What is hatsugama?

Hatsugama (初釜) is a term used in sadō (茶道) or chanoyu (茶の湯), the Japanese tea ceremony (actually, I prefer not to use the term tea ceremony). It means „fist kettle“, and is the first tea gathering in a new year.

In most cases, it is a formal tea gathering or cha-ji (茶事, I will discuss this topic in my next blog post) in order to welcome the New Year and greet everyone. It is one of the rare events where usually the tea master or teacher of a school prepares the tea by himself or herself for his or her students.

Three characteristics of hatsugama

  1. Musubi ine (結び稲): musubi ine is a knotted rice plant and it is a typical decoration for toko-no-ma (床の間), which is an alcove in a Japanese room. It is placed in a vase together with a camellia close to the ceiling and hanging down until the floor. The longer the better. It is said that musubi ine knots the old and the new year together. The round knot symbolizes an endless circle, the things that will never change, and also the sun (picture below).
  2. Scroll or kakejiku (掛け軸): a scroll with a seasonal phrase in the toko-no-ma (picture below).
  3. Hanabiraki mochi (花びらき餅): the typical sweets for the occasion is a mochi (rice cake) with white miso paste and burdock root filling (picture below).
toko-no-ma with musubi-ine

My Personal experience

I once had the chance to experience a full hatsugama cha-ji back in 2014 in Izumi city in the south of Ōsaka, where I was living during that time. It was also my first full cha-ji. After the tea was served, I had the chance to take a photo of the toko-no-ma with musubi-ine and the scroll.

During the time I studied in Osaka, I also joined the tea club, where we also held a small hatsugama cha-kai every year. It was not an official event, but rather a special exercise where we learned to do temae (点前) “performance” with koicha (濃茶 thick tea – I explain koicha in my entry about cha-ji and cha-kai) and how we drink it. It was the only day in the year, where we could enjoy koicha. And of course, we served hanabiraki-mochi during the event as well. I always enjoyed this special day.

Now that I am living in Bangkok, I also gained a different memory of hatsugama, an international hatsugama with guests from various countries and even a Korean style tea gathering. It was a very warming and inspiring event where everyone could experience the very essence of hospitality in the world of tea. We could enjoy the event freely, ask questions about chanoyu and Japanese and Korean art and culture.

Did you ever experience hatsugama? Please leave a comment below and share your memories with us.

hanabiraki mochi


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