June is here. We’re nowhere near peak temperatures yet you’d be forgiven for believing we’re living in a pressure cooker.
In Japan, June marks the start of the rainy season. Though wet and humid outside, tea practitioners still find time to sit before the heat of the raised hearth and make tea. In their mind, as in the tea room, they make tea with the spirit of ryō-ichimi ( 涼一味), loosely translated as “a distinctive quality of coolness”.
The ayu, called “sweetfish” in English, is a sure sign of summer. Splashing in clear streams, they are caught and grilled with salt. Sweets made in their likeness (ayugashi, あゆ菓子) are sometimes coated with sugar to emulate the froth of splashing river water.
鮎はしる滝のいはつぼわきかへり見るも涼しき水の色かな– Kinugasa no naidaijin
Ayu hashiru / taki no iwa-tsubo / waki-kaeri / miru mo suzushiki / mizu no iro kana
Ayu are cutting a splash in the basin of a waterfall. How cool the colour of the water in the midst of an uproar!
There may not be much in the way of formal tea gatherings this June–a four-and-a-half mat tea room leaves little space for social distancing. I find myself longing for the close companionship of that confined space. It’s been a mere three months since I last sat in a tea room, but I feel the absence of that place more keenly than ever.
For some good news, fresh tea still flows from Japan. I’m happy to have my supply of spring tea firmly in hand. The Bay Area doesn’t see much in the way of rain outside of winter, so I take the opportunity to cherish the distinctive quality of coolness of the occasional gray day.
Being from the Midwest, a place with four distinct seasons, I often miss the powerful summer storms. I used to run out in the warm rains as a child. The memory of the flash of lightning and peal of thunder makes me nostalgic.
I find myself longing for those days more than usual lately. Very little about this summer seems recognizable to me.
At least I am safe and healthy and so is my family. That’s not something everyone in America can say, let alone everywhere else.
But hope lives in a bowl of tea, so I think I’ll have at least one more.
When I do, I’ll try to keep in mind the distinct quality of coolness. I pray the feeling of ryō-ichimi in my heart is the start of a breeze that can bring the same feeling of coolness to the entire world.