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.”
A friend of hers wanted to study the tea ceremony, so Kobayashi introduced her to her mother’s classes, and decided to join in with her. “That perhaps wasn’t the best way for me to learn,” she said. But it worked. She applied herself seriously, and found she liked the philosophy underlying the way of tea: “to live as the winds blow and the rivers flow.”
In following the path of tea for 35 years now, she demonstrates her achievement of poise and tranquillity.
Kobayashi explains that Buddhist priests developed the tea ceremony in Japan. “Japanese students had gone to China to learn from Chinese priests, and brought back Taoist ideas here. In time, the tea ceremony as it was formulated in Japan included many other forms of Japanese culture. Gradually I had to learn everything.”
She studied flower arrangement and the containers for flowers. She practiced calligraphy and ink painting. She identified different incenses. She learned about wood and bamboo, the subtleties of the tea room and the garden outside. In handling and knowing the tea ceremony utensils, she heightened her appreciation of materials. In kimono, she refined her grace of movement.
She said: “I hadn’t known about Japan. Suddenly I found everything very interesting, and began to learn everything.”
Thirty-two years ago, the grand tea master Soshitsu Sen of Kyoto found Kobayashi. He wanted to introduce the tea ceremony abroad, and set up an organization called Cha-ei-kai. “I was the first member,” Kobayashi said. “That was the beginning of a new life for me, with many chances to go abroad.”
With the team and all their equipment, she went to several countries, demonstrating and giving explanations. Both effective and self-effacing, she is also regularly active with Cha-no-yu international, a Tokyo-based organization that brings in local residents for meetings, demonstrations and charity occasions.
Some 20 years ago, the grand tea master’s secretary introduced Kobayashi to the Institute of Correspondence Education. “While I was working there, one of my fellow workers introduced me to the editor of Harlequin Japan. I began to translate for Harlequin Romance,” Kobayashi said.
When she began, she transcribed romantic novels by longhand into Japanese. To make the novels popular in the Japanese market, she had to turn each story very carefully into “almost another creation,” she said. Difficulties of transcription lessened as she became computerized. She is now so adept that she can translate five or six books each year. Her tally is 97 Harlequin romances translated and on the shelves of bookshops around Japan.
From her own experience Kobayashi recommends the tea ceremony for young Japanese of both sexes to practice. “Nowadays, young people go abroad and suddenly realize they don’t know about Japan,” she said. “When they come back they want to learn. The tea ceremony is very good for them. I am very grateful to my grand tea master for giving me many good chances. And I am so grateful to the tea ceremony for making it possible for me to meet many nice people.”