Sweet Persimmon Blog Archive – 2010

Dec 29, 2010

Hatsugama

December is also called the month of teachers running.  There are the year end preparations for Joyagama, the last tea gathering of the year as well as time to plan one of the biggest tea celebrations of the year, Hatsugama or New Year’s tea gathering.

When I lived in Kyoto, I could not afford to return home for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, so I was invited to participate with the Urasenke Sen Family in Joyagama on New Year’s eve.   It was a small gathering with just the family, and a few friends. We all fit into the Mushikiken tea room and Hounsai Daisosho himself served us hot water and made tea for us.  It was intimate and very special.

We will have Hatsugama this year on Sunday, January 9.  It is the year of the rabbit, and the chokudai, or poetic theme is “leaves”.

I wish all of you a Happy New Year, and thank you for reading.

Dec 15, 2010

The season for Udon

Cold and rainy weather make it an ideal time for udon noodles.  When I lived in Kyoto, ankake udon was one of my favorite winter time dishes.  Ankake udon soup is thickened with starch and grated ginger adds a zing and warmth.  I love the big fat noodles and you can add your own garnishes to suit your own taste.

We recently had a meeting to re-start our Japanese tea garden project at Ryokusuido.  Part of the meeting was making and eating udon.

Below is a recipe for ankake udon from one of my former students, Ikuko.  Thank you for teaching us.


Ankake Udon (recipe for 2 people)
Make dashi soup stock. You can do this one of three ways:

  1. From scratch:  for each 2 1/2 cups of water use a piece of dried konbu (kelp seaweed) 2″ x 1″. Wipe konbu with a clean damp cloth and place in pot of cold water. Bring to boil.  Just before water boils, remove and discard konbu.  Add 1/2 cup of katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) and remove from heat.  Strain any foam that forms on the surface.  Let bonito flakes settle to the bottom.  Let steep for a few minutes then strain through several layers of cheesecloth.
  2. Use dashi powder (hon-dashi or dashi-no-moto) following package directions.  Try to find one without MSG.
  3. Use a combination of konbu and dashi powder.

Make Udon soup:
For every 2 1/2 cups of dashi stock add:
2T sake
2T mirin
2T shoyu (soy sauce)
1/2 t salt
Adjust the combination above to your own taste.

Then mix a paste of
2 1/2 T of katakuriko (potato starch) or cornstarch
4T of water
Stir slowly and gently into the heated stock. The soup will begin to thicken, allow to simmer gently for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Cook udon noodles in boiling salted water until done (approx. 8-10 minutes). Drain.

To serve, put Udon noodles in a bowl, add soup and garnish with 1/2 to 1 t. of fresh grated ginger, 2T of finely sliced green onions, and shichimi (blended hot peppers) to taste. Sliced shiitake mushrooms cooked in dashi, and/or fried tofu squares may be added.  Other vegetables (also cooked in dashi) can be added for additional garnish.

Enjoy!

Nov 18, 2010

Issoan Tea Robiraki 2010
Scroll:  Kan za matsu kaze o kiku “Sit and listen to the wind in the pines”

Chatsubo:  Iga with net bag

Flower container:  single cut bamboo with seasonal flowers

Kama: Uba guchi, kashiwa oak leaf ro kama by
Keitan Takahashi, National Treasure

Ro:  Oki ro made of  kuwa, mulberry wood

Tana: Kokodana: two shelf black lacquer with red edges

Mizusahshi:  Hitoeguchi with persimmon glaze

Mizutsugi:  Yakan with lidded spout

Chaire:  Spring bulb, made in Kyoto by Scott Mortensen
shifuku: ginran kobotan higashiyama gire

Chashaku:  Kan, by Genko Blackman

Omochawan: Black raku by Kugyo

Futaoki:  Bronze ikkanjin

Chamei – Koicha: Zuisen no shiro, Hounsai Daisosho konomi; Usucha: JoRaku from Nishuraen

Sweets:  Zenzai with mochi

Natsume:  Tofuku natsume, Gengensai konomi by Shuho Kumagai

Chawan:  Tora no kaze by Wako, Minako sensei’s pink Hagi

Higashi:  Hato pigeon and mushroom

Tenshin meal served on chisoku style trays

Oct 30, 2010

November preparations

The rain has started here in the Pacific Northwest and preparations are underway for Robiraki, one of the big tea events of the year.   We will be changing from the summer furo season to the winter hearth of the ro season.

Usually it is around the first of November when we open the ro, but Rikyu said to open the ro when the yuzu turns yellow.  Yuzu is on of my favorite fruits, not for the fruit, but for the flavor and fragrance of the skin.   These smallish citrus ripen about this time of year and the skin is used to flavor sweets and garnish meals.  Unfortunately, we cannot get these fruits here.  I have a young yuzu tree, but it will be many years before it bears fruit.

For tea people, Robiraki is the new year of tea.  Up until the opening of the chatsubo, we have been using last year’s tea.  So the tea that was harvested in May has been aging in the chatsubo and will be taken out, ground and used for the first time in November.  The ceremony for this is called Kuchikiri and it often times will be done in conjunction with the opening of the ro at Robiraki.

This opening of the ro and opening of the chatsubo also can be a spiritual opening, so quite often the scroll in the tokonoma will the the character “kan”  ? for barrier or gate.  What ever difficulties you are having, what is stopping you from having what you want is a barrier.  But this kanji character also means gate.  It is the way through a barrier to the other side.

Oct 24, 2010

Issoan Tea Room closed for renovations

My construction manager assures me that I will like it when it is finished.  Whenever there are renovations, we just have to live in the mess for awhile, but in the end it will all be worth it.  Just trust the process.

I am rather excited about these renovations and I hope to post some other photos as the work goes on.

Meanwhile, classes still being held at Ryokusuido Tea Room.

Trust the process

We have been doing several chanoyu presentations lately.  When students make tea in front of an audience, I am usually talking and explaining what is going on in the presentation.  Unlike in class, where I am sitting right there, correcting, encouraging and reminding students about the procedures, they are  on their own to do the temae.   Students call this making tea without a net

It is scary to be out there without sensei to remind you what to do next if you forget.  Sometimes you make very stupid mistakes, and strange things happen in temae.  I never criticize students when they are presenting tea.  Instead, I ask them what did they learn.

Some students can do the temae perfectly in class, but in presentation or chakai, they forget everything completely.  They have an out of body experience.  Sometimes this is due to stage fright, performance anxiety or nervousness.   Sometimes it is doing it for people they don’t know  — or even just for people that they do know.

This is where your training comes in.  Trust that you and your body know what to do.  And if you make a mistake, you will know how to recover.

One student asked me after the last presentation, “How do you trust?”   That is a hard thing to answer.  You cannot tell someone to JUST “trust the process”  when they have no idea how to do it.  After thinking a while about this,  I expect everyone will have different answers to this question.

For me, trust is a leap of faith.  Like mountain climbing, you have to let go of where you are and make a leap to some other place.  This is scary and risky. We want and need assurances that we will be okay when we land, we need to know we won’t lose what we have when we let go.  We need to have control so we can feel safe.

So how do you make that leap of faith that is  trust?  You have to focus on what is on the other side.  How much do you want the outcome that you will risk letting go of where you are?  There has to be some greater value to take the risk otherwise why do it?  The secret is maintaining deep belief that your initiative will be rewarded.

When I went to study tea in Japan for a year, I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t speak the language, and I didn’t know if I could endure the discipline of it.  I had to give up a business, a relationship and a home.  But I certainly wanted to go to Japan to study the heart of tea.  I wanted it so much that I trusted that I would be okay and that whatever the outcome, the experience of living tea in Japan would be worth it.

Are you ready to trust?

Oct 15, 2010

Tea Shop Grand Opening

My good friends Chuck and Heather have opened their tea shop in Portland, Oregon.   They have been in business for a number of years as wholesale tea merchants but now  have opened a retail tea shop at 724 NE 22nd Ave. Portland, OR.

There is a “tea island” full of samples where you can see and smell the different kind of teas they offer and a wonderful tea bar where they’ll cheerfully brew up any number of teas you care to taste.  All the teas they sell are loose leaf or cakes and they’ll give you advice on the best way to brew, store and sample the wonderful, wide world of teas.

In the shop part of the store they sell all kinds of tea pots, storage canisters, brewing devices, empty teabags tea bowls and more.  Stop by and sample their selection of fine loose leaf tea: white, green, black, oolong, flavored, pu-erh.

For those of you not in Portland, they have an online website:  The Jasmine Pearl and tell your favorite retailer that they need to stock tea from The Jasmine Pearl.

Oct 13, 2010

Issoan Tea room closed for renovations

I want to acknowledge and thank Janelle for her donation to Issoan Tea School.   A box arrived the other day that contained 3 kimono (summer, hitoe and awase), 4 obi (3 summer and one fukuro), 3 juban, 2 hada juban sets, 4 obi jime and obi age sets, plus himo, obi ita, obi makura and 8 pair of tabi.   It is a complete kimono wardrobe for tea for the entire year.   Thank you so much Janelle.  It will be put to good use by the students and we will think of you everytime we see them worn.

In other news, Issoan Tea Room is closed for the month of October for renovations.   When they are complete, I’ll post some photos.

Oct 10, 2010

That lingering feeling

It is that time of year again, when the days are getting shorter and you feel the chill in the morning. I just heard the first flock of geese honking and flying overhead yesterday.   For some people it is a rather sad time of year because summer has ended, but for some people, it is the best time of year.  Crisp fall days, abundant harvest, and the coming winter to look forward to are all part of the changing season.

In chanoyu, October is a transitional month from furo to ro season.  It is when the tea leaf jar from last year is getting down to the bottom and all that are left are broken leaves.  The furo moves closer to the guests to the center of the tatami mat in anticipation of the ro season.  There is a nostalgic lingering feeling of farewell.that the a Japanese call nagori.

October is also called the most wabi month and it is the time we see the cracked and broken utensils that have been lovingly repaired.  Images of frost, wind, colored leaves, chestnuts, autumn grasses, wild mushrooms and mountain paths are good seasonal themes to use for gomei and chakai.

And one of my favorite little tidbits about this season is the Japanese folk tale kimamori or the guardian persimmon.  That is, one last fruit is left on the tree as a talisman to ensure that the harvest for next year is abundant.

Sep 29, 2010

Moonviewing at the Portland Japanese Garden

Hello Blog fans,

I apologize for not blogging these last few months.  The summer got busy and I just got out of the habit of sitting down and adding to this blog.

Last week we had a beautiful moonviewing at the Portland Japanese Garden.   It was a beautiful yellow moon, and it was the equinox, and Jupiter was visible along with the moon.

I and my students made tea by candle light and answered questions about Chado.

I do promise to post more often.  In the meantime, here’s a review of some other articles on the blog:

One year ago  The microcosm of the tea room, Thoughts on gomei, Shin gyo so

Two years ago It’s not about the numbers , Excuses, excusesFrom the left hand

Three years ago The nature of chanoyu, Sensei Says…, Temae

Aug 17, 2010

I am back

I apologize for not posting the last couple of weeks.  It has been a crazy summer.  The intensive is complete, the craft show was a success, and now my son is a married man. What a beautiful wedding and fun reception.

In the meantime, here are a few events coming up this weekend:

Chanoyu Presentation at the Portland Japanese Garden
1 pm and 2 pm at Kashintei, the tea house
FREE with Garden admission

3rd Annual
C.H.A .  Art Show & Sale
Sat. & Sun., August 21 and 22, Noon to 6pm

This Show represents a collection of artisans who study Chado ~The Way of Tea
~a way of beauty
~a way of life.

Together, with a few Guest Artists, we offer our work in the spirit of peace & hospitality.
Ellen Ankenbrock ~ Richard Brandt
Patrick Gracewood ~Rebecca Owens
Duchess Patrick ~jan Waldmann ~ Margie Yap

Address: 8855 SW 36th Ave., Portland, Oregon, 97215
http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&tab=wl
(The street view is old. The peach trees in the lawn are in Barstow for an extended vacation.)

***Look for the Giant Japanese Banner***

Directions: I-5 South, Exit Multnomah Blvd. Turn Left (South ) on 35th Ave.
Continue straight, do not fork to left.
This becomes SW Spring Garden Ct. which winds to the right and ends at Dolph Ct.
Turn left on Dolph Ct.
Turn right, almost immediately, onto 36th Ave.
8855 will be on your right. Park on street.

(Checks and Cash Only. Thx!)

Aug 3, 2010

A life with tea

An interesting article by Dr. Andrew Weil about the health benefits of green tea.  In part two he talks about drinking matcha in the morning.  I also drink matcha in the morning much like Dr. Weil.  I don’t go through the whole ceremony, but I do warm the bowl, scoop tea and whisk it to a froth.  I always sit down to drink my matcha rather than stand in the kitchen and drink it.

When I was in Midorikai, I asked my sempai if I could make him a bowl of tea in the mizuya after class one day.  I was very casual about it and didn’t do a good job whisking it.  He told me that every time I make a bowl of tea, I should whisk it as if I was making tea for the grand tea master: that I should put as much care and thought about making the tea as if I were in the tea room.  Every bowl of tea, he said, was the real tea.

So make yourself a bowl of matcha and take the time to make a real bowl of tea.

Jul 29, 2010

Tea house in Seattle

July 28, 2010
Recycled bottles pop up again, and this time they’re a teahouse
By LYNN PORTER
Journal Staff Reporter

Architect Christopher Ezzell will spend next week in Occidental Park in a teahouse he fashioned from recycled plastic bottles.

The structure, created with the help of the Seattle branch of the Urasenke Foundation and others, will be made of 800 two-liter plastic bottles. Half of the bottles were previously used for a temporary art installation titled “waste not” in Pioneer Square’s Nord Alley.

The cut-up bottles will be tied together with fishing line to make walls. The walls will hang off an aluminum hoop structure supported by aluminum poles, almost like a shower curtain.

“But hopefully it’s going to look nicer than a shower curtain,” Ezzell said. The roof will be of Mylar previously used as a sail. Despite the effort at sustainability, some of the materials won’t be green. “We couldn’t be 100 percent LEED-certified,” quipped Ezzell, who heads a Vashon Island design firm called e workshop.

The project is equal parts architecture and performance installation. The idea is to build a three-dimensional structure where visitors can experience the intimate tea ceremony in which host and guest celebrate together.

“The experiment here is ‘can we have this experience in a busy urban setting and enjoy the values of (it)?’” said Ezzell, who is a student of tea at Urasenke. Inside the teahouse will be a platform made of reused cedar and cardboard, a flower arrangement and poem card that speaks to being in the moment. Ezzell and foundation members will demonstrate the tea ceremony Aug. 2 through Aug. 7, although the structure will be up through Aug. 8.

The teahouse is part of artSparks 2010, a program of King County’s 4Culture and the city. The installations and performances — from street theater to temporary sculpture to music — will run through October in Occidental Park. The series began June 3 with “Build Here” by Room for Assembly, an artist collective that experiments with architecture.

Ezzell, who has a bachelor’s in architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design, practiced architecture in New York City for 15 years before moving to Seattle. In 2004 he founded e workshop. The firm’s work includes residential projects, Long Provincial restaurant and sidewalk cafe in downtown Seattle, the butter London shop at Sea-Tac, and the plaza and pedestal for the Alki Statue of Liberty in collaboration with Cast Architecture.

Copyright 2010 Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce

Jul 28, 2010

Charcoal heat vs. Electric Heat

There are pros and cons about using an electric burner while making tea. It’s nice not having to worry about flying embers setting the tea room on fire, spilt water extinguishing your coals or carbon monoxide poisoning. It may be faster to adjust the temperature of the water with a twist of a nob. But in my humble opinion – in the age of the electric burner – tea practitioners are losing something unique to the experience of chado.

I say this because yesterday during class I made tea using live charcoal for the first time. I had no idea how different it was! The sound and behavior of the water in the kama is completely different. You have to be more attuned to the singing, like the particular pitch of the kama when the fire is dying down. This signals the guests that the chaji is almost completed. It’s too bad it can be difficult to obtain and use charcoal outside of Japan. I think it really adds something to the overall aesthetic of the way of tea.

What differences have you observed in regards to charcoal heat vs. electric heat?

Jul 24, 2010

Donation received

I would like to take the time to publicly acknowledge a donation to the blog I received last month.

Thank you Robert for your kind donation to help keep this blog going.

If you would like to make your own donation, please use the Paypal button in the left column.  It will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you all for reading,

Margie

Edited:  I’d like to acknowledge and thank Katie for her generous donation to the blog as well.  It is so good to know that people are reading and appreciate what I post.  Thank you.

Margie

Jul 23, 2010

Summer gomei

Summer is hot, so choosing gomei for your chashaku at class should make the guests feel cool.

Here are a few suggestions:

shimizu– pure flowing water
koke shimizu – moss by the stream
natsugasumi – summer mist
kunpu – fragrant breeze
shigure -sudden shower
himuro – ice store room
suzu kaze – cool breeze
sei ryu – pure flow
haku un – white clouds
taki -waterfall
sei fu- pure breeze
ko un -floating clouds
niji -rainbow
ukiha – floating lotus leaves
yugao – moon flower or white gourd flower
hotaru – firefly
tombo – dtragonfly
kawa semi – kingfisher
semi shigure – cicada whose call sounds like falling rain

Please add your suggestions in the comments.  I’ll be returning from Hawaii and live blog posts on the 24th.

Issoan summer intensive starts Monday July 26.  Contact me for details.

Jul 20, 2010

Zen cha ichimi

Zen and tea are one taste.  This is the philosphy that though Zen and the Way of Tea are different activities, the mental attitude and approach that constitute their basic nature are the same.  In the Zencharoku (Zen Tea Record) published in 1715, is says,

“The spirit of Tea is, namely, the spirit of Zen.  Accordingly, the spirit of Tea does not exist without the spirit of Zen.  One will not understand the taste of Tea without understanding the taste of Zen.”

In tea lessons it is sometimes hard to grasp the aspects of Zen in Chado.  Gradually one learns things about breathing, for example, that are Zen reflected in Tea.  By studying Chado, students are studying Zen, though not in a formal way.   Learning to read scrolls and contemplating the meaning, sitting quietly waiting for sensei, and cleaning are other ways of absorbing Zen.

What other aspects of Chado do you see that reflect Zen?

Jul 17, 2010

Caring for your kama

Kama hitotsu areba chanoyu wa naru mono o kazu no dogu omotsu wa orokana.
Having one kettle you can make tea; it is foolish to possess many utensils.  ~ from Rikyu’s hundred poems

If you have only one kettle or kama, you had better take good care of it.  Ordinarily you would fill the kama with cold water and put it over a charcoal fire to heat.  For class we fill it with hot water to save time. Never touch the outside of the kama with your bare hands.  The oils in your hands will leave permanent hand and finger prints on the cast iron.

First rinse the kettle with cold water. Then fill the kettle 1/3rd with cold water.  Don’t pour boiling water directly into the kama.  Pour the water into a hishaku placed inside the mouth of the kama so that the water overflows and fills the kama.  Ladle out hot water and rinse the outside of the kama until the kettle is one cup below the top of the mouth.  Take one more scoop of hot water and put the lid on the kama and rinse the lid with the last scoop.

Lift the kama with the kan (rings) and set it on a towel to blot the bottom of the kama.  You can now place it on the gotoku (trivet) in the tea room.  The kan always travel together.  Hold them properly side to side with the openings to the bottom.  Put them in the lugs of the kama by holding them in front of you and taking one in each hand.  Put the tail of each kan in the lugs and twist the left one towards you, the right away from you.  Turn them only a quarter turn so that the openings will not come out of the lugs.  Then rest the rings against the kama and pick them up from the top.

A kama full of hot water is heavy and dangerous so be careful carrying it so no hot water spills out of it.  Carry it closer to your body to keep control of it.  It is best to sit down first before attempting to put the kama down. Once the kama is situated and level on the gotoku take the kan out of the lugs by twisting them the opposite way you put them in. Open the lid slightly to let the steam out. Put the rings together to carry them back to the mizuya.

To empty the kama after class, put the kan into the lugs and lift the kama off the fire.  Then stand and carry it to the mizuya.  Place the kama on it’s wood stand in the sink. Take off the lid and dry the underside.  Ladle out hot water to rinse all around the outside.  Reserve a scoop or two of hot water and then take two towels and turn the kama upside down, emptying all the hot water out.  Use the hot water to rinse the bottom of the kama.  If you have a kama brush use it to lightly brush the bottom in a circle and rinse one more time.  Turn the kama over again (use towels) and gently blot the bottom inside.  Be careful not to touch the sides as they are very hot.  Put the kan in and pick up the empty kama, rest it on a towel to blot the bottom and return the kama to the gotoku to dry over the heat.  Make sure that there is no more steam coming from the kama (if my glasses don’t get fogged, it is dry) then turn off the heat and let the kama cool before putting it away.

If you care for your kama, it will last you a lifetime, and you will only need one.

Jul 14, 2010

Filling the natsume

One of the most important tasks to prepare for tea is to fill the natsume with the powdered tea.   Depending on the shape of the container, the tea inside will have different shapes.  When you are using a Rikyu style natsume the tea will be scooped into the container with the chashaku.   A soft mound of tea like a hill is formed with the top of the hill coming approximately to the top of the open container and the bottom of the hill coming to the bottom of the line where the lid fits on.   I have been taught various ways of doing this, and you will have to choose the one that works for you.

One way is to turn the natsume in your left hand as you scoop tea with the right, turning the natsume to get an even symmetrical hill.  You can scoop the tea in without turning the natsume (my preferred method).  With a full scoop of tea, gently lay it in the natsume and let it fall sideways off the tea scoop so that it stays soft and fluffy.

When you have a hira or flat natsume the hill of tea is shallower (see picture)  and if you have a nakatsugi (middle cut) you make a sharp cone with the tea.

Some people then take a tissue or other tool and break up the clumps of tea on top, so that it is smooth.  I don’t like to do this, I just scoop the tea in and if I have done it right, there won’t be clumps of tea on top. If you have dropped tea around the outside or on the lip that holds the lid, carefully wipe it off with a tissue.  Try not to wipe the tissue inside the natsume.

It takes practice to fill the natsume correctly and beautifully.   Remember, when you put the natsume out for haiken, the guests will be looking at how well you mounded the tea and how carefully you scooped tea and left the hill intact.

Jul 13, 2010

Waste Not, Want Not

I read an interesting article in The Oregonian today regarding food waste. Here is some fascinating information from that article:

A new study from the National Institute of Health says that a whopping 40% of what farmers grow ends up in the garbage. That number has increased, too: in 1974, just 30% ended up as food waste. The food we throw out consumes 4% of US oil and more than 25% of our fresh water. It produces methane when it rots in our landfills. The marketing of this excess food helps drive the obesity epidemic. Are we producing too much food? The wrong kind of food? Or do we deliver it to the wrong places? Or is it all three?

The article struck a chord in me. We live in a society of excess that I think we, as tea people, struggle with all the time. Using this as an example, we fight waste in our own homes every day. We overfill our plates and scrape leftovers down the garbage disposal or food spoils in our refrigerators. We, as a society, throw away food at the farm, in retail outlets and in our homes. It wastes money and hurts the environment. The four “Rs” (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Repair) need to not only be applied to our paper, aluminum and glass but rather ALL of the materials we use in our households.

I challenge you to reduce the amount of food you are throwing away. Cook less, buy only what you and your family will eat or save leftovers for later. Use “normal waste” twice by turning it into yummy soup stock. Feed safe food to your pets or compost waste at home. In the study of tea, we are encouraged to not live life to excess. I encourage you to bring that mind-set into your kitchens.

Jul 11, 2010

Iced matcha

The summer months of July and August are the most challenging for tea people.  Asa chaji held in the early morning to beat the heat for this time of year is considerate of guests.  Images of water, waterfalls, rivers, streams and water dripping on moss project coolness.  A larger room with reeds instead of shoji to let in any cool breeze can be used.  Sunlight in the tea room is to be avoided, so a darker room will seem cooler. White flowers, unfinished wood utensils and images of water birds also add to the illusion of coolness.

I have also made iced matcha tea in the tea room at this time of year. When bringing in kensui, also bring in a chawan of ice cubes with a porcelain spoon.  Put the bowl of ice near the wall with your left hand. Make tea as usual but use a little less water.  Before putting out the teabowl for the guest, take the bowl of ice in your left hand and with your right hand scoop one or two ice cubes and gently float them in the matcha.  The hot water will melt the ice, and the tea will be cooled without disturbing the foam on the top.

I’ll be in Hawaii for the next two weeks, family business and then I’ll be attending the Midorikai reunion and the Hawaii Chado Seminar.  In the meantime, Karla will be posting and I have a few things that will  show up from time to time. When I get back I’ll have a lot to blog about.

Contest Winners

Thank you to all who entered the contest.  We have two winners.   Sharku won the red raku bowl, and Karla won the book “Tea Here Now”   Please email your mailing address to my email in my profile and I’ll send to you right away.

Jul 8, 2010

Chado in the real world

I love to enter the tea room, view the scroll and flowers and smell the incense.   The tea room is a safe place where the rules of etiquette ensure that everyone knows what is coming and how to conduct themselves. We are among people who share the ideals of wa, kei, sei and jaku.  This is the world of tea.

And yet, there is this duality.   My life in tea, or my life when not doing tea.  Which is the real world?  Sometimes it feels like the tea room is more real than the rest of my life where I worry about finances, conflicts at work, my family, shopping and many other things.In the tea room, I am only concerned with making good tea, concern for my guests and doing my best.

For many years, I had to drive across town after work to attend tea class.   Right in the middle of the most awful traffic is when I’d be on the freeway driving to sensei’s house. Sometimes it took me more than two hours to get there and I dreaded making the trip.  By the time I got to class I was late, frustrated and distracted.  One night I noticed on my way home that every time I went to tea class, I was very happy driving home.  Most of the time, traffic was very light, but sometimes it was just as bad as when I went to class. It didn’t matter, I was very happy driving home.

Sensei says “Wa, kei, sei, jaku are easy in the tea room.”  That is what she was training me in.  The hard part was taking wa, kei, sei, jaku with you when you left.  When we begin to take the way of tea seriously, something changes in our lives. We want to share the experience we have in the tea room with others.  I noticed in my own life how I began to clean up after myself, even though I had been rather a slob growing up.  I started to empty my house of things, talked softer and lost my temper less.   My husband said that tea had ceased to be a hobby with me and became a lifestyle.

The Urasenke Creed begins:

We are sincerely learning the essence of Chado and practice to put it into our daily lives. We continually reflect upon ourselves to attain this end.  In accepting a bowl of tea, we shall be grateful for the kindness of others and always mindful of mutual consideration.  We shall communicate the virtues of Chado through our own example:

  1. We shall consider others first.
  2. We are a family and Iemoto is our parent.  All who enter his gate to learn Chado are brothers.  As we are one in spirit, we shall respect all we meet.
  3. As we advance along the Way of Tea, we shall always keep the spirit of the the beginner.
  4. With a sincere and generous heart, we shall work together to cultivate ourselves to illuminate the world in which we live.

Jul 1, 2010

Prizes, prizes, prizes

This post will be the 300th post on the SweetPersimmon blog.  Thank you all for reading, following and commenting.   I love to hear from readers and I know there are many out there lurking.  So in honor of this milestone, I am running a contest — With prizes!

Third prize is a CD of spoken word haiku “The Haiku Year,” by yours truly.  A recording of haiku written over the course of a year, one every single day.  Yes, I’ll include a written copy too.

Second prize is a copy of the book “Tea Here Now” by Donna Fellman and Lhasha Tizer.  Donna studied tea with me in Seattle and  is the director of Tea Education Alliance and owner of Bodhidarma Tea Company in Louisville, Colorado.
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First prize is a red raku teabowl.  This bowl was made by Tad Kamiya, an American potter.  There is a kiln crack in the rim, but it was repaired with gold and is a lovely.pinkish color.  Measurements are 120mm wide by 85mm tall.(that is 4 3/4″ wide by 3 1/2″ tall for us Americans). See photos below.

And now the criteria for the contest.   It’s easy. It’s all about mistakes.We all make them.  We are all embarrassed by them. It’s not about perfection.  Minako sensei said, “If you are going to make a mistake, make it beautifully.”   In the comments section of this post tell me about the worst tea mistake you ever made.  The juicicer the better.  So entertain us.  Tell us how you made the most beautiful of mistakes. Making them in public gets you extra points.  Prizes will be awarded by me as sole judge.

The contest will remain open until July 10.  Winners will be announced on the blog.  If you are chosen, please contact me with your shipping information.  I do ship internationally.

So I will start off with one of my favorite mistakes:   I was at a chakai in Kyoto, one with hundreds of guests.  It was at Yasaka shrine in the Gion in a large room, about 100 tatami mats.  It was one of the first chakai I attended in Japan.  There were about 100 little old tea ladies all lined up around the perimeter of the room, and I spoke not a word of Japanese.  We were pretty far away from where they were making tea, but they started serving the sweets from the kitchen. It was one of my favorites– melt in your mouth senbei with a very pretty design on it.  After I passed the sweets tray I picked up my kaishi and the sweet dropped off of it and rolled onto the tatami.  And rolled, and rolled and rolled.  It kept rolling until it reached nearly the middle of the huge room and then it made a circle and took forever to settle down.  There was total silence as everyone watched the path of the runaway sweet.  Of course everyone was craning their necks to see whose sweet was that in the middle of the room.  I also was looking this way and that pretending that it was not my sweet.  Luckily one of the ladies serving tea from the mizuya stopped and picked it up on her way back to the kitchen.

Jun 30, 2010

Hotarubi no chakai

One of the most memorable chakai that I attended when I lived in Kyoto was the Hotarubi no chakai at Shimogamo shrine. The tea gathering that is held in June amidst the glow of live fireflies at Kyoto’s Shimogamo Shrine (also known as Kamomiya Shrine). “Hotaru” means “firefly”; “bi” means “fire “or “glow”. One of its aims is the preservation of Tadasu no Mori, “The Forest of Justice,” which surrounds Shimogamo Shrine. About 600 fireflies are released over a stream called Mitarashigawa as invitees to the tea ceremony enjoy their tea.

Shimogamo is one of the oldest shrines in Japan, and is located just to the north of the confluence of the Kamo and Takase Rivers in north-central Kyoto. The history of this shrine dates back to prehistoric periods. The earliest reference to the shrine is a repair of the fence in 2 BC, suggesting that the shrine had existed even before that time. Since then, the shrine has played a central role in the religious lives of the people of Kyoto, and has served as a guardian of Japan and Kyoto. The importance of the shrine was especially significant in the Heian period, since prayers for the success of the capital were held there. This shrine has often been described in literature, including an appearance in the Tale of Genji. Today, Shimgamo Shrine has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The shrine contains 53 buildings that are all recognized as Important Cultural Properties.

Hotarubi no chakai is usually held in the beginning of June. The connection between the shrine and tea began in the Kansho period (1441-1446) and tea ceremonies with fireflies were common until the Meiji period (1868 – 1912). In later days, however, those events ceased as the shrine was nationalized, and the fireflies became extinct in the surrounding forest because of pollution in the 1940s. But people recently started to clean up the area and release firefly larvae. Consequently, the number of fireflies began to increase in the forest, and so the tea ceremony was revived in 1991, after about 100 years of absence.

The fireflies are released over the Mitarashigawa. A cage holding fireflies was placed on a small pier at around 8pm (the big cage and some other smaller ones were on display in other places on the shrine grounds until the awaited time). We attended the festivities starting at about 5 pm. Then we went to the chakai and after we had tea and sweets, it was dark and they released the fireflies. As they flew out of the boxes, it looked almost like fireworks, yet they still glowed afterwards in the bushes and grasses around the river.

Jun 28, 2010

The Five Senses and Tea

All five senses are stimulated in the tea room. Please add descriptions in the comment section of how your senses come alive in the tea room during your own practice. Here are some of the ways tea comes alive for me:

Sense #1: Sight

  • Watching the host prepare tea
  • Admiring the appearance of the tea room
  • Reading the scroll and admiring the flowers

Sense #2: Hearing

  • The whistling kettle making the sound of the wind in the pines
  • The cascading water falling into the bowl
  • The rustle of the host’s kimono as he / she prepares the tea

Sense #3: Taste

  • The pleasure of eating and tasting the sweet
  • Enjoying that first sip of the tea
  • Eating the kaiseki meal

Sense #4: Smell

  • The aroma of the tea as I lift the bowl to drink
  • The smell of the incense, if using

Sense #5: Touch

  • The feel of the tea bowl in my hands while drinking
  • The feel of the dogu during haiken
  • The difference between hot and cold: the steam from the warm water and the refreshing touch of the wet cloth as you purify the chawan

Jun 24, 2010

From the archives

I have been blogging Chado for more than three years.  There are more than 280 posts on the blog. I thought it might be fun to review some of the posts in the archive:

One year ago:  Mizuya work,   Ichigo ichie revisited

Two years ago: Leaving no trace,  Who is the best teacherThe art of tea 
Three years ago: The haiku recordings

We will be coming up on 300 posts sometime in the next week.  I plan to offer another contest with prizes for this milestone.  Please stay tuned.

Jun 23, 2010

Your relationship with your fukusa part 3

I’ve had a request in the comments about how to tame your fukusa. So here is part 3 on your fukusa.

Historical Note: The size of the fukusa was decided by So-on, the wife of Rikyu. Until that time, a small cloth like the kobukusa was used. The story goes that when Rikyu traveled to the battlefield at Odawara his medicine was in a natsume wrapped in a larger cloth by So-on and he felt that this size might be better for tea and he began to use it from that time.

Taming the fukusa is letting the fukusa know what its job is.  When it is brand new, it still thinks that it is a doubled piece of cloth. When you first get a fukusa it is folded in fourths and often comes in a box and/or cellophane envelope.  This is how you want to store your fukusa after class, not folded in eighths or jammed into your fukusa basami.  Clean your fukusa of tea powder before you put it away.  You need to have a good relationship with your fukusa, so treat it gently.

To tame your fukusa you need to fold it and put it in your obi properly, take it out of your obi and fold it to purify the natsume, fold it to purify the chashaku, fold it to put it back in your obi and fold it to put in your kaichu (front of kimono) enough times that it won’t spring open on you at inappropriate moments. Please ask your teacher to show you how to do this properly.  For experienced students, it is always good to review this periodically during warigeiko to correct your form and to review the proper way to do it.  At workshops for advanced students and teachers, this is one of the things everybody is required to review no matter how advanced.

I have some students who have trained their fukusa improperly and get confused when folding it because the fukusa is telling them to fold in a certain way that is not right.  In that case, you have to re-fold it enough times properly until it (you) understand(s) the correct way to do it.

How many times?  That depends on your fukusa and your relationship. For me, it is at least 30 times and I try to do it in front of a mirror so I can see my form as I am doing it. I was at an intensive workshop once and the visiting sensei told me that I had too much of a results oriented relationship with my fukusa.  In other words, I was concentrating too hard on getting to the end of the folding procedures and not taking enough time for each step of folding it.  My assignment from that workshop was to enjoy the feel of the silk, be present for each step in folding my fukusa and not let my mind and heart skip to the end result of purifying the utensil.

Inner and outer aspects of the fukusa

I wrote earlier about the care and feeding of your fukusa,  and as part two, I’d like to talk more about your fukusa.

During the preparation of tea, the fukusa is folded in various ways to purify utensils in front of the guests.  I know of about 20 different ways to fold it.  What you are doing is exposing different surfaces of the cloth to purify the different utensils.  There  are three categories of folds:  shin (formal) gyo (semi-formal) and so (informal).

In the formal tea ceremony, koicha, one of the first movements is the formal inspection of the fukusa (yoho sabaki) before purifying the chaire.  It is the clockwise movement used to examine the four sides of the fukusa.  As with all parts of the temae there is additional meanings to the movements.

Inner aspects of the fukusa:  Unlike usucha, koicha requires four meditative breathing pauses when folding the fukusa.  This emphasizes the formality of koicha and the host and guest begin to breathe in unison.  This is not to be hurried through.  With each part of this movement there is a pause — a breath and then movement, pause — breath, movement until all four sides have been completed.  The traditional meaning behind this action is the inner reflections that strengthen our character and is a directive for our lives.  With daily examination of these inner aspects it will bring growth.

When the fukusa is open and in position centered over our left knee the first reflection is
Thoughtfulness “zin”  Note here there is a pause but no breath
Then Righteousness “gi”
Thankfulness “rei”
Wisdom “chi”
Truth “shin”

Outer aspects of the fukusa: With the influx of modern life into the world of Chado, scholars have attempted to broaden the philosophy and understanding of Chado.  Now reflections that are taught for this movement not only involve the inner aspects mentioned above, but also intertwine with more tangible ideas:

The first reflection is:
Heaven (above)  note there is a pause but no breath
Parents (East)
Teachers (South)
Family (West)
Tea community (North)

The final movement is returning the fukusa to the center and forming a triangle with the thought of Earth (below).  These concepts may be easier for the modern mind to accept because they are ideas we live with daily.  These interpretations deal with the sharing aspect of tea rather than emphasis on inner progression.  It is the blending of these two aspects the inner understanding and outward sharing that koicha is prepared and received.

Jun 22, 2010

Care and feeding of your fukusa

The fukusa is a silk cloth used for purification in chanoyu.  The fukusa is a symbol of the host.  Typically men’s fukusa is a deep purple and women’s are red or orange, though you will occasionally see colors other than these.  For example, those who have studied in Kyoto at Urasenke Midorikai have been given persmission to use the green fukusa for both men and women. It is recommended that for okeiko that the number 7 weight should be used so that it is not too bulky for folding properly nor too flimsy to hold its shape.

If you examine the fukusa closely, it is about 30 cm on each side.  You will see that it is not perfectly square — this is by design. It will have seams on 3 sides and a fold on the fourth side.  Use this folded side to orient your fukusa.

One of the first things we learn as tea students is how to fold the fukusa to put in the obi, and to put it away and the basic folding of the fukusa to purify the utensils.  When you have a new fukusa, it must be taught what to do.  This is sometimes referred to as taming the fukusa.  A  new fukusa seems to have mind of its own, but it doesn’t have any stains, and it has a good energy, and a wonderful feel of the new silk.

As the symbol of the host, it is essential that the you treat your fukusa with respect.  This symbolizes self-respect.  Always sit down to fold your fukusa.   After your temae,  in the mizuya, sit down, fold your fukusa properly and put away before you come back into the tea room to thank the sensei for your lesson.  Sensei can tell if you just throw down your fukusa without folding it. If you have trained your fukusa, it will tell you when you are folding it properly when you put it away.  The folds will lie flat and not spring open.

When purifying the chashaku, you will get tea on the fukusa.  During the temae, don’t worry about getting tea on it.   It is more important at the time to make sure the chashaku does not have tea clinging to it when you put it out for your guests.   Later in the mizuya you can dust off the tea more thoroughly than when you held it over the kensui.   My sempai said that you could use one of those “magic brush”  lint brushes to remove tea from your fukusa.  As long as the tea does not get damp or wet, most of it should come off.

I always get a new fukusa for Hatsugama to start out the new year clean and fresh.  Before a big event I will also get a new fukusa.  What do you do with old fukusa?  I use them for okeiko, or you can use them to display utensils.   If they are very stained or unusable, I sometimes use them to wrap up utensils for storage in their boxes.

Jun 21, 2010

Wagashi For Foodies

As part of my tea study, we delve into the realm of Japanese sweets making, or learning how to make wagashi. As a self-defined foodie, I am fascinated with wagashi. The taste, appearance, subtle flavor and poetic name all combine to provide the taster with a unique and truly one-of-a-kind experience. One of the most enchanting ways to enjoy wagashi is with a bowl of tea. The sweet, eaten before your tea, cleanses your pallet and then brings out the flavor of the tea. No need to add sugar to your tea now!

Making your own wagashi is a challenge if you are currently not studying with a teacher. A teacher shows you the correct method you will need to make authentic Japanese sweets – it’s not something you can learn from a book. I have made only a handful of wagashi: steamed & bean-filled sweets, sesame flat cookies and lima bean wet sweets. When making your own, it’s important to weigh everything out in grams –There is no such thing as “eye-balling it” when creating wagashi. By taking the time to weigh each ingredient, you are ensuring consistency between each sweet. Since the main ingredients are very static with a recipe, what vary are the appearance, texture and flavor. Every sweet is hand-formed and therefore each sweet is unique. A true artisan will take the same 5 – 10 ingredients and create something that is a mini, delicious work of art. Part of what is so lovely about creating your own wagashi is deciding what they should look like. Use food coloring, sweets molds, spices, sake, fruit and (most importantly) seasonal inspirations to make phenomenal wagashi.

It seems that anyone who is interested in wagashi has a difficult time finding new sweets recipes available in English. Even if you find a recipe, you may not be able to make it since many of the ingredients and materials are difficult to find outside of Japan. It doesn’t seem like there are any sweets recipe specialty books available in English. (Please, prove me wrong!) One thing you can do is eat many sweets and take note of what is being created in Japan. Ask questions about the sweets. Save your favorite images in a recipe book so when you do have that one coveted recipe (hey, there are a few available on this blog) you can make dozens of unique tasting and beautifully-shaped sweets. Bon Appétit!

Recipe Resources
Midorikai Sweets Recipes – This website is staffed and funded by Midorikai Alumni volunteers, so please consider a donation of any amount for its continuance and development if you decide to use this resource.
About.com – I haven’t tested any of these recipes, but feel free to browse. There might be a jem here. Word of the wise: Don’t experiment with a recipe the day you plan to serve it to guests.
Flickr – If you immediately want to start looking at images of wagashi, check out the great albums available for free on Flickr. Search for the keyword “wagashi” to get started.

Jun 16, 2010

How I Came to Tea

I am very pleased to have been asked to be a guest contributor on this blog. Let’s start at the very beginning, because as Julie Andrews said in “The Sound of Music,” it’s a very good place to start.

I came to the world of the Japanese Tea Ceremony through my affection for loose leaf teas. I was living in the Seattle-area at the time and was looking to purchase some open-top tea bags from Teavana at the Bellevue mall. In the store, they were promoting matcha and green teas and I noticed a display with a unique looking wooden whisk. They had an iron kettle, a can of matcha and a book with the title “Japanese Tea Ceremony.” I took the book down to flip through it and admire the pretty pictures. I didn’t really understand what I was looking at but I thought to myself: “Wow that looks cool!”

A few years passed and I didn’t give studying tea much thought. I had moved to Portland and was visiting the serene Portland Japanese Garden for the first time. By fate, I happened to be there during a Tea Ceremony Demonstration. In that particular demonstration, the presenter requested a few guests to join her for a bowl of tea in the tea house. I was lucky enough to be selected.

I sat cross-legged and awkward in the tea room for the first time, and I knew I was in a special place. I’m not a particularly religious person (I consider myself to be a spiritual person) and that day I was surprised that being in a tea room gave me a spiritual experience. It made me feel small and insignificant. I know that’s a hackneyed expression, but it was a deep pulling in my gut that I couldn’t ignore. It was the same feeling I get when I look up into a starry, cloudless sky. I was feeling this spiritual tug and I just tried to pay attention to my host, listen to the presenter’s speech and soak up this rich and special opportunity I was given.

When it came time to have my first drink of tea, I was surprised by how GOOD it was! The foam just slid right down and the sweet – it brought out all the unique flavors of the tea. I knew tea could be good but MAN. This was like nothing I had ever tasted before. I knew right then I wanted to see what this Chanoyu was all about. And that, my friends, is what brought me to this cultural treasure.

Jun 15, 2010

Guest Contributor to the SweetPersimmon Blog

I am very excited to introduce to you a new contributor to the SweetPersimmon Blog.  Her name is Karla and she has been studying Chado for nearly a year and a half.   She tweets under the name ChadoEnthusiast and I have included her twitter account in the left hand column of the blog.  Please click on over there, join the list of her fans. and welcome Karla.

Noh Drama Seattle

WING LUKE ASIAN MUSEUM TATEUCHI STORY THEATER
PERFORMING ARTS SERIES PRESENTS NOH DRAMA GROUP
CHUUDEN YUUGAKUKAI OF NAGOYA, JAPAN.

Witness the cultural legacy of traditional Noh Drama, and experience the
Japanese aesthetic of “yuugen:” profundity, subtlety, and mystery.

In a first-time visit to Seattle, Chuuden Yuugakukai of Nagoya, Japan will give a special demonstration of the centuries-old Japanese traditional art form of Noh Drama at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience on Saturday, June 19th.

Based in Nagoya, this group has been perfrming regionally in central Japan’s Aichi and Gifu Prefectures for 30 years. Chuuden Yuugakukai is part of the Kanze School of Noh drama, which has a lineage dating back to the 14th Century. With patronage from the Ashikaga clan of samurai warlords; the school flourished under the founder, Kan’ami, and his son, Zeami, to become one of the largest and most prestigious schools of Noh. It continues today to be known for its emphasis on graceful movements and beautiful costumes.

In this first-time appearance in Seattle, 10 members of the group will perform vignettes from classic Noh theater; including Chikubushima, Semimaru, Hagoromo, and Funa Benkei. Traditional flute and hand drums will accompany the singing. A special bonus will be a mask carving demonstration, and the display of a collection of hand-carved wooden masks used by actors in the NohTheater.

This will also be a FREE ADMISSION DAY at the Museum. See the excellent standing exhibit of Asian Pacific American History, current special exhibits “Cultural Transcendence” and “A Refugee’s Journey of Hope and Survival,” as well as the wonderful architecture and ambience of this Seattle jewel.

DATE: Saturday, June 19, 2010.
TIME: Mask Carving Demonstration begins around 11:00am.
Noh Performance begins at 1:00pm, performance length approximately 1 hour.
LOCATION: Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience
719 S. King Street, Seattle, WA 98104.
ADMISSION: FREE!

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact the Wing Luke Museum at 206-623-5124, www.wingluke.org, or Tatsuo Tomeoka; Charaku Fine Japanese Tea / WaSabiDou Antiques & Folk Crafts 206-660-4189, info@charaku-tea.com

Jun 11, 2010

The Way of Tea

Today, I found an article online that was of great interest to me.

The Way of Tea: A Symbolic Analysis
Dorinne Kondo
Harvard University

However, when I accessed the abstract I couldn’t understand it.  I admit, I am not from an academic background, but I re-read the abstract several times.  I still cannot make heads or tails of the meaning of the words.  I am rather disappointed that I cannot understand what it says.  It reminds me that I cannot read the Japanese articles about the Way of Tea and now apparently, I cannot read English either.

“The Japanese tea ceremony can be understood as a precisely structured sequence in which formal features are constitutive of meaning. Though culturally constructed meaning must inform any understanding of the rite, this alone cannot account for the tea ceremony’s symbolic power. This internal reading focuses on key formal features: sequencing; the role of multiple media; and patterning or redundancy. Analysis reveals that sequencing is symbolised through: 1) a constant contrast between the ritual and the mundane; 2) the use of boundaries to mark these differences; 3) the sensible qualities of objects and substances used in the ceremony, and their transposition into various sensory media; 4) the occurrence of homologous structures and sequences. The interaction of the sensory media effects a homology of code, constituting one source of redundancy. Together with the repetition of sequences, this redundancy intensifies meaning and acts as contrastive background for minute but significant changes that may occur. Through its orchestration of sequence and pattern, the tea ceremony articulates feeling and thought and creates a distilled form of experience.”

Jun 7, 2010

SweetPersimmon Specials

And now a word from our sponsors:

One of the ways that I can afford to keep up this blog and other websites is www.sweetpersimmon.com.
If you can support the work, please go to the website. I’d appreciate it if you’d purchase something.

For readers of the blog and website, I have a couple specials on handbags that you can use to get a 30% discount on selected items.  Thanks for your support and I’ll get back to posting soon.

Please use this discount code: CAD51671B9-1FB64E0FAB at
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Jun 2, 2010

Guest Etiquette for Chanoyu, the Japanese Tea Ceremony

Guest Etiquette for Chanoyu, the Japanese Tea Ceremony

Have you ever attended a Japanese Tea Ceremony? If you know the proper things to do you won’t be nervous and you can enjoy it.  The guest in this ceremony has an important role to play to create each unique experience.

Learn the proper etiquette for a guest, what to bring to a tea ceremony, how to thank the host and interact with other guests.  Students will participate in two tea ceremonies, enjoy a Japanese tea sweet and drink ceremonial matcha tea.

Tuesdays, June 15 and 22, 7:00-8:30 pm, Issoan Tea Room, 17761 NW Marylhurst Ct.,  Portland, OR
Or
Wednesdays June 16 and 23, 7:00-8:30 pm Ryokusuido Tea Room, 3826 NE Glisan St., Portland, OR
Fee $25 for two weeks
Limited enrollment, please register early
call 503-645-7058 or email margie@issoantea.com

Patience, patience

I had a student ask me the other day, “Everyone is making mistakes and you correct everyone over and over again.  How can you be so patient?”  What is patience?  I mean, I was taking time and paying attention, is that what patience is?

How many times  have we told ourselves, “I need to be more patient”  Lots and lots of things require patience every day. With our jobs, our activities, our kids activities, friends, family, and daily living chores like laundry and grocery shopping, everything competes for our time and attention.  Some days it seems like we have barely time enough to breathe. Yet patience takes time, and in our lives we have precious little of that commodity.

In spite of all of our busy lives, we live a life of convenience.  My parents had only one car and my dad drove to work.  My mom took the bus to work. My grandparents had no car. Necessity makes one patient.  When you have little, it just takes more time to do things and so you must plan accordingly.  The expectation that things will happen in a certain time frame makes you impatient.

With convenience comes the expectation that things will be easy.  When they are not, it makes you impatient.  When things don’t go as you planned, it makes you impatient.  When people don’t do as you want, it makes you impatient. When you are not as fast or as good as you thought you were, it makes you impatient. When you are not doing the things we want to do, it makes you impatient.

Clearly, there is a tide of things that contribute to our impatience, but not so much that pulls us to be more patient.  Patience is a virtue and we have to work very hard at it.  In the tea room is a place to put aside some of the expectations.  If we expect nothing, there is nothing to pull us to impatience.

Last week, I was listening to my granddaughter tell me about her day.  She was going on and on telling me every little detail —  “First I opened my eyes, then I got up and went downstairs in my jammies.  I decided to have cereal for breakfast so I got a bowl and then the Honey Nut cheerios, and a spoon.  I opened the refrigerator and got out the milk. Then I opened the milk….”  It went on and one like this for about 20 minutes.  But you know, I wasn’t impatient.  I listened to her with love.  When I have loving thoughts about that little girl, I have all the patience I need.

May 30, 2010

Sitting seiza for tea

One of the most difficult things about studying tea is sitting seiza.   As I am getting older, it is getting more difficult for me to sit for long periods of time.  I do tell my students that like any other physical activity (and sitting seiza is a physical activity) you must get in shape.

Sensei once told my husband when he first began to study tea, to sit in the bathtub at home.   He did, but it was so painful for him that he thought that sensei recommended it because it was almost a relief to sit on tatami after sitting on the cold porcelain!  What she forgot to tell him was to fill the bath with hot water so that it would relax the muscles and tendons and help buoy up his weight.

Seriously, sitting seiza does not come naturally to us.  I tell my students that they need to get into shape.  Sitting once a week will only get you so far.  It helps to sit a little bit every day and work up to longer and longer periods of sitting.  I have my laptop computer on the coffee table and sit seiza while working on computer for as long as I can before I rest, or I sit seiza while watching TV to keep in shape.  Breathing, and keeping your mind focused on your temae will also help.

Sometimes, sitting on the meditation seat helps, especially with the ankles. New students usually need a sitting aid such as this stool. One thing to be very sure of is if your feet and ankles are numb, please be very careful and not get up until you get the feeling back into your feet.  We have time, and a good first guest will be able to tell a story, or discuss some aspect of the tea room, or utensils to help distract the other guests while the host recovers feeling in his legs. You can purchase one of these seats from SweetPersimmon.com.  It comes in its own little carry bag that gives you a little extra padding, too.

Another thing that I have discovered that helps is acupuncture.  In fact, if you are in Portland, I recommend Working Class Acupuncture, because they charge a sliding scale $15-35 per visit.  Very affordable.  It is community acupuncture. They treat you in lounge chairs in one big room. You can stay for as long as you like.  You can find other community acupuncture clinics all over the U.S.

Besides the pain of sitting seiza, acupuncture will help with a lot of other things, too.

May 29, 2010

Imperfect beauty

Trying to understand the wabi aesthetic of the tea ceremony is very difficult because it is difficult to quantify.  One of the principles of wabi is “fukanzen no bi”  or imperfect beauty.

Most people thnnk that there is a universal kind of beauty, but each person has a different sense of beauty — depending on our culture, education, country and upbringing.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  For example, the line from the ocean to Mt. Fuji is beautiful, but a cloud obscuring part of the line is more interesting and beautiful to some people.

The usual concept of beauty is close to perfect. Bronzes and celedon ceramics from China were of perfectly symmetrical beauty where each side matched.  The tea masters in Japan thought that it was boring.  They looked to Korean rice bowls — asymmetrical, earth toned, rough textured and thought them beautiful.   These bowls, with their imperfections were more human. That led Rikyu to create raku.   Raku bowls, because they are not turned on the wheel, are made to fit in the hand and it doesn’t conduct heat well so the hot tea in it will not burn your hand. Raku means enjoyment, ease, pleasure or happiness.

Oribe and shino ware are very popular with tea students and potters.  But these are not my personal favorites because there is so much bad oribe and shino copies out there.  Oribe knew just how far to push the boundaries, while copies of his work often go beyond.  Students think that just because it is distorted, or rough it must be wabi and therefore beautiful. Purposeful distortions of the form, sloppy craftsmanship, or just plain ugly pieces abound.  Wabi is not slobby.

Tea students must be able to differentiate between forgiving imperfection, and celebrating imperfection. Celebrating imperfection leads to weird stuff for its own sake rather than looking at the individual strength of the piece and forgiving its imperfections because of its strengths.

May 28, 2010

Tea and Music

I had an excellent comment from a reader of the blog regarding the similarities of Chado and music.  It was brought more into focus for me this week when I had Gregg from Seattle visit Issoan Tea room.   Gregg is the chajin who gave the April Fool’s chakai.  Gregg’s partner is an accomplished  viola gamba musician and we had a long and interesting discussion comparing chado and music.

It started with the scroll, “ichigo ichie” that was hanging in the tea room as I made tea for them.  He said like chanoyu, every time you play a piece of music, it is different and that no two performances are exactly alike.  He also commented that sometimes while playing everything comes together in a natural flow without conscious effort, but to get there takes years of practice and playing with other people.

I was wondering if the analogy held up between tea and music.  Much of it does. The constant practice, the training, preparation, timing and working together with others, the striving to follow procedure, and allowance for creative expression within a rigid structure.

What about you?  Do you think the analogy between tea and music holds up?  In what ways?

May 27, 2010

Kuwa Ko-joku for Boy’s day

The kuwa ko-joku (literally small mulberry wood stand) inspired Senso, the Urasenke 4th Generation tea master to build this tana from a traditional stand to hold arrows.  The top and middle shelves had many holes to hold the arrows.

In this tana, the top shelf edges were beveled into the yahazu or arrow notch shape.  Senso gae this kuwa ko-joku to his brother Koshin, the 4th generation Omotesenke master and it became widely used by Omotesenke followers.   It wasn’t until Gengensai (11th generation Urasenke) used it that Urasenke followers began to use it.

Because of its association with archery, this tana is especially appropriate for Boys’ Day (Tango no sekku, fifth day of the fifth month).  You can see the kabuto or helmet futaoki is displayed on the middle shelf with the mizusashi.  Because of the tall, narrow shape of this tana, a tsutsu (cylinder) shape mizusashi is preferable.  The space below is for a kensui, but it must be wide and flat as you can see, to fit on the bottom shelf.  Unusually, the hishaku or water ladle, is balanced upside down between the front and back posts rather than on the top shelf.  Because this is a four legged tana, the mizusashi must be pulled all the way out to refill it at the end of the temae.

May 26, 2010

Just put the flowers in

Chabana is often difficult and for me, it is rather intimidating because there really are not a lot of rules, guidelines and procedures.  You just have to do it and look at the results, over and and over again. How the flowers are arranged tells a lot about the host.  By his choice of flowers, vase and arrangement, we see into his heart.

Often, we have few choices for flowers in the winter, but now, there is an abundance of flowers to choose. You only need a few.  Sometimes you get lucky and the arrangement comes together.  For example, I was quite pleased with the arrangement this month for the Portland Japanese Garden tea demonstration.

I went out in the early morning in my neighborhood to look for flowers for the chakai.   One of my neighbors has a very large azalea plant and I asked if I could clip a few.  After gaining permission, I saw this cascade of a branch and brought it into the tea room to arrange.

I don’t know if you can see in this photo, but the blossoms have a slightly pink tinge to the edges of the petals.  The branch cascaded down below the level of the opening and the stem was rather short and the bamboo vase was perfect for it.  I carefully put it in the vase to look at it.  Not a single thing was done after that.  No fussing, no rearranging, no clipping. The flowers and leaves were still wet from the morning rain, and the arrangement, though a little wild, had a rather innocent look to it.

The lesson here for me is to start arranging chabana before you even cut the flowers.  Look and look for the flowers, and imagine what kind of vase they will sit in.  Choose the flowers first and then choose the vase.

May 11, 2010

Chado Presentations

There are two Chado presentations this week in Portland:

Friday May 14th, 12:30-1:30  Rock Creek PCC as part of the their Art Beat Week, I will be presenting Tea. The first 15 people to come will receive a sweet and a bowl of tea.  Free and open to the public.

Saturday, May 15th, The Portland Japanese Garden will sponsor a public tea demonstration at 1 and 2 pm at the Kashintei tea house.  This is a demonstration only.   Free with Garden admission.

May 9, 2010

Tea utensils that will last 400 years

There are many examples of tea utensils from the 16th century and earlier because they were so well taken care of.  Tea utensils were made to be used rather than put away in the closet, never to see the light of day.  So get out your tea utensils (dogu) and use them, but take care of them as if you want them to last 400 years.

I remember my sensei teaching me how to care for the iron kettle after class, how to wash and dry teabowls, and care for lacquer with gloves.  There is a certain way to tie the boxes that dogu come in so that you can stack them. Paying attention to detail with thoughtfulness and carefulness shows respect for the dogu, but also for yourself. The attention to detail in taking care of your dogu shows more about your character and state of mind than how perfect your temae is.

Taking care of your dogu doesn’t just apply to tea utensils, it is how you treat everything in your life. Like the famous baseball player Ichiro:

The man whose first name has come to symbolize greatness in hitting might also be the most meticulous player when it comes to caring for the tools of his trade. He rubs the soles of his feet every day with a rounded wooden stick. He cleans his own spikes and glove after games. And he prefers to carry his own bats, which are cut from Japanese ash wood called aodamo and custom made from specs chosen by Ichiro on a tour of the Mizuno factory in Japan in 1992. “I’ve never seen anybody that I’ve played with take care of their equipment with just carefulness, thoughtfulness. Most guys throw their gloves around. Not him,” he said. “He told me that when he cleans his glove up after the game, that means he’s already thought about the game that day and while he’s wiping it off he is wiping off the game that day.”

Want more detailed information on how to care for your tea utensils?  Here’s a post written by Gary-sensei.

May 5, 2010

Okeiko guidelines

As we change to the furo season it is always good to be reminded of okeiko guidelines.  Yes, I do remember going over these when I first started tea class, but  here they are again:

For every class:

  • Remove shoes and put on white socks. Put your shoes away neatly in the shoe cupboard or line them up under the shoe bench.
  • Store your bags and other things in the place provided.
  • Use tsukubai or wash hands first. Bring your own handkerchief to wipe your hands.
  • Always bring your fukusabasami with fukusa, fan, and kaishi.
  • When entering the tea room, enter on your knees unless carrying something.
  • Always look at the scroll and the flower arrangement when entering the tea room for the first time.
  • Sit quietly until the sensei enters the room.
  • All classes start and end with aisatsu

During class time:

  • Always clean up after yourself. Wash your bowl, chakin, whisk, and put away. Help with clean up after class and to do the mizuya work, unless the mizuya cho dismisses you.
  • The mizuya cho is in charge of the mizuya. You will follow instructions without argument. If there is a dispute, call a meeting with the cho after class.
  • Watch senior students and learn from them; from temae to tea room behavior to clean up chores. If you don’t know how to do something, ASK.
  • Never pass any tea utensils hand to hand. Put it down in front of the other person and let them pick it up.
  • Don’t take notes in the tea room. Wait until after you leave the room to write anything down. Train your mind to remember.
  • Wait until an appropriate time to ask questions. Distracting the teacher takes away from fellow students teaching and you would want the sensei’s attention on you for your lesson.
  • No teaching commentary from the side. There is only one teacher in the room. Respect the sensei to teach what is necessary.
  • Sitting seiza can be painful. Ask for a cushion, or stool. Changing position is helpful, but don’t make a production of it. Don’t get up and walk if your feet are numb.
  • Try not to call too much attention to yourself in the tea room. The sensei notices everything.
  • Working together is necessary for tea to work. Cooperation is valued.
  • Read, research, look things up on your own. There is the library and books and the internet. You are in charge of your learning and it is not up to the teacher to make sure you progress.
  • Everyone is your teacher. You can learn something from everybody.

Training in chado is hard and we must study and train diligently.  It is also a good reminder for me.

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