Shaon chakai and graduation – Midorikai interlude

the beginning

Graduates and sensei

The final week of classes was spent relishing our remaining time together. Our last jitsugi was spent doing shaza, a teaching exercise that combines flower arranging, laying of the charcoal, incense appreciation, making koicha (thick tea) and making usucha (thin tea). It’s a really fun one, as everyone has a task that they are responsible for doing. We are still quite slow and constantly seem to stand up or walk with the wrong foot, but we are always learning a bit more each day. It’s a good reminder to keep the positive momentum going when we return to our home countries and won’t benefit from as large of practice rooms, groups of interested students, access to supplies and other challenges that arise when you are studying chado outside of Japan. I hope that we may all continue to grow in our study of Japanese culture in whatever form it takes. The nice thing about chado is that it includes a piece of many traditional Japanese art forms and so when you appreciate the tea ceremony you are really appreciating architecture, nature, literature, cuisine, handicrafts, art and much, much more.

Roses from our Kohai

I’ve come to love the Japanese language as well and I hope to continue to study more of it after I graduate. It’s full of such nuance that it doesn’t always translate well in to English and I am genuinely interested in so much of what is being said. Here though, it’s been sadly easy to let my independent language studies slide as I have found it too mentally difficult to throw my educational-attention in so many different directions at once. I’m just too exhausted. I’ve had to become content with just trying to improve my “tea room” Japanese and call that sufficient for now. I’ve become friends with a few of the Japanese students who speak a small bit of English and together in my broken Japanese and their slightly better broken English and sometimes with translation from a friend or two, we have a very pleasant time together. People have been kind, friendly and generous to me and I hope that I’ve been able to communicate those same feelings back. I’ve learned to read and write both hiragana and katakana, the two alphabets that are used to phonetically sound out different words, and so I have been able to read signs and menus adequately enough. Knowing what I’m reading or writing is more difficult 😛 I also know a handful of kanji, mostly related to the weather or the tea room in some way. It’s more than I knew a year ago so that’s something but I’ll need to work hard. Learning language(s) besides English is very important to me. I want to continue to work on my Swedish and Spanish too. Glad that all three languages are quite different from each other! Anyway, I digress.
Shaon Chakai
For our final week of class, we were asked to assist the third year students for their final Shaon chakai. This chakai is done annually as a way for the third-year students to thank their teachers and fellow students for their time at Urasenke. It’s supposed to show everything they have learned, and it’s the largest event they plan as a group during their time at school. We sempai were asked to serve tea to the guests, like we have often done before. It was pleasant and there were 10 seatings ranging in size from the Sen family up to 25 (or so) guests.

graduates together


The day of graduation arrived. I can’t believe that it has been one year since I stood up, like all the other new students, in my black suit and bowed to O’iemoto and Okusama when they read the roll call in front of the school to introduce the new students. This time we also had a ceremony that was short but nice. We received graduation certificates and the third-year students received their tea names, to show that they are sufficiently experienced to teach others the way of tea. We at Midorikai are far from this stage but we are all excited to teach others what we have learned in some small ways. We received presents from the school and roses from our kohai. We had a nice lunch and later in the evening we had a dinner followed by a karaoke party. I continue to be so grateful for this experience and am glad that our group made it, friendships intact.

Karla and Oiemoto

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Issoan undergoing renovations

After many of years of planning and we have finally begun phase 3 of Issoan renovations.  The first phase was just tatami mats on the floor in the spare bedroom.  Phase 2 we added the shoji window screens, fusuma closet door, cedar moldings, painted the room, and added the outside portal door.

We have been used to study in the 4 1/2 mat room with the okiro on top of the tatami.  This is what it looks like today. 

Phase 3 will be our most ambitious project yet.  We will raise the floor for the sunken ro (upstairs bedroom cannot cut a hole in the floor), and many other surprise things that I am not quite ready to reveal. Today, after 25 years of careful use, the tatami have been removed to be recovered with new green mats.

While the renovations will be going on, we will still be able to continue to study with the portable temae tables built by my husband. While we will not be able to work on the very important aspect of our footwork, students can sit a little longer and concentrate on the form of temae.  For those willing to sit seiza and work on footwork, classes will still be taught at The Jasmine Pearl Tea shop with tatami.  This is what the tea room looks like with temporary table style:

When the renovations have been completed, we will close until the new tea room is installed.  Stay tuned for updates.

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Chaji results – a Midorikai interlude

The day of the chaji arrived. The four sempai and Makela-sensei headed to Nashinoki temple, one of Rikyu’s most convenient famous water locations (and the same place where I got water for my chaji). Then we headed to Toin-seki and unpacked our groceries and remaining implements and started our preparations. We each had our tasks that we were assigned. I was assigned to rice (all of the servings) and the grilled course. The menu was as follows, with a brief description of what each course entails:

chaji first tray

Mukozuke, literally “far side of the tray” course that is served with the first ichimonji rice (slightly wet) and the first miso soup, bamboo shoots, udo (mountain asparagus) mixed with paste of miso, kinome (Japanese pepper) leaves and spinach. Miso Shiro, the “miso soup” course, was brocollini boiled in vegetarian dashi on the day with a dash of yellow mustard to taste. Nimonowan, the “simmered dish” course, was green pea tofu, Kyoto carrot flower, a daikon slice to mimic ice and yuzu pine needles. Yakimono, the “grilled thing” course, was grilled momen tofu with white miso paste with ground yuzu on top and red miso paste. Kosuimono, the “chopsticks wash” course, was a kombu water infusion with aromatic ginger slices and peach petals. The hassun items were pan-fried arrowroot cut like pine cones and sea grapes wrapped in seaweed. Konomono, the “pickled thing” course, was takuan (daikon), radish, and a green thing. During the meal, guests are served rice four times (ichimonji, hanki with rice piles, hanki with the entirety of rice, and okoge “burnt rice in water”). They also receive the miso soup twice. The koicha tea sweet was steamed manju. Phew, I’m exhausted just reading that!  All of the items were served on either lacquer or ceramic utensils. No glass is used this time of year, as it provides too cool of a feeling. We had to warm all the utensils prior to serving them to our guests.

Everyone worked hard and did well at their individual tasks and we had no major screw-ups. We did accidently forget to bring the cooking charcoal, so we grilled the tofu on a pan instead. Luckily, tofu is fragile anyway so it most likely benefited from this treatment, though the guests didn’t get that delicious smokey flavor that comes from real charcoal. We had no fish because it was an entirely vegetarian menu, and that is usually the item that used the charcoal. After we cooked, we cleaned for a bit and then took a break and ate the delicious (and generous) mizuya meimai that our kohai had packed for us. Lots of goodies and snacks that we enjoyed.  It was a long day for us, the chaji went long and we didn’t get home until 4:30 or so. But, we unpacked the dogu and let everything sit out to dry a bit better before repacking everything another day.

All and all, I would say that it was a success. Our kohai took the time to tell us how delicious they found the food and how much they enjoyed Marian’s atmosphere and dogu. The comments and suggestions we received from all three sensei were both expected and appreciated. We made mistakes and it would be nice to do a second chaji to be able to work out all the hiccups. Like Gary-sensei was saying in lecture, the more often you do something the easier it gets. Timing is especially important as you don’t want to make your guests wait for food from the kitchen or serve the food too early and have it get cold. I imagine that these are common restaurant concerns but for the three of us it was all brand new experiences.


I’m also including a few extra “non-chaji” related pictures. The first and last shodo assignments we had. We would do a “final” calligraphy and then put our name and date it. I would hope I don’t need to explain which one was from April 2016 and which one was from March 2017.


We also had a fun nabe party at the dorm that I thought people may be interested in seeing the ingredients that were included in the pot by the Japanese participants. The group picture is of my mizuya toban group for the second half of the year at our celebratory “we made it!” party. Also, a picture during our final jitsugi lesson with the four graduating sempai. From Left: Marian (Romania), me, Tetiana (Ukraine), Grzregorz (Poland).

As always, thanks for reading!
Love Karla

last jitsugi

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Chaji – a Midorikai interlude

The weather has become warmer (thank goodness!) and the plum blossoms are waning as we look forward to coming full circle and some of the early blooming cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom. I’ll be doing a lot of bike riding around the city when school is finished on my brown “Waffle” bike to go sight-seeing and check out some last minutes places and events. The official graduation is on March 17.

Chaji Preparations

All the students have been working hard, as usual, on various tasks, rehearsals and event preparations. Marian’s chaji will be this week and some of us have practiced cooking and making sweets. We need to serve many courses and to me it feels like the complexity of trying to draft a 12-course restaurant menu. I’ve been getting better at cutting with knives. I used to be very timid about it, but Tetiana has shown me new skills and I’ve been trying to practice. It helps when the knives are sharp. I will continue to work on this skill when I get back home. She is a very good cook and I enjoy watching how she figures stuff out. There is a lot of trial and repetition and refinement of the same recipe to get something that tastes (and looks) just so. Making food that also looks and smells attractive is something that is easily forgotten and it’s nice to be encouraged to make good looking and fine tasting delicacies.

Our first guest is vegetarian, so we are making vegetarian dashi along with veggie-everything-else. I can’t say anything more than that just yet. We all went to Toin-seki today for the cleaning and preparations. The three of us (Grzegorz, Tetiana and I) are in the kitchen, cooking the meal. Marian is the teishu so he will be serving our four kohai. There is nothing at this location, so we have to cart in all of the kitchen equipment, tea utensils, cleaning supplies, and more.

That’s all for now!

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A party for my kanreki, 60 years

Drinking tea at class before the party

Last Wednesday, I had a few of my regular students show up for class. This is not unusual as students can come as many times a month with their tuition. Sometimes they come  to make up for missed class or they want to come twice or three times a week.  About halfway through the class, a couple of other students showed up, then a few more, and then a couple of students showed up who are not actively studying, and then my good friend Barbara Walker showed up in kimono! Something was definitely going on.  I was most worried because I had not made enough sweets for all the students who showed up.

But it was a party to celebrate my kanreki, or 60th birthday. Which, by Japanese custom, is the beginning of one’s second childhood. If one measures life in a 60-year cycle — and if you use the Chinese zodiac calendar, you do — then age 60 marks a new beginning or birth: You can be a child once again.


I even got presents.  As you can see from the certificate above, a donation was made by the students and friends of Issoan Tea School to the Portland Japanese Garden.  Which will be having a grand opening of the new construction on April 1. As well as a card signed by all the students.

Signed card by all the students

I was served a delicious home made sweet and tea, and then everyone was served sweets and tea.

Homemade sweets candied kumquat stuffed with miso an

Tea and sweets served by Barbara sensei who has studied with me for more than 30 years

Mizuya help

Everyone gets tea and sweets.

And at the end, everyone pitched in and cleaned up the mizuya, took down the tea room and put everything away.  A special thank you to Stephanie Wilson for planning and organizing.  Thank you everyone who came to the party, who contributed to the gift and who were thinking of me for my kanreki.


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