First appeared as “Make Like a Samurai” in the December 2016 issue of Air Canada enRoute.
“It all begins with tea,” declares Toshio Ohi, sliding open the screen doors to his tea room. Just as the 11th-generation clay artist invites me to sit at a low table, a woman emerges from a nook in his 200-year-old samurai house. She sets down a tray with walnut sweets and matcha tea, the liquid a green glaze in the hollow of the black bowls. “Kanazawa was built around crafts perfected by the samurai,” Ohi says about the capital of the Ishikawa Prefecture, a low-slung city of 450,000 separating lush mountains from a wide swath of sandy beach on the Sea of Japan. “And samurai culture is inextricable from the tea ceremony because tea is telling us to feel with all senses.” I pick up one of the bowls created by the master and spin it a customary quarter-turn before bringing it to my lips. Holding it is like reading Braille, the textured surface a haiku honouring the misty hills around us. I try to concentrate on the tea’s scent of reeds and its tiny bubbles strung like lace across the surface. But I’m dying to let my eye trace the wooden ceiling beams to an adjoining tea room and its hearth at the centre of a tatami-clad floor, and sweep the courtyard garden where a 500-year-old red pine hovers like a ninja. Then I remember to focus and slurp my third and final swig. Ohi nods. “It’s about doing things deeply, with meaning.”