Koh Shimizu’s movements flowed into each other as she cleaned each utensil with water, scooped brilliant green matcha tea into a small ceramic bowl, poured half a ladle of hot water on top and began to mix, the bamboo prongs of the whisk massaging the powered tea into a froth. She ceremonially set the tea down at her side as her guest, Asako Go, inched forward on her knees and took the bowl. They both bowed. Go turned the bowl in her hands twice, raised it in reverence, and finally drank the bitter green liquid, the powdery residue of a Japanese sugar candy she ate earlier sweetening the taste. She didn’t drink it all, instead leaving a little tea in gratitude to nature.
This was no ordinary tea ceremony. Shimizu and Go, dressed in traditional kimonos, performed the art of tea in a floating teahouse. Moored on South Lake Union Park’s model boat pond, the 10-foot-by-10-foot teahouse and the accompanying ceremony are part of a two-day art installation called “Furyu” (“Light Breeze”) by lighting designer and artist Yuri Kinoshita.
Kinoshita is one of 33 artists chosen to participate in the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture’s 2014 CityArtist Projects and received a $3,200 grant. Her teahouse consists of a wooden platform with 28-inch panels on each side — inlaid with colorful bamboo fiber, kimono fabric, and Kozo paper — that light up at night. Dedicated to Chief Seattle because of his love of nature, the teahouse and the ceremony it serves aim to bring the tenets of tea — harmony, respect, purity, and tranquillity — in accord with the natural world (or as close to nature as you can get in the bustling South Lake Union neighborhood).
The tea ceremony began with a 16th-century master who perfected the Way of Tea, establishing seven rules that are followed to this day. From providing a sense of warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer, to being prepared for rain (he must have had Seattle in mind), the rules also indicate a deeper philosophy, encouraging a mentality of spirituality, harmony, and hospitality. Kinoshita’s work taps into these principles directly.
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“My work is an attempt to bridge earth and sky, Eastern and Western culture, and to evoke the beautiful relationship that is possible between interior space and the great wonder of nature,” Kinoshita says in her artist statement.
Kinoshita, who was born in Japan and comes from a long line of kimono merchants and manufacturers, came to Seattle in 2008 and sells custom-made light fixtures. Her work can be seen in many of Seattle’s Japanese restaurants, including the well-regarded Sushi Kappo Tamura and popular Boom Noodle. Her piece “Uzume” was featured at the Bellevue Arts Museum last year.
Bonnie Mitchell, the executive director of Seattle’s East West Chanoyu Center who received the highest rank in the Way of Tea in 2008, read a short statement as the first ceremony began on Friday afternoon.
“Everything that goes into the serving of tea, even the quality of light and the space where it is served, becomes part of its flavor,” she said. “The perfect tea must capture the ‘flavor’ of the moment — the spirit of the seasons, of the occasion, of the time and place.”
Despite the noisy line of cars motoring onto I-5 and the seaplanes landing on Lake Union, Kinoshita’s floating teahouse became a space of calm, the intense reverence and intent of the tea ceremony and its simple, precise staging providing an escape from the distractions and anxiety of modern life.
One passer-by considered it the perfect metaphor for detachment.
“Time and beauty are fleeting,” Shimizu said after the tea ceremony was complete. “If you let the moment pass without notice, you don’t get another chance.”