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June update #2 – a Midorikai interlude

June 11: Hotaru Chakai

We had the honor of attending the Hotaru Chakai at Shimogamo Shrine. The natural beauty of this Shinto shrine with it’s proximity to the creeks and rivers makes it a great habitat for fireflies. Midorikai was invited to attend since Urasenke was putting it on and some of us went in kimono and in nice western clothes. Two of us were lucky enough to run into Daisosho-sama out in front of the shrine. He is always so gracious and generous. I can’t say enough how much he inspires me to be a better person. He treated us to ice cream cones from a stall where a past gakuen graduate was working. I’m reminded again of how small the tea world is! Everyone knows everyone! What another reason to continue to work on my Japanese. There were lots of fireflies to see and this was my first time ever seeing them. Quite amazing and magical.

Hotaru Chakai at Shimogamo Shrine

Hotaru Chakai at Shimogamo Shrine

Other highlights from mid-June:

  • A field trip to Nakajima Seikodo, a local scroll making and paper-mounting shop. It was a beautiful workshop with lots of old beams. A scroll takes about a year to cure and we talked about all the different types of scrolls and their formality.
  • Midorikai’s first cooking class with Sato-sensei. It went very well. We focused on the basics our sempai would need to master to work in the kitchen for the upcoming chaji, tea gathering. We younger students tried to pay as much attention as we could since we are unsure when the next cooking classes will be.
  • A field trip to Nishiki covered market with Murata-sensei to show our sempai where to purchase food items needed for the chaji. We kohai just walked around and tasted food samples. It was a pleasant morning, and again, trying to pay attention to everything.
  • Beginning to study/review the kazari temae, the tea making practices when you have special tea utensils that has a wonderful story that you and the guests have in common with each other.
  • Kodo (Incense) lesson with playing “listening to kodo” games. When you smell the incense, (this is called “listening”) and you have to decide if it smells like the other incense or if it’s unique. It’s a skill, for sure. But also people receive pleasure because you don’t only write your answer, you relate the answer back to literature or natural phenomena. For example, in the game of Kotoriko, your answers are reflected by the names of small birds. So if I think the third and the fifth ko are the same, then I would answer “asaridori” (foraging birds). If the 1st and 2nd match, I would answer “momochidori” *hundreds of plovers” and so on. The other ko game we played related to “The Tale of Genji” and had 52 possible responses that were the titles of the chapters from that old novel. Very fun!
  • A half-day lecture on conducting tea demonstrations outside of Japan in our home countries. Two English-speaking sensei (Makela-sensei and Hardy-sensei) helped us with this. Our sempai were the ones giving the speeches and we were the audience or the guests. It was a really great opportunity to practice and I look forward to practicing too. They gave great feedback and some pointers for next time. In Portland we are responsible for doing tea demonstrations with Margie-sensei sometimes, but often it’s because people are busy and collecting the feedback will really help us get better.

    Awesome small door at cafe

    Awesome small door at cafe

June 21: Fabric lecture

I gave this lecture it’s own section, because my sempai Kate is interested in fabrics and it made me think of her. The fabrics we use as humans are diverse to say the least. This lecture really only focused on the fabrics suitable for tea. We talked about the different threads and how they are woven (for example, plain weave 1-1 thread, twill weave 2-2 thread, or satin weave 4-4 thread). But I also wanted to record how the fabric instructor told us to evaluate and enjoy fabrics. These questions and observations can be applied when you are admiring ANY man-made object whether it be refrigerators to vases to bedsheets. The more you really look at objects and research about them, the better informed consumer and connoisseur you will be AND the more beautiful the world will seem around you. Here are the questions that he encouraged us to reflect on to really be able to SEE an object:
  • What is it’s name and all the names of the components? What is the shape’s name?
  • What is it’s history? Who designed it or manufactured it? What world events or historical trends may have shaped this object?
  • How is it made? Look closely. Does it look “well-made” or “poorly-made”?
  • How do the components interact (color, design, etc.)?
  • Study the base materials, what is it made from?
  • Touch the object. How does it feel to the hand?
  • Does it generate an emotional response? If so, reflect why.

June 23: Toinseki Chaji

Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures during the chaji, like a good guest, so I am attaching some pictures of Toinseki from the day before during our cleaning / prep-work day. A chaji is the longest type of tea gathering. All of the things we are learning are supposed to help us host and be guest at these special tea gatherings. They have themes and are about four to four and a half hours in length from arrival of your guests to when they depart. It requires weeks, if not months, of pre-planning by the host and there are many selections to be made regarding food that will be served, utensils that will be used and creating a harmonious environment between both guest and host as well as amongst the guests themselves.

Toinseki tea room

Toinseki tea room

At the most you might have five guests. To host chaji successfully you really can’t be a procrastinator or a control-freak. It requires a flexibility and willingness to go with the flow, but also the forethought that you have planned for many outcomes. You don’t want to arrive at a venue to realize that you forgot to bring the fish from the refrigerator back home! Anyway, this was our first “real Japanese” chaji.
We may have attended chaji in our home countries but it’s hard to understand necessary adaptations outside of Japan if we haven’t gone through a real one. Yumiko, our sempai from Hawaii, was our host. She is the most experienced of all of us since she has been doing and teaching tea for 25 years and is incredibly passionate. She was a wonderful host and we all had a fabulous time. The meal was attractively presented and tasty having been prepared by our other two sempai in the kitchen (just two! They were pretty stressed!). The kaiseki meal, as I explained previously, has many courses and requires impeccable timing to make sure it arrives hot to the tea room and perfectly fresh/cooked. The charcoal laying temae were both lovely. The tea and sweets tasted delicious.
Toinseki garden

Toinseki garden

I’m hesitant to describe too much because I want it to exist in my memory. Everything in the room had a purpose and was there for a reason for us to admire, contemplate, discuss and enjoy. I will comment on some specific things. She had many references to fireflies, since we all attended the Hotaru chakai together earlier this month. The scroll in the tea room was “Kan” or Gate, which referenced the comings and goings of midorikai, she would be exiting and we had entered the gate. She used a rock as her miagawara, or furo plate, instead of the usual smooth one. She scooped her tea in the natsume in sort of a Z shape (instead of just straight down the side) to resemble a river and make us think of coolness.

Even though Toinseki is located on the outskirts of Kyoto, it really felt we were far away in the mountains somewhere with the little birds chirping madly in the green garden. It’s difficult to explain how calm and relaxing an event like this can make you. Being in the tea room, you can really leave the world outside and just exist in that space and time. It allows for quiet personal reflection and also that thrill you get when you discover something that you didn’t see before. In the darkness of the tea room, light and shadow had more meaning than normal. We noticed things much more with having no distractions. It was just us (four guests, one host), in the small 4.5 mat room, sharing a special, unique moment together. It really reminds me how often we forget to just live in the moment and not become distracted by the past or the future but just be here now. In the chaji, all of us made mistakes (this was our first time after all) but nothing too serious. It rained in the morning, so it was dry but still moist. We didn’t get devoured by mosquitos and the sun was out by the end of the chaji. My only complaint was that it was ridiculously hot in the tea room in my polyester kimono and it was sometimes difficult to concentrate when you are that hot and the sweat is just pouring off you. I really enjoyed it and I hope there will be many more opportunities to go to chaji while I’m here in Kyoto! I was the tsume, or last guest, and I was glad to have that part so I could stand and stretch my legs occasionally.

The day before chaji, cleaning the garden in my samue

The day before chaji, cleaning the garden in my samue

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