Ceremonies in the West are mostly for life-changing events like weddings, funerals, and graduations, or for religious observance. But in Japan, there are many small ceremonies that are woven into peoples' everyday lives. Both tea ceremony and the ceremony Yoshi performs to get rid of his attachments are important to the characters in The Last Tea Bowl Thief. What do these ceremonies tell us about our own lives?
What purpose do the ceremonies in the book (and the ones we perform ourselves) serve?
What makes something a ceremony? What makes a ceremony work?
Are there new ceremonies we need for our lives today? Ceremonies that would make your life better?
About those "attachments"...
One of the recurring themes in The Last Tea Bowl Thief is the Buddhist idea that we are held back by attachment to things we can't bear to give up, and our inability to stop fearing the things we are trying to avoid.
The potter identifies eight attachments in his own life that he believes are holding him back. But the other characters have attachments too—if Robin, Nori, and Nori's grandmother were to make tea bowls symbolizing their biggest attachments (or fears), what would they be named?
What would a tea bowl representing one of your own "attachments" (or fears) be named?
The potter devises a pretty drastic way to rid himself of his attachments. What are some of the ways we give up "attachments" we want to let go of?
Rebirth and transformation
The potter and the poet in The Last Tea Bowl Thief believe that people die and are reborn again and again until they are able to shed their earthly attachments and become enlightened. But this can happen in smaller ways throughout someone's life, as people change from who they were at the beginning to who they become at the end.
What are some ways the characters in the book are reborn (or transformed)?
Are there other symbols of rebirth and transformation in the story?
How many "lives" have you had in your lifetime so far? What experiences have divided your own life into "before" and "after"? Did you choose them, or did they just happen?
Do you believe in luck?
“Good luck” and “bad luck” are often used to describe situations or events that we’re powerless to control, and the characters in The Last Tea Bowl Thief are typically Japanese in their respect for (and fear of) what fate dishes out.
Think of a point in your own life that changed your entire future. Did good or bad luck play a part? Where would you be now if things had been different?
Can you think of ways the characters in The Last Tea Bowl Thief tried to influence their luck? Do you think we can influence luck? What are some things you do to get more good luck/avoid bad luck?
Is stealing ever right?
There are three generations of thieves in this story. If we give each of them the benefit of doubt and believe they acted from the best of intentions, one steals to save a thing of beauty from destruction, one steals to survive, and one steals to right an old wrong and advance scholarship.
Were Saburo, Chiyo and Robin right or wrong to steal the tea bowl?
What could they have done instead? Could they still have achieved their goals? How might their lives have been different?
Which inspires greater art: beauty or hardship?
Yakibō and Saburo draw inspiration from both beauty and hardship in the course of their artistic careers. • Which do you think inspires greater art? • Do you think the visual arts are different from the literary arts?