Tea Master to Be Honored at Traditional Arts Roundtable

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Madame Sosei Shizuye Matsumoto

Madame Sosei Shizuye Matsumoto will be recognized at a program titled “Ritual + Improvisation in Los Angeles” on Saturday, Dec. 1, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, 244 S. San Pedro St. in Little Tokyo.

The Alliance for California Traditional Arts’ (ACTA) Traditional Arts Roundtable Series (TARS), in partnership with the JACCC, the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and the Japanese American National Museum, will begin its season by honoring Matsumoto, a 1994 National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow, and the Urasenke School of Chado.

A Japanese tea ceremony will be held in JACCC’s Tea Room at 1 p.m., followed by a conversation with Matsumoto’s students from the Urasenke School. The program will also include a community reflection engaging the needs and interests of local artists, cultural practitioners, and those who support that work. This community reflection will help inform the curation of the remaining six roundtables for the season, each taking place at JACCC through June 2019.

To RSVP, email [email protected] This event is free and open to the public, but spaces are limited.

Partial funding for this program was provided by the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. The TARS series in Los Angeles is generously supported by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. Additional support provided by the California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.

About Madame Matsumoto

Chado is a complex series of hundreds of steps designed around the act of serving tea and requires a connoisseurship of all the necessary physical accoutrements as well as acute sensitivity in the disciplined interaction among its participants. When properly practiced, the natural setting, the delicately wrought tea utensils, the simple elegance of the decorations, and the smooth, regulated movements of the participants combine to remove the host and guests from the pressures of the outside world and place them in an atmosphere where each finds inner peace and tranquility.

Historically, chado has left its mark on many other art forms. In the 16th and 17th centuries, for example, tea masters influenced the shaping of some of the most beautiful of ceramic tea ware, always preferring the simple, rustic, and spare over the highly finished and refined.

In the U.S., the most influential teacher and accomplished master of chado is Sosei Shizuye Matsumoto. She was born Feb. 11, 1920, in Honolulu. After attending high school in Los Angeles, she enrolled in the French American Fashion Design School and graduated in 1941. At that time, she also began training in the “way of tea.” She moved to Kyoto and for six years she trained under Tantansai, 14th-generation grandmaster of the Urasenke School of Chado, and Soshitsu Sen, 15th-generation grandmaster.

Following WWII, Matsumoto saw that there were few practitioners of the tea ceremony in her new home of Los Angeles, but her desire to start a school was thwarted by the unsettled times, with Japanese Americans returning from wartime camps. In 1951, she was invited to the signing of the U.S.-Japan peace treaty in San Francisco, where over a four-day period she served tea to more than 3,000 American and Japanese officials, including President Harry Truman and Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida.

Later that year, she started teaching the Urasenke Tea Ceremony in Los Angeles, convening the first tea ceremony classes ever held in the U.S.; one of her ceremonies is shown in the 20th Century Fox film “East Is East.”

In the 1950s, Matsumoto introduced millions of Americans to chado through appearances on CBS and NBC TV programs. In 1968, she was invited to present the tea ceremony at the Olympic Arts Festival in Mexico City. Her more than 40 years of teaching and lecturing throughout the country have resulted in over 120 chado teachers and thousands more tea ceremony devotees. Over the years, her students have included Japanese- and American-born people interested in learning the ancient ceremony.

Matsumoto exemplifies the character of a chajin or “tea person.” She not only knows and can teach all the procedures for chado, but she also manifests the true spirit of self-discipline and compassion for others, which only a few students are ever able to attain. In 1989 she received the title meiyo shihan (honored master) from her instructor Soshitsu Sen. This is the highest teaching certificate available for instructors of the tea ceremony.

She has lectured and demonstrated widely throughout Southern California as well as the Southwest. In recognition of her long service to preserving Japanese culture, Matsumoto received the Fifth Order of Merit (Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold and Silver Rays) from the emperor of Japan in November 1990.

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