In "The Book of Tea," Okakura Kakuzo refers to the person "with no tea" in him, the one "insusceptible to the seriocomic interests of the personal drama." He mentions too the one "with too much tea" in him, "the untamed aesthete." Machiko Kobayashi, tea ceremony teacher and demonstrator, falls into neither category. Kimonoed, gentle and demure, she plays a decisive role of her own in showing the way for "humanity to meet in the tea cup."

Her mother taught the tea ceremony, but a similar future was not mapped out for the daughter. "My father died soon after I was born, so I was always with my mother," Kobayashi said. "When I was a child I was not interested in the tea ceremony. Many students came to our house to learn, and sometimes I took around the sweets to them. But actually I didn't learn."

At Aoyama Gakuin University, she specialized in English and American literature. "I wanted to work in an American company, but after graduation I entered a Japanese company," she said. "I wasn't allowed to do any actual work there beyond serving tea and cleaning the office desks, but sometimes my superior allowed me to do some translations for him. So I was lucky. When I married, I left the company."