As a guest at a tea ceremony, you are welcome to haiken (observe) the tools a tea master has chosen for that particular occasion. They may have seasonal motifs, reflect the artistic style of some locale, or simply be appreciated for their innate function and usefulness. While at my weekly practices we usually use a set of seasonal items that rotate out every month or so, but when we’re planning for the real deal, Tea-sensei brings out the wooden boxes with carefully wrapped–and often ancient–items inside. The thought is that a truly good antique is one that is still usable.

There is a set way of handling such precious items so as to keep them nice while still observing all their details, and to give everyone (or mostly everyone) a chance to see them. Some items, such as the decorative scroll or the kettle, are observed before the tea ceremony starts and without touching them. During or immediately following the ceremony, you’d observe the tea bowl you used, and at times hand it to the guest next to you to observe while they wait for their tea. Once the ceremony is done, you can request to see some of the tools the host used to prepare the tea, which gives the host a little time to put away some of the other tools. After returning them, you (if you’re the highest-ranked guest) have the option of giving the host a pop-quiz about where their tools come from. I’m finally starting to be able to answer some of this on my own, at least for the tools I use in practice! But as soon as I remember that the natsume is a matsu-kui-tsuru pattern, it’s a new month and we’re using something different. Sigh, it’s a learning process.