A formal tea ceremony, called chaji, can take up to four hours (plus additional preparation time before and after the event). It includes many different elements such as the appreciation of the art (the hanging scroll – kakejiku and flower composition- chabana), charcoal laying rituals (shozumi and gozumi), two kinds of tea (thick tea – koicha, and thin tea – ususcha) and even a meal – kaiseki.
During their tea ceremony studies, students usually focus on just one element at a time. Chances to experience Japanese tea ceremony at its full length are few and far between. More advanced students may be called to help their teacher (otetsudai) if he or she is invited to be a host (yobare).
A unique chance for all the students to take part in a chaji, regardless of their tea ceremony level, is – hatsugama. Translated literally, it means the first kettle. It is a usually held in the first weeks of January to celebrate the beginning of the new year. Often times the teacher himself or herself will host the hatsugama. That is rather rare, as during the tea ceremony studies, the teacher usually only instructs verbally.
For many tea ceremony students hatsugama will be the first chance to experience a full tea ceremony and see all the elements, they had practiced through the year, placed in an order. More advanced students will usually take more demanding roles, such as the first guest, last guest or help in the back (mizuya no tetsudai). Students that recently started to study Japanese tea ceremony will usually be more passive observers as the middle guests.
All in all, hatsugama is a beautiful event and a wonderful opportunity to experience Japanese tea ceremony together with the teacher and fellow students.