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Michael Drzmisek Sozui: ‘Come share a bowl of matcha’

by

Staff writer

Name: Michael Drzmisek Sozui
Age: 57
Nationality: Swiss
Occupation: Tea ceremony teacher
Likes: Spending time with family and friends
Dislikes: Crowded places


1. What first brought you to Japan? I came to study aikido and the Japanese language.

2. How did an interest in aikido shift to chanoyu (tea ceremony)? The idea of bunburyōdō, that martial arts and cultural studies are parallel in its ways. You have to add a softer, artistic side to your budō training, or your personality will be unbalanced. I started chanoyu to have a balance with aikido, and over the years my main focus shifted to tea.

3. What does the name of your teahouse — Kanjoan — mean? I was looking for an expression that reflects my approach to chanoyu, so I named my place “the hut in which to be at ease and free of concerns.”

4. Don’t you get claustrophobic spending all your days in a three-tatami-room teahouse? No, small teahouses are truly magical. Built with natural materials, they have an amazing clarity and simplicity. During the daytime the soft light comes through the sliding doors, while at night the room is lit with candles. You can sit in the room quietly and feel a whole universe opening.

5. What’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase? “且坐喫茶” (“Shaza kissa,” “Sit down for a while and drink tea”). Please come in, let’s sit down together and share a bowl of tea. What a wonderful way to welcome someone to your place!

6. What’s the secret to keeping a seiza seating position for hours? Not trying too hard.

7. How did you train in the Urasenke school of tea in Japan? I was very lucky to get accepted into one of the study programs at the headquarters of the Urasenke school in Kyoto, generously supported by the current grand tea master, Zabosai, and his father, the previous grand tea master, Hounsai. Later, I studied with some private teachers in Kyoto.

8. How was learning chanoyu in Switzerland and Japan different? A lot of things for tea, which you take for granted here, are not available outside of Japan. That gives you the challenge and opportunity to find other resources or making things yourself. A friend of mine in Switzerland made a small tea room out of an old henhouse. I would like to see more of this creativity and freedom in Japan.

9. What’s the strangest question you’ve ever been asked in your line of work? There may be no strange questions if you approach them in the same way as you would a koan (a zen riddle). Like this one: “Did you ever use a chasen (bamboo whisk for tea) as a shaving brush?”

10. Do you ever feel the need for loud music and bright neon lights? When I need energy, I love to turn up the volume and bounce around to my favorite songs. However, you can skip the neon lights.

11. If you could invite anyone from history for tea, who would it be? (Writers) Umberto Eco, Friedrich Glauser, James Joyce, Mary Shelley and Natsume Soseki. Imagine all the stories they would tell.

12. Do you prefer matcha to coffee? I drink a lot of matcha, but in the morning I need my little espresso to get started.

13. How would you describe the pleasures of a bowl of matcha? Matcha is delicious, refreshing and healthy. You can enjoy it with all your senses, especially in a traditional tea room. Look at the flowers, hear the sound of the boiling water, smell the incense, touch the bowl and taste the tea. Share this moment with another human being and a bowl of tea can transcend borders.

14. Whom in Japan do you most admire? All the craftspeople who made the utensils I use in my tea room. They transform simple objects into pieces of art for everybody to enjoy.

15. What do you think about the recent popularity of matcha in the world? I hope it is more than just a boom and will not fade away soon.

16. What song best describes your work ethic? King Curtis’ 1967 “Memphis Soul Stew.” Working for me is a lot like being in the kitchen. Know your basics, respect the ingredients, be creative and try new recipes, spice things up if needed, keep your station clean and share the results with others.

17. If you won ¥1 million in the lottery, what would you do with the money? Go to the island in the next question.

18. What would you take to a lonely island with you? The question is “whom,” not “what” — my wife, to enjoy a sunset at the beach together.

19. Can you tell us your secret hangout in Kyoto? My teahouse, because it it has everything I could wish for.

20. Any words of advice for young people? I guess at my age I should listen to young people and their advice. But if they were to ask me, I would say, “If you find a good teacher, learn whatever you can from him or her and don’t be afraid of making mistakes.” I still do.