On Matt’s first weekend day off in many months on Sunday, we attended “Robiraki” at Shofuso in Fairmount Park. Robiraki, or “Opening of the Hearth,” is like the New Years of Tea Ceremony, so it was fitting that this was how we celebrated Matt’s re-introduction into weekend society. Always in November, it symbolizes the beginning of tea ceremony season in Japanese culture. The Samovar tea website has a much more thorough description of robiraki–I’m mainly here for the photos.
A basic rundown of robiraki goes like this, and believe me when I say that tea ceremony and robiraki are more intricate than I will ever have time to learn, let alone explain:
1. Guests gather in a waiting room until everyone has arrived.
2. Guests walk single file to the tokonoma (tea room).
3. As each guest enters, they bow and kneel briefly at the scroll and then again at the fire.
4. The beginning of the ceremony includes building the fire with special charcoal called sumi and inviting the guests to move closer to watch.
5. Then food is served–a traditional light meal in a bento box.
6. This particular bento included green beans, gohan with shiso flakes and edamame, marmalade kabocha and walnuts, and sashimi. It was the perfect comfort food on a gloomy day (I emphasize “gloomy” to explain my poor quality photos sans flash).
7. After the meal, a sweet is served, and we were lucky to have (homemade, of course) zenzai. Matt is obsessed with zenzai and very often threatens to try making it himself. I don’t know what’s taking him so long, personally.
8. Intermission (10 minutes)
9. Guests file back into the tokonoma for the tea. First, everyone is served koicha, a thicker-style tea.
10. The tea bowls and containers are then passed around to be observed and treated with full respect as each guest bows before receiving the item and bows again before passing it on.
11. A second, thinner tea, is served, called usucha. (This was my favorite–earthy and warm.)
12. Repeat #10.
13. More sweets are served with the usucha–these were gummy with a thin, crispy layer. The maple leaves were very symbolic of the season.
The end of robiraki is a bit anticlimactic, but I believe that is the point. After a quiet and calm experience, guests simply stand, wait for the feeling to return to their legs and feet, and go home.