SEN Soshitsu Hosts a Chakai for US First Lady Michelle Obama

US First Lady Michelle OBAMA traveled to Japan and Cambodia March 18-22, to promote the Let Girls Learn initiative. During this trip, she came to Kyoto for a day and experienced some of Japan's traditional culture, including chado, the Japanese way of tea. Her chado experience was in the form of a private chakai (tea gathering) hosted by Urasenke iemoto Zabosai SEN Soshitsu.

First Lady Obama and Ambassador Kennedy hold their tea bowls and together drink the tea prepared for them by Iemoto Zabosai.
(Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

With her formal business in Tokyo completed, the First Lady was able to spend March 20, her last day in Japan, in Kyoto. She was accompanied from Tokyo that morning by the US ambassador to Japan, Caroline KENNEDY, and the ambassador's son, Jack SCHLOSSBERG. Amid tight security measures, they reached their first destination, Kiyomizu Temple, which is among Kyoto's World Heritage sites. They toured some of the famous temple attractions, and watched a short noh performance on the temple's famous veranda which overlooks the city. Then, somewhat past noon, they reached Jojuin, a subtemple with breathtaking garden deep to the north edge of the grand Kiyomizu temple compound. At Jojuin, they were joined by Kiyomizu temple chief abbot MORI Seihan. He went with them into the secluded little tea room in the residential sector of the subtemple, where Zabosai awaited and greeted them. For Zabosai and Ambassador Kennedy and her son, it was a pleasant reunion, since the ambassador and her family visited the Urasenke home in Kyoto, Urasenke Konnichian, one evening in late December, 2013, when Zabosai hosted a private chakai for them with the support of his family.

First Lady Obama sits at the tea-making area, and enjoys the social exchange with Iemoto Zabosai.
(Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Sweets, including omogashi and higashi on themes related to the coming of spring, were brought in, and while Zabosai's guests ate them, Zabosai prepared usucha using tea bowls he had specially selected for this occasion. The First Lady inquired about the scroll and other facets of the occasion, and Zabosai responded with fascinating information, making for interesting, friendly conversation. Fortunately, it was possible to extend the original short time limit, and so there was a very pleasant, relaxed atmosphere. When Zabosai asked the First Lady if she would try making a bowl of usucha herself, she happily agreed and moved to the tea-making area, and with Zabosai's guidance, used the bamboo ladle to pour hot water from the kettle resting in the sunken hearth (ro), and whisked a nice bowl of usucha, which she chose to have her private attendant drink. At the end, Zabosai saw them all off from the tea room, with the exchange of words that it would be wonderful to one day meet again.