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VISIT TO THE LAND OF THE SAMURAI
A DAY IN A CHASEN MASTER'S WORKSHOP

Leaving this small piece intact to be used as a handle, he split the bamboo into 16 pieces which he separated in two along the width to make the inner and outer parts. He then very carefully removed the hard outer part. He changed blades to cut each of these sections into strips. The number of strips varies depending on the size of the bamboo stalk and if the artisan is making an 80, 100 or 120 bristles chasen. The strips are thinner for usu cha (thin tea) and thicker for koi cha (thick tea). The chasen is then soaked for some time. The chasen master knows exactly when the chasen is ready for the next step. When it has been deemed ready, each strip is narrowed to make it more flexible and smoothed down individually to ensure that the matcha powder does not stick to it.

Chasen5Chasen4The strips are then curved to create the chasen’s characteristic appearance. If the chasen is perfect, it is sent to braiding. Once the strips are smoothed and a string is braided at the bottom to secure the inner and outer sections, the chasen begins to take shape. The braiding is usually done by local women who pick up the chasens and then bring them back to the artisan when they are done. When the chasen has been braided, the strips are smoothed one last time and carefully examined and positioned into a perfect curve. The chasen master carries out this part of the operation in order to perform one last quality check to make sure the chasen is perfect in every way before leaving the workshop. If the artisan is a master, he can put his seal on the box.

A good chasen can withstand a year of daily use while a poor quality chasen falls apart quickly. It is importantChasen8 to use only new chasens during official tea ceremonies. However, once the ceremony is over, the chasen can be used for everyday tea. This is truly a magnificent object, both due to its appearance and performance. It whisks without making too much foam, perfectly breaks up any matcha clusters, retains its shape during use and holds its characteristic odour and colour.

Our hosts presented us with two master chasens as well as little bamboo implements used Chasen3to pick up sweets during the tea ceremony. Although we were deeply honoured, above all, we appreciated being witness to this performance, artful dance and moment of creation. In that quiet space, the thousand-year old tradition came alive in small, precise movements carried out in a simple, daily, peaceful way.

 

Marie Provost, Nara,

Japan, March 2008