The pandemic tells me about the spirit of "Mitate"

A sudden change of our lifestyle due to the pandemic had taken us aback all over the world. We had been lost and felt hopeless by the day.  A fear of the unknown, a struggle that is unlikely to end, depressing figures that is reported each day... all of these weighed heavily on all of us while we are forced to accept those change of our lifestyle. 

I was no exception. I was devastated by all the economic and social activities gradually suspended.


Online Japanese tea ceremony lesson


What has supported me through this difficult time was "Sado", Japanese tea ceremony. During the lockdown, many things were shifted to online in various ways such as remote work, online learning, online exercise sessions etc...and I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to continue learning Japanese tea ceremony online in a different way. Not every tools and utensils are available at home, however, not to mention tea room.

Thus I started the journey of the spirit of "Mitate".


What is "Mitate" ?

Mitate is a Japanese word to regard something as a different thing than what it should be. 

You probably might have heard of the name of "Sen no rikyu", a famous tea master. He is the person who laid the foundation of our Japanese aesthetic and philosophy today as well as Japanese tea ceremony culture. He practiced a lot of Mitate by incorporating the daily house ware into tea ceremony using an aesthetic of his own. For example, using a creel as a vase in the tea room or a bucket for collecting water as a container for fresh water. He made various attempts to add fresh and quaint atmosphere to the tea room. 

As most of us have experienced when we were small, we used to play using anything close at hand to resemble something, for example a block toy as a phone or a train by our full of creativity and imagination. My son used to "cook" fried noodle using rubber bands.


Actually the adult world is also filled with Mitate. Especially in Japanese culture, traditionally Kabuki (traditional drama), Rakugo (comic story-telling) and Chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony) are the representative examples. 


Use lipped katakuchi bowl as a vase
Lipped katakuchi bowl as a vase


In the online Japanese tea ceremony lessons, I challenged myself to try Mitate with something what I have at home. When I just started, to be honest, I wasn't in the mood with my fixed thinking and image. Also as many of you might have experienced, online seems to be convenient since it instantly connects you to anyone in the world. On the other hand, it is not that easy to create extraordinary space in an ordinary life. 


The more lessons I took and saw my mates making all kinds of efforts into each Mitate, the better I felt and the more I was inspired. And then finally I found myself enjoying it even more. 

Come to think of it, I found that the lessons in Singapore have been full of Mitate. The arrangement in the tea room is supposed to be changed depending on the season and appreciate those changes, but the season here in Singapore is always the same throughout the year. Even if we could get those tools together, it's impossible to get the seasonal flowers and plants. So we always try to find the similar and close ones by trial and error. The time and experience doing it is really valuable since I could learn to see things from different perspective. That is the moment when my imagination is tested. 


What is imperfect is completed within the mind of people seeing it


There's a Japanese word to describe distinctive atmosphere and state of Japanese tea ceremony, "Wabi". In the source of this word "Wabi", there's the meaning that things don't work out the way you want. Behind the background of seeing the beauty in Wabi, the condition to find a profound beauty toward something that you cannot instantly say beautiful is required within the people who see them. Not seeing something missing as imperfect but missing is the active thinking that helps mental action, this kind of mind is expected for the people in the tea room. What is imperfect is completed within the mind of people seeing it. 


The world has become quite a convenient one, where we simply pay and find most of the things you want without time and effort. After going through this challenging time, however, learning the spirit of Mitate shows me very important thing to live in this difficult world. Not pursuing the perfection, not focusing on what cannot be done but freely adopting to a way of life and a way of thinking going along at the time and situation we are put in without sticking to the past and fixed idea. I'll try to remind this sense always in my mind and show myself facing the problem that has no right answer to my kids. 




I could learn the important life lesson from "Mitate" during this difficult time.

I became deep into Japanese tea ceremony even more now that I learnt its depth and broad-minded that embraces everything as it is. 

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Write a comment

Comments: 2
  • #1

    Mai (Thursday, 27 August 2020 00:24)

    I loved this writing. Makes me want to learn about this myself as well✨

  • #2

    tsugu (Friday, 28 August 2020 07:40)

    Thank you for your message and taking your time to read this. Glad that you liked it. Hope you enjoy incorporating "Mitate" in your life;)