Fall has come and gone here in Kyoto and winter has come. The weather is getting much chillier and sometimes when the wind blows it almost feels like there is misty rain in the air; it’s so damp.
The last four weeks have been spent day and night preparing for the large Christmas chakai, the annual thank you chakai Midorikai hosts for the Sen family and other guests who have helped them over the course of the year. One reason it is called the Christmas chakai is that it’s held always in December.
Students are required to do all the work for it, which means select tea utensils from our home countries, plan on decorations for the welcome desk (uketsuke), waiting area (machiai), and the tea room. We also make the tea for the guests and serve it to them. In terms of preparation, we must make enough sweets for all the guests (they don’t allow us to buy them) and we also have to make gifts (omiyage).
This year for gifts we hand-stitched little notebooks. They are great, but they have been a HECK of a lot of work. First we folded 3,000 pieces of paper, then we dyed the covers with oil paint, then we ironed the covers to remove the residue, then we glued the covers to the books. Then we assembled the books by putting a certain number of pages in between covers, hammering 6 holes and hand-stitching them together. We also machine sewed little green felt bags with red ribbon and also baked about 600 cookies for the bags as well. It took hundreds of hours from all eight of us doing various parts of the jobs. It’s not a complain, per say, but just an observation regarding the sheer number of man hours that were expected of us.
Why was it so important to make the sweets and the omiyage yourself? Well, what I learned from it is that people appreciate a hand-made gift MUCH more than a purchased one. Take someone who has cooked a meal for you when you are grieving or when you are sick. It tastes better knowing that person cared enough to take the time to buy the ingredients, prepare the dish, bring the dish over and hopefully know you well enough that they made you something you will enjoy, The difficult part was times this by 165 people and it gets to be a bit of sap on one’s strength. This was on top of our normal duties too.
However, the big day of the chakai went off with out a hitch. We started quite early and cleaned the rooms again (even though we had come the night before to clean and load in all the utensils). Then the nerves started to set in because I was going to be the hanto (the person who speaks) during the hon seki, the main seki with O’iemoto and the family. So, I was trying to not be nervous but totally failing and all the teachers were nervous too, which didn’t help because they wanted everything to run smoothly.
So, when we heard they had arrived (O’iemoto, Okusama, and the two children and the two nephews), well I thought “there is NO WAY this can be harder than taking charge of a room full of 15 year olds,” so I opened the door, slid in and began. It’s like talking to the president, I imagine. Grzegorz from Poland made tea and I served O’iemoto the first bowl.
The utensil highlights from Portland that we used was a chashaku (tea scoop) made by Barbara Walker named Too-yama (distant mountain) that we had borrowed. O’iemoto told the men to pay careful attention to it and said it was quite beautifully made. I was so proud as I know Barbara and it was so neat to use something of hers. I’ve attached some other dogu pictures as well.
After the main seki, it was smooth sailing. We completed a total of seven seki and it was really fun. We were so exhausted by the end after the last guest departed that we packed everything up, had it taken back to the dorm, unpacked it all again to dry out and then took a quick nap for a few hours until we could have a post-meeting for about 20 minutes and then we slept for the rest of the night.
We perhaps didn’t bring enough towels for the mizuya but we got by. We had several sensei helping us. Murata-sensei was the mizuya cho and the back end would have fallen apart with out him. Makela-sensei assisted us with timing the serving of the tea and other things in moving in and out of the tea room. I’m attaching some pictures of the day below. In the “helpers” picture, that is a picture of two of my kohai (Elise and Jennifer). In the “seki” picture, in the foreground, Sato-sensei is admiring my sparrow tea bowl randomly enough. All photos are courtesy of Hamana-sensei.
As for what’s next for us, we are finishing up the semester this week. I will have mizuya toban – the last one of this calendar year, yippee! Kevin is going to be joining me here in Kyoto for Christmas and New Years and I’m really looking forward to seeing him here.