Urasenke curriculum by Ennosai (but who knows when it was invented), just like the Daien temaes. Here I agree with something Marjorie said, that there are some nice base points similar to those high level temae and ryakubon just as there are points that connect some other high level daisu temae with hakobi usucha. We gain new appreciation and insight into all temae the more we study. Of course digesting each temae and movement can be a lifelong study, one that has to be carefully navigated so as not to overemphasize form only. It’s all about the people…and the tea, and the form.

    Anyway, I’ve become more and more comfortable teaching ryakubon as a first temae.

  10. (These are my opinions as a student. I am not a teacher.)

    I’m personally agnostic on the question of order of temae, but it strikes me that ryakubon as a first temae does have many pragmatic advantages, along with the ones already mentioned, especially by Joachim.

    New students face the problem of acquiring a lot of new dougu all at once. Even inexpensive dougu are costly when looked at collectively. But ryakubon requires very few, and the student can also substitute freely; almost any large round tray will suffice, almost any teakettle. So with ryakubon, the student can begin a lifetime habit of home tea practice immediately, instead of delaying it until a hishaku, furo, etc. can be located, afforded, and purchased.

    Ryakubon is accessible to everyone, irrespective of age or infirmity. I prefer the seiza version myself, but the fact is that many students cannot manage seiza due to age or infirmity. I like that the first temae is so approachable.

    It uses utensils that are more familiar to the newcomer. For the beginner, everything is fascinating but the sheer volume of what is to be learned can be a little intimidating. The tetsubin feels familiar, and the tray-with-teathings approach echoes the way many people serve tea in their home. So, it *eases* people into the less familiar temae.

    With ryakubon, the new student are likelier to make and serve usucha to their friends. It’s very easy for non-tea people to take part without feeling awkward. So, the student begins thinking of themselves actively as a host, not just someone who makes tea and drinks it off in solitary practice. And, sharing tea in this way also normalises it; it’s something that you can enjoy in real life with anyone, almost anywhere or at any time, rather than being a strange ritual that you perform with fellow initiates in private.

    And then of course there’s the drop-out factor. If someone doesn’t continue as a student, at least they have learned one temae that they can enjoy for the rest of their life.

    Marius, I know what you mean about students viewing haiken as a late and ‘optional’ addition to hakobi, that’s definitely unfortunate; but I also know that many of my fellow tea students still struggle with remembering more than a few exchanges in Japanese. A delayed introduction to haiken is a kindness, in my opinion, when the words of haiken (when it comes) are to be spoken largely or only in Japanese.

    Also, I know there’s a feeling of “We do this at the beginning and then never touch it again.” Maybe that’s true for most of us, but: the beginner is having to learn this while still trying to grasp warigeiko and there’s no reason that the dougu (for example) can’t be handled with the same care and respect they would use in any other temae.

    I really wish there were YouTube videos of Oiemoto or Daisousho performing ryakubon; this would help to model the importance of this temae for beginning students. I know I tend to be slightly dismissive of it, but when you see it performed seriously, you realise just how elegant it is, in all its simplicity.


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