Photographs by Shinohara Hiroaki.
“I love giving guests that little thrill of having fun at a tea ceremony.”
—Kazumi Aso, Proprietor, Aso Bijutsu Gallery
The Aso Bijutsu Gallery in Tokyo’s Ginza district has a lovely Japanese tea room, where the proprietor will make tea on occasion. Today, the tea room’s tokonoma alcove is graced by a calligraphy inscription by philosopher Muneyoshi Yanagi: One taste, and you’ll forget about the tea”—Forget about the tea?
“Forget about all the rules of tea ceremony etiquette and just enjoy sipping the tea. That’s what I take it to mean.”
Kazumi Aso has been close to the tea ceremony ever since he was a young boy, with very tasteful results. On the tatami mats he’s placed a solid wooden board about 80 centimeters long.
“When I have an unexpected guest, I can put this board down on the mats, lay out what I need, and make tea.”
After placing charcoal in the old Shigaraki-style brazier and boiling the water in an ancient kettle, Aso has a Khmer bronze bowl ready for collecting the rinse water. “And now,” he says with a perfectly serious expression, “for today’s tea”—and he brings out a small, artistically done toy bicycle! It’s really a dining table spice rack he found in an antique store in Cape Town, South Africa, but each of the four containers holds just enough matcha powdered green tea for one serving.
The tea cup is a Karatsu-style bowl bearing an adorable illustration by an old friend of his, cartoonist Chikako Mitsuhashi. “I like to surprise people. When you’re surprised, you get a little thrill. Even if you don’t know much about the tea ceremony, if you get that little thrill, you might come to like it, right?”
Kazumi Aso / Proprietor of the Aso Bijutsu Gallery, specializing in ancient and modern art and antiques. The gallery also houses a tea room that Aso built himself, where he conducts tea ceremonies and tea lessons.
Whenever Aso is out and about, whether walking through his neighborhood or on a trip overseas, he’s always on the lookout for items that might come in handy for the tea ceremony.
“If I can get a guest to smile, I pat myself on the back. I just see this as me being mischievous.”