A Chanoyu Vocabulary: Practical Terms for the Way of Tea
Paperback, A5 size, 280 pages. Kyoto: Tankōsha, 2007. ISBN9784473033987

This gem of a dictionary has been around for well over a decade. Currently in its third printing, it remains the one and only comprehensive chanoyu dictionary available, providing concise and accurate “to the T” (pun intended) English definitions of 1,642 terms that come up in the realm of chanoyu. By “comprehensive” I should say I mean wide-ranging, for while it cannot be called exhaustive, this dictionary is designed as a basic reference for all the various aspects of chanoyu. So the chances that users will find what they are looking for in this handy volume are high. The terms included encompass nearly all the practical facets of chanoyu. They range from terminology concerning the tea-making procedures, the various kinds of implements employed, the room and garden, the standard sorts of chanoyu functions, the meal and confections, and more. The types of ceramics, styles of lacquer ware, and other applied arts like these are explained.

Many entries have to do with the artistic or stylistic characteristics of the various kinds of implements. Explanations are given for chanoyu-specific verb usages. Take, for example, “ashirau” (verb generally meaning “to handle” or “to deal with”), which is the set word used by tea teachers to indicate that, in repositioning a certain implement, the free hand must assist by momentarily getting a hold on it. The teacher indicates which hand it is that is required to do this; eg., “migi te o ashirau.” Something that you want to avoid when pouring water using a ladle as you prepare tea in view of the guests is “aburahishaku,” or literally “oil ladle,” which is the very first word in the dictionary. The action called “aburahishaku” refers to handling the ladle in the manner of an oil seller. Oil sellers are a thing of the past, but typically they would lift up the ladle while pouring, and shake off the last drop. As these examples indicate, the amount of information covered in the dictionary is formidable, and for people in the English-speaking world who seek knowledge about Tea and the arts of Japan related to it—reliable information hard to come by in English—this book is a must-have.

The publisher of A Chanoyu Vocabulary, Tankosha, has a well-established history as Japan’s singular publishing house specializing in books and periodicals related to chanoyu. The company originated in 1949 as the family run publishing arm of Urasenke, and that relationship naturally continues to this day. (Its founding president was the second son of the 14th Urasenke iemoto.) The works published by Tankosha are testament to the extraordinary effort that Urasenke, arguably the most popular chanoyu line (ryū; sometimes rendered “school”) both within and outside Japan since the post-Tokugawa era, has put into making information available in the form of the printed word. That effort has extended to publications in English.

Tankosha’s 1993 Jitsuyō chadōyōgo jiten was adopted as the base for producing A Chanoyu Vocabulary, a long-needed dictionary explaining in English the meanings of Japanese terms that are often peculiar to the practice of chanoyu. By and large, the terms and their usage apply the same not only to all three of the Sen family (san-Senke) lines of chanoyu—namely, the Omotesenke, Urasenke, and Mushakojisenke—which together represent mainstream chanoyu, but also to the other existing chanoyu lines. Although all chanoyu lines have developed stylistic differences in the manner in which they do things, they share much of their basic vocabulary. A Chanoyu Vocabulary, therefore, is surely a helpful English tool for international chanoyu researchers across the board.

The bountiful appendix, commanding 20 pages, leads off with a lineage chart of the three Sen families, and includes a brief outline of major events in chanoyu history. (The recent events included notably focus on Urasenke.) Within the main body of the dictionary, illustrations are provided here and there. The appendix contains a range of illustrations detailing elements of the roji (garden approach to a tea house), the exterior and interior of a tea house, chanoyu-specific tatami layouts, and the types and parts of many basic implements employed in chanoyu. A page is devoted to illustrations of the various forms of haigata (sculpted ash in a brazier), most of which have their own entries in the dictionary.

Somewhat ironically, the dictionary includes an entry for “chanoyu,” a word that is a key part of the book’s title. As a wordfinder for Japanese vocabulary, there of course is no entry for “tea ceremony.” In fact, not once does the nomenclature “tea ceremony” appear anywhere in this book, and this is attributable to Urasenke’s influence. Urasenke Headquarters has for the past few decades endeavored to popularize both the term “chanoyu” and “chadō,” so that one day soon people globally will no longer refer to these in English as the Japanese “tea ceremony.” There is no denying that things and people are treated ceremoniously in this sociocultural practice called “chanoyu,” “chadō,” or “ocha” for short in Japanese. Special chanoyu-related ceremonies, including those to perform religious tea offerings (kucha, kencha), exist. But chanoyu itself, and the chakai and chaji gatherings that are its main focus and purpose, are not ceremonies, and bundling them up as the Japanese “tea ceremony” is considered inappropriate and, moreover, misleading. Like so many terms involved in its practice, there is no simple English replacement. People need to adopt the Japanese term. Vital, or course, is that they understand its fundamental meaning, and this is where A Chanoyu Vocabulary: Practical Terms for the Way of Tea finds its purpose.

It is a reliable dictionary that I would recommend keeping at arm’s reach by people involved in writing or talking in English about Tea and the arts of Japan. For an in-depth coverage of the history of tea in Japan and the chanoyu legacy of Urasenke, the book that I strongly recommend is Weatherhill’s 1988 Chanoyu: The Urasenke Tradition of Tea (ISBN 0-8348-0212-0), edited by Sōshitsu Sen XV and skillfully translated by Alfred Birnbaum.

(Gretchen Mittwer)

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Long-time SWET member Gretchen Mittwer worked as editor and translator at Urasenke headquarters in Kyoto for over 40 years, and since retiring in December, 2018, has continued her work for Urasenke on a freelance basis. She translated and helped produce Urasenke’s first handbook in English, Urasenke Chanoyu: A Beginner’s Handbook (Konnichian Library, 1966), was a member of the two-man team that put out the founding issue of the Chanoyu Quarterly (Spring 1970), was editor of the journal from 1981 to its suspension in 1999, and created the “Issues 1-87 Comprehensive Index,” published in its final issue. She oversaw the translation and editing of not only A Chanoyu Vocabulary, but also Sen Genshitsu Talks About the Enjoyment of Tea (Tankosha 2006), and Urasenke Chado Textbook (Tankosha 2011). She was translator of the bilingual What Is Chanoyu? authored by Tani Akira (Tankosha, 2006) and Rikyū’s Hundred Verses in Japanese and English (Tankosha, 2020) by Iguchi Kaisen, originally published in 1973. Recently, she was translator and editor of the Urasenke Tea Procedure Guidebook 1, 2, and 3 (Tankosha 2017, 2018, and 2019, respectively). Apart from her work at Urasenke, she contributed the chapter “Chanoyu: The Art of Tea of Japan” (trans., Le chanoyu, l’art du thé au Japon) published in Tea for 2: Les rituels du thé dans le monde (Bruxelles: Crédit Communal, 1999).