The support that lifts me up

I would like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to my biggest supporter, my husband Mr. Sweetpersimmon, (AKA Craig) This is for all the unsung ways that he has allowed, supported and assisted me to pursue my passion of Chado.

I suppose he might be like other tea widowers who do the myriad of tasks to assist me to do what I do. From helping to load and unload the car before and after demonstrations to adjusting my obi before I go off to an event. He is always there to wash dishes, peel beans for sweets and drive me to and from events. He also stays at home to take care of things as I go jet off to yet another tea anniversary event or trip to Japan.

He has put the kettle on when I am late preparing for class, and helped me clean up afterwards. Three times a week he gives up our house and parks himself in the den with headphones on so as not to disturb my classes. On class evenings, he is considerate enough not to cook dinner with onions and garlic so the house doesn’t smell before and during class.

Beyond that, he never quibbles when I tell him I need a new utensil, nor how much it costs. He never complains about all those lonely weekends when I am involved with tea demonstrations, kagetsu classes, koshukai and tea events. He doesn’t even complain when I travel to tea events alone, even though he would like to travel with me to new cities and places because he knows that I won’t be sightseeing with him, but networking and drinking tea the whole time.

Recently, on our vacation to Canada, he asked me, don’t you have a tea friend in Ottawa? Would you like to spend a few days to visit with her? While he knew that probably he would end up reading as my friend and I would spend hours and hours talking and doing tea things.

This man understands my passion and is not jealous of how much time, effort and attention it takes to pursue it. Before we were married, he took two years of Chado study so he could understand what it was. He learned about the Chado aesthetic, so he could give me gifts that make me swoon (my very first chaire and a complete chabako set, to name a few).

Because he is a woodworker, he trained and applied himself to build things for me: A portable ryurei table set that folds up into two cardboard boxes and takes 10 minutes to set up and tear down, a unique tana with hidden compartments, a paulownia chabako that he had my calligraphy teacher write poems of the 4 seasons on it, and a furosaki byobu with unique “rain foot” decorations on it. He has also given up the linen closet and built extra shelves on both sides so I could cram more utensils into it.

He is also interested in the process, the preparation, and the practice of tea. He will remind me to write a thank you note after a chakai, or if it is time to buy more beans to make bean paste. He will do the laundry 2-3 times a week for mizuya towels and help me hang them to dry. He will take messages from students and teachers and check to make sure I have seen them. And he often asks me if I have written a blog for the site. “Your fans need to hear from you,” he says.

And in the most recent act of love and support, he spent more than 2 years, designing and building a beautiful tea room for me. It had such thoughtful features as easily accessible storage under the floor, mood lighting for the tea room and more storage in the cleverly designed closet. As one guest put it, “It is a love letter to Margie.

For everything you have done and do to support this passion that makes me whole, a heartfelt thank you.

Permanent link to this article: http://issoantea.com/the-support-that-lifts-me-up/

Friends traveling far

Sowing the moon tea house, Green Gulch Zen Center

I just completed the week long seminar, Zen and Tea at Green Gulch Zen Center in California. The setting is serene and beautiful.  Walking to Muir Beach is something that just feeds the soul.  Waking the sound of birds and sitting zazen in the morning felt cleansing and empowering.

Thank you to all the sensei, Christy Bartlett, Alexandre Avdulov, Meiya Wender and Jessica Rosenberg for their dedication to the way of tea, for their generous teaching and willingness to share what they learned with all of us who attended.  And to all the attendees of the seminar, thank you for your support and help. Even though your legs were hurting during class, you offered encouragement and support.

 

One of the activities of the week was a chashaku carving workshop. Meiya-sensei had collected some truly wonderful pieces of bamboo the last time she was in Japan.  She spent the time before we arrived to measure, cut and split the bamboo. And she worked to thin the pieces and bend the curve of the chashaku by heating it and shaping it. All we had to do was take the blank, whittle it down to size, shape it, and smooth the final piece.

Even though I have had some experience carving chashaku, every piece is different. It has different grain, splits differently, and a personality of its own.  Sometimes you have to just go with where the bamboo leads you rather than try to fight it with ideas of your own.

After the workshop, I had the privilege to be asked to collaborate on a special chashaku by Janet Ikeda.  I had had met her before, but I had not seen her in more than 10 years. She wanted a chashaku to use for the Parents Family Weekend chakai where she teaches at Washington and Lee University.

She began the project by carving the sides down to the final width at the workshop.  After the seminar, I took it home and did the final shaping, and smoothing the back with sandpaper.

Then we had to name it. We came up with

“Tomo ari” (Friends of a like mind)

This phrase comes from an opening passage of the Confucian Analects. The chashaku name comes from the second phrase. First he said, “studying and practicing what you learned, is this not a wonderful thing?” Second, “when friends who share the same mind travel a long distance to visit, is this not a joyful thing?” The last part of the master’s words, “Even when I remain undisturbed if people do not recognize or notice me, is this not a sign of virtue?”

有朋自遠方来 不亦楽乎

tomo arite enpoo kara kitaru

mata tanoshikarazuya

I like that we met at Green Gulch to practice and study tea together. It is also a chashaku to be used at the University where people practice and study. And it is also true that friends of like mind who travel a long distance to visit is apt since many people traveled a long way to Green Gulch and spent a lot of our free time visiting and catching up with each other. And the third part, remaining undisturbed if people do not recognize or notice me, is very much a virtue in tea.

The bamboo tsutsu (case) was given to me more than 10 years ago by my very good friend Taikyo Nakamura who passed on 3 years ago.  I was saving it for something special.  It is my attempt to calligraphy the name and the makers on it. Janet is going to use it for the chakai coming up in October for the Parents and Family weekend at Washington and Lee University and now she has a wonderful story that the students can tell at the chakai.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://issoantea.com/friends-traveling-far/

It is harder than it looks

I have posted some photos of the kintsugi projects that I have recently completed and it has gotten a lot of interest. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repair of ceramic objects with gold lacquer. Like anything Japanese, it looks easy, but really it is harder and takes longer than people expect. Unfortunately, you cannot learn kintsugi in an afternoon workshop, just as you cannot learn chado in one easy lesson. Or learn a language, play a musical instrument, or get in shape.

I have been attempting to practice this art for many years. Since I have no teacher, I am self-taught and am taking the long way. At first I was obsessed with it and collected as many photographs as I could get. I also went on YouTube to view all the videos I could, read some very academic papers and museum conservation treatises.

Then I purchased a kit online and tried it. It had a cheap epoxy based glue with a pearlized type of gold powder that you mixed with the glue and stuck the pieces together. The result was less than I wanted. The gold looked fake, and the epoxy was not food safe and left a large ridge where the pieces were stuck together.

Next I tried a synthetic lacquer kit with some gold colored metallic powder. The synthetic lacquer did not have to cure, only dry and could be handled within 24-48 hours. It looked better, but my technique was sloppy and still did not look very good. It was less toxic than traditional lacquer, but the metallic powder was not food safe.

 

I ordered a cashew lacquer from Japan, (very hard to find) that was supposed to be more authentic, but yipes, I am deathly allergic to cashews (I mean epipen and emergency here) so I could not use this material even though I used gloves and long sleeves and was very careful not get it on my skin.

I was able to convince someone from Japan to send me some authentic urushi lacquer that is traditionally used in kintsugi, and some 22kt gold powder. Boy that is expensive! (1 gram approx. $200).  Urushi has to cure in a warm, humid environment, so I built a humidity box. However, working with urushi is highly toxic. When fully cured, 22 karat gold urushi is food safe. I used instructions found on the internet and YouTube. So for more than 8 years, I have been practicing my technique. Even though I have sent photos to the craftsman,  I have never heard back from him.

My basic techniques are:
1. Fitting the broken pieces back together again. You have to look at each project to see how it fits together, what pieces are missing, where you have holes, and what order you are going to re-assemble the pieces.
2. Mixing a lacquer “glue,” usually with something like flour to make it sticky and hold together. It mustn’t be too thick or you get gaps between the pieces nor too thin or they won’t hold together.
3. Gluing the pieces together. Sometimes you can only do one side, let that cure and then assemble the other side. Sometimes you need to build forms to hold the piece while it is curing, sometimes you can use tape to temporarily hold it, sometimes rubber bands. Then it goes into the box to cure.
4. Filling gaps. Next you mix lacquer with something called tonoko. Basically it is powdered ceramic. This is what you use fill gaps and make make up for missing pieces. It then goes into the box to cure. Then you have to clean up the mixture where is has over filled or where you don’t want it, using a combination of sand paper and water. Be careful here or you may scratch the glaze. This process may take 2, 3 or more layers as you build up missing pieces or deep cracks. Each time it goes into the box to cure and then clean up.
5. Because the tonoko mixture is porous, I paint lacquer over the repairs I have made. Sometimes it takes 2, 3, or more layers to completely cover up the repair. Each time, it goes into the box to cure, and then clean up.
6. Finally when the seams are completely filled and lacquered over and cleaned up, you can paint over the repairs with lacquer and dust it with the powder. Then into box to cure. Then final washing away of the powder. Because the gold is so expensive, I try to be sparing in using it. When I wash the powder away, I try to save as much as I can.

So here is a project I have been working on for more than a year.  I received some tea cups from Japan, but they were not packed very well and they arrived broken. I used these cups to refine my techniques. This is how they arrived:

Intermediate stage where I was filling gaps left by pieces too small to glue, basically dust.

Finally gold added:

So yes, it is not a simple or easy process. You need a steady hand, patience to wait while it is curing, and be careful and meticulous about safety throughout. Get a good brush, it is painstaking detail work. Urushi is highly toxic. It causes rashes like poison ivy. I always use long sleeves, gloves, a respirator, work in a well ventilated area, and keep my workspace exceptionally clean. Still, I did get rashes and it seems like the more I do it, the more reaction I get. So I am not sure how long I can do it.

Finally, here is a piece done professionally.  Click on the photos to see the detail.  One day I hope I can get to this level.

Permanent link to this article: http://issoantea.com/it-is-harder-than-it-looks/

Heart to heart connection

Nichi nichi kore kojitsu

I have been little discouraged lately. After years of study, teaching, and writing about Chado, I feel like I am making little headway in sharing the way of tea. Teaching cultural concepts that seem to be at odds with modern American life sometimes is an uphill battle. Because American life has become so casual, semi-formal and formal occasions are almost foreign to people. Comfort and inward focus on what affects people personally seem to be more important than thinking about others or how actions and words affect other people.

That was how I was feeling the other day, but today is another day because something happened to me yesterday. I was invited to a spontaneous chaji by a Japanese friend of mine. It was to honor the new Emperor of Japan and the beginning of the new Reiwa era.

There was only me and one other guest. There was nothing fancy for the meal: simple miso and rice, a bit of fish, some vegetables and pickles. My host knows I like sake so served some from our local brewery. We then had sweets and tea and I could taste the love that went into them. The utensils were nothing special, but oh my gosh, I felt like a princess the way that she treated me.

The chaji was warm, intimate and caring. I think she could sense that I was a little downcast at the beginning, and she did her best to make me feel important, loved, and that I matter. At the end she thanked me for coming saying that she was sure that I could appreciate her chaji without judgment of the food or the utensils because of my tea heart.

It is special moments like this that make me commit all over again to the way of tea. True heart to heart connection and being truly seen straight through to my heart makes it all worthwhile. The way of tea has transformed my life and made me a better person. I am so grateful that I discovered this path.

So I am back and ready to share tea with as many people as I can. Thank you everyone who has encouraged and helped me with my journey.

Permanent link to this article: http://issoantea.com/heart-to-heart-connection/

Issoan Website Updated

In the past year or so I have neglected to update parts of the website, but today, I went back and updated all the broken links in the “Links” section, confirmed all the links in the “articles” section, and added several new recommended books (with links as to where to obtain them) in the “For Further Reading” section. Next I will be updating the seasonal notes. I hope to have everything updated on the site by the end of next week, so please take a look at www.issoantea.com and other parts of the site besides the blog.

Permanent link to this article: http://issoantea.com/issoan-website-updated/