Passing on the spirit of tea

I am again writing with a heavy heart, in that long time head of the Urasenke Tankokai Portland Association, Wako Henjyoji Sensei has passed away. Condolences to her daughter Florence Harada and all the family members at this difficult time.

Henjyoji Sensei was a teacher of not only Chado, but also a Sensei of Ikebana, and a supporter of Shodo and all Japanese culture in Portland. We thank her for the privileges we enjoy in doing tea at Kashintei, the tea house at the Portland Japanese Garden. We also thank her generosity in allowing us to use the Henjyoji Temple as a venue for larger events such as Hatsu chakai and Rikyuki. And we thank her for all her contributions to the tea community in Portland and keeping the principles of wa, kei, sei, and jaku alive and flourishing.

Henjyoji Sensei’s legacy is written in her students who are now leaders of the Tankokai and members of Kashinteikai. I hope that when my time comes that my students will become the next generation of teachers and make me as proud of them as I am sure Henjyoji Sensei is of her students.

It is such a loss to the tea community in Portland and I know that this is not the last entry I will be writing, but to honor her memory I will strive to do my best to pass on the spirit of Chado to a new generation of students.

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Host and guest as one

It was a very busy month for me in January.  I hosted an informal chakai, a hango chaji, helped at a student chakai, and was part of the group hosting the Hatsu chakai for the larger Tankokai group.  I also attended a student chaji, had 3 presentations of Chado and led a listening to incense workshop.

Host preparation

Through all the preparations for each event, I am thinking about the experience of the guest.  Preparation for a chakai is more than picking the toriawase (utensils used in the procedure).  I also think about how the guests will approach the tea space, the order of the guests, who knows more and who knows less about etiquitte, and the sensory perceptions the guests will have as they move through the event.  If the guests have difficulty sitting, have I provided for that?

I will often visualize myself as a guest and think about what they will perceive and pay attention to in the course of the chaji, chakai or presentation.  By putting myself in the guests’ place, it gives me empathy for what they may experience and as a host, pay attention to areas or times to be aware of the guests’ feelings and moods.

Of course, I cannot predict what will happen with the guests, especially when doing presentations as I do not know who will attend.  In that case, I remind myself to be present and pay attention to what is happening in the moment.  I think we often forget that Chanoyu is a human interaction and not a structural or technical endeavor.  Conversation flows naturally, I make mistakes in temae, things happen out of order.  Sometimes magical things happen that could never be planned for.


Sensei once told me that a chaji is an encounter where you set the stage for a meeting of host and guest to have a deep communication and understanding as human beings.  I once went to an early morning “silent” chakai where the host had requested no talking.  It was on a weekday, and the host served soup and noodles, a sweet and then tea.  Because there was no talking, guests had to pay much more attention to what was going on.  Body language, gestures and even just a look or eye contact became much more significant.  Everyone was participating and working together to make it a success.  By the end of it, I was nearly in tears. It was a very moving experience.  The chakai took about an hour and a half, and we were finished so everyone could leave in time for work.

Second Seki

Guests and hosts

When participating in a chaji, guests need to work hard to help the host.  Wanting to be entertained, being critical of the host, wandering attention or trying to control the flow, are things that kill the mood of the chaji.  In large events, sometimes you can even feel the energy of the guests as they try to help a nervous host calm down and do a good job.

Then there are those special moments where the host and guests become one.  Time seems to stand still.  Heart to heart communication is going on without even gestures or eye contact.  The whole world slips away and the universe is aligned for this very special moment. It cannot be planned for, or forced, but takes place naturally as both host and guest become completely open and merge. It doesn’t happen very often, but to experience the beauty and connection, not just with the people, but all of the universe is profound and has been life changing for me.

I want everyone to be able to experience this and that is one of the reasons I want to share Chado with as many people as I can.

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The attitude of gratitude

When we receive a bowl of tea, the etiquette is that we say “osaki ni” to the next guest, thank the host for making the tea, and lift the bowl in “kansha” or gratitude before we turn the bowl and drink the tea.    

This kansha is not just gratitude for host making tea.  It is also gratitude for the person who grew the tea, the person who picked the tea, the person who processed the tea, packaged the tea, and transported the tea.  It is also gratitude to the person who made the charcoal to boil the water to make tea, the person who harvested the wood to make the charcoal, and built the kiln, cut the charcoal, packaged it and shipped it.  It is also gratitude to the person who made the tea bowl, fired it, built the kiln and dug the clay.  It is also the person who made the tatami on which we are sitting, the person who harvested the grass, wove the mat, installed the tatami.  Gratitude also for the kettle maker, the architect who designed the tea house, and people who built it.  

In fact, kansha for everyone who made it possible for me to drink and enjoy this bowl of tea. The more I think about it, the more people I have to thank to make this moment possible. Even for something as simple as enjoying a bowl of tea, so many people contribute to it.   

Here is a book about One man’s journey to thank everyone for his morning cup of coffee. It is amazing how many people he found to thank on this journey and the lessons that he learned from it.

It is like pulling a thread in a cloth that leads to more threads.  And like the fabric, I see that people are interconnected and woven into my life at this moment.   The act of kansha and acknowleging the role people play in my life has made me a more empathetic and generous person.  We can simply acknowlege people by being present and thanking them sincerely.  The receptionist who checks you in, the bank teller, the waitress, or grocery clerk are all woven into your life, if only for a moment.

I don’t know how many times people have said it made their day when I have looked them in the eyes and (called them by name if possible)  sincerely said thank you.

So the next time we stop and think about our lives, Kansha, in gratitude for all the people who made this moment possible

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Doing the work

When I do tea presentations at different venues, I need to set up the tatami, shoji and tea room as well as set up the mizuya. It takes about an hour to pack every thing up and load the car, an hour to heat water, clean and set up at the venue, an hour to do the presentation, and about an hour to clean up, pack and load the car and about an hour to unload, unpack and re-wash all the dogu at home. That is about 6 hours of work not to mention the time it takes to get to the venue and get into kimono. I also teach at rented space where I have to do the same set up before class, and pack everything up after class. For a tea lesson, it takes just as much time for me to teach one student as it takes 3-4 students.

As I was setting up the other day, I had a student helping me. She said, “I had no idea it was so much work to get ready for class. How can you do all this work just to teach an hour and a half class?” For me, the work and the discipline to do the work is just part of tea. It is like weavers, you need to warp the loom (string the vertical threads on the loom) before you can start weaving the horizontal threads. You cannot weave without vertical threads, so warping the loom is an essential part of weaving.

Sensei says, “Eighty percent of tea is cleaning,”

Cleaning before, cleaning after and cleaning during tea, that is just part of the work. As we are setting up in the mizuya we are cleaning. As we are wiping the tatami, we are cleaning. In the acts of cleaning, we are preparing ourselves to make tea. When we are cleaning up the mizuya, wiping tatami afterwards these are acts of respect and gratitude.

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.”

Doing the work doesn’t just apply to tea. Doing the work can mean the emotional working things out in relationships. It can mean doing the work of keeping up with friendships. It can mean making the hard decsions, being on time, and doing your best.

In our life, doing the work of adulting, of cleaning up before and afterwards are acts of preparation, respect and gratitude.

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O-Tsukimi, the Moonviewing Festival

Last night was a beautiful evening for moonviewing.  At the Portland Japanese Garden we participated in the O-tsukimi festival with a celebration of Japanese culture.  The weather was cloudy during the day, but as the evening deepened, all the clouds dissapated to reveal the moon.  The celebration will continue tonight and tomorrow night. It is always a privilege to have a garden dedicated to Japanese culture.

Participants were served a meal of sushi and miso soup, and were entertained with koto music.

At the Kashintei, the tea house, tea by candlelight.

And the view of the city from the pavilion is the perfect place to view the moonrise.



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