Introduction to Chado Class now forming

Chado, The Japanese Tea Ceremony

Introduction to Chado class
Starts on Thursday, September 13, 2018, 7:00-8:30 pm. 10 weeks
The essence of Japanese culture is contained in Chado, the way of tea. Students in this class will learn the etiquette of how to be a guest at a tea ceremony, the basic order of the tea ceremony and how to whisk green powdered matcha ceremonial tea. Students will also participate in 6 Japanese tea ceremonies from informal to semi-formal tea gatherings.  An overview of Japanese arts and how the tea ceremony has influenced Japanese culture will be presented. Students will learn about tea ceramics, Japanese gardens, calligraphy, kimono dressing, and incense ceremony. They will also be introduced to zazen meditation and discuss how to put tea practice into every day life.

Places are limited. Reserve your spot with at $50 deposit. Use the button at right.
Fee: $250, includes all materials, tea and sweets for 10 weeks
Location: The Jasmine Pearl Darjeeling room, 724 NE 22nd Ave., Portland, OR 97232

For more information contact Marjorie Yap, Instructor
Phone: 503.645.7058
email: margie[at]issoantea[dot]com or use the contact form at the bottom of the About page here

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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 a fellow teacher from Seattle visit. The teacher’s partner is an accomplished musician and we had a long and interesting discussion comparing chado and music.

It started with the scroll, “ichigo ichie,” (one meeting in a lifetime) 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.

Before Sen Rikyu there was tea and before Bach there was music.
~Hisashi Yamada

When I think of art I often think of painting, sculpture, photography or something with a tangible result; something to hold onto or point to and say this is art. I don’t often think of the performing arts like dance, theater or music. I read an interview with some rock singer who said that he’d been performing a few of the same songs for 20 years and at every concert he gave, people always shouted out requests for the same songs. He said that nobody would think of asking Leonardo to paint the Mona Lisa over and over again for 20 years.

The art of tea is unlike the fine arts, somewhat like the performing arts, and yet different from them. There is no tangible result from the art of tea, and tea is not a performance with the artist doing and the audience watching or listening. The art of tea is participatory. All the senses are engaged and stimulated. Host and guests create the experience together, with harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. The host strives to serve the guests and the guests do their utmost to appreciate what the host has done.

Someone said to me that people fall in love with the idea of Rikyu’s tea, but when they begin tea training they are disappointed to have to follow the rules and do boring stuff like clean tatami, folding fukusa, purifying utensils, walking in and out of the tea room. This is where you start. They just want to make beautiful tea. It is like going to a concert to hear Yoyo Ma play cello, but when they want to learn the cello, they are disappointed to have to do boring things like learning bowing techniques, tuning your instrument and playing scales when they just want to play Bach’s sonata. But even Yoyo Ma had to begin somewhere

Musicians don’t play someone else’s part when they play together. You don’t see the trombone playing the oboe part, nor does the cello assist the conductor. In chanoyu it is the same. Guests don’t help the host clean up, nor does the host drink with the guests. Everyone has his own role to play to make the whole more harmonious. Musicians respect each other to play their part and each part is different and distinctive, but together the whole becomes more than the individual parts.

As with music, the chaji runs on time. Because the charcoal only burns so long, heating the water and making tea when the temperature is perfect depends on good timing. In order to get there, guest and host must work together. Sometimes things like conversation have to be timed so as not to interrupt the flow of the temae. When the violins come in, it must not be too late, nor too early so that the music flows.

Even though jazz seems like everyone is doing their own thing, in order to improvise, players need to pay attention, listen, and adjust according to what to other players are doing. In a chaji, guests don’t just sit back to be entertained, they must pay attention, listen and adjust according to what is going on. It takes an experienced guest to anticipate things and make the host look good.

In a music ensemble, there isn’t a hierarchy. First violin doesn’t mean that the part is more important than second violin. All the parts are equally important. Even though there are supporting players, they are essential to make the composition sound right. Supporting players in chaji are no less important than that of host and first guest.

Bands who have been together a long time become very tight and know what other members are thinking, or can compensate if they have an off night. Even though songs in the repertoire have been played night after night of performance, every time it is played is a different experience. Sometimes surprises can happen that make the experience more interesting and lead to new creative endeavors. And even though you have studied temae with your classmates for years, in a chaji, sometimes surprises happen that make the experience interesting and enjoyable as the host and guests adjust to the unexpected.

There may be other ways that tea and music are alike. Are you a musician? Can you add to the discussion? Email me or reply in the comments below.

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Breathing is essential to life. The air that fills our lungs fills our bodies with oxygen so we can function at all levels. Breathing is involuntary, that is, you do not have to think about it. The body automatically does it, just as the heart pumps blood through arteries and veins. But, unlike the heart, breathing can come under conscious control. We can regulate our breath by speeding it up, slowing it down, or even stopping it for a short time.

When we are making tea in temae, the speed of procedure is regulated by our breath. By consciously controlling the speed of breathing, we can speed up the movements, or slow them down. If you breathe in when you lift up a utensil, and breathe out when you put it down, you establish a rhythm in your temae. I can tell if students are holding their breath by the speed of the movements. Some movements are so quick that the student would be panting as if they had run a race if they timed their breath to the movements.

Some students have asked me what is the correct speed of the temae. If you are breathing your temae, then that is the correct speed. Faster than that, guests will have no time to rest. Slower than your breath gives greater portent to each movement and it becomes ponderous.

Folding your fukusa at the beginning of temae will set the pace of the procedure. It is easy to see this in yohosabaki where you examine each of the 4 sides of the fukusa before folding it. A magical thing happens when you do this. Guests also begin to breathe with you as you breathe in and out. The room settles down and the energy focuses on the movements of the host.

Something also happens with the host. In examining the four sides of the fukusa and breathing in and out, the heartbeat begins to slow down, nervousness evaporates, and the mind comes to the present. The simple act of breathing unites the host and guest and focuses the mind of the host and brings everyone to the present. If you are getting lost in temae, take a few deep breaths and find yourself again. You will see where you are and what needs to be done and you can move forward.

Breathing for meditation

There is a reason meditation focuses on counting our breaths. The act of deliberate breathing helps us control our emotions. When angry, fearful, or upset, the tendency is to hold the breath or breathe very shallowly associated with fight or flight response. This produces a build up of stress chemicals such as adrenaline, lactic acid, and cortisol. Researchers have found these chemicals with rapid, shallow breathing can make us feel chronically anxious, fatigued and disoriented. I also think that the brain is not getting enough oxygen and cannot function rationally. If we take the time to take a few deep breaths, the oxygen gets to the brain and body and we can gain control of emotions to relax and focus.

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From our own hands

I make a bowl of matcha in the morning for myself and I always make a point of sitting down to enjoy it rather than drinking standing in the kitchen before I start my day.   But I will tell you that a bowl of matcha always tastes so much better if someone makes it for you.  Even though I make my own bowl of tea exactly the way I like it — hot and thick — I still think a bowl of tea tastes better even if my host doesn’t make it perfectly suited to my taste.  Why is that?

I believe it is the personal touch that matters.  Making a bowl of tea for someone nurtures a personal relationship that goes beyond words. In a literal sense, giving food and drink to someone sustains life, and creates a bond between people.  Sitting down and breaking bread and drinking together has always been a way to affirm or create relationships between people.

When I was a new student at Midorikai, my sempai asked me to make a bowl of tea for him after class in the mizuya.   I was in a hurry, and I wanted to finish up my chores in the mizuya before dinner.  So I didn’t warm the bowl, and I didn’t use very hot water, and I just did a cursory whisk of the tea.  It was really an awful bowl of tea.  After he drank it, he told me, “Marjorie, when you make a bowl of tea for someone, make it as though it is going to be the best bowl of tea you ever made.  Every time you make tea for someone, it is not the practice tea, it is the real tea. Put your heart into it.”

I have never forgotten that lesson and now every time I make a bowl of tea, I put my heart into it.  I not only put my heart but love into it as well.  When we host someone at a chakai, all the preparation that goes into it comes from the heart.  In temae, all the purification of utensils is also purification of your heart so that by the time you are ready to make tea, it is your pure heart that goes into making it.

And you can taste this difference in the tea.  The taste of heart and love is the same as when you were small and your mom made your favorite meal.  Nobody who ever made the same meal could ever come close to making that meal taste as good.  Mom’s home cooking is the best.

That is why when I see videos like this:

or this:

I find it hard to think about drinking this tea.  With a machine,  you can program it to make a consistent bowl of tea every time  — the same amount of tea and water, the same number of strokes, the same consistency bowl after bowl after bowl.  But a machine making tea cannot create the same kind of experience that a human making a bowl of tea can.  Besides no heart and no love, the lovely sound of the whisk is obscured by the mechanics of the gears and clicking of the machine.  There is a separation of people where all eyes on the machine.  Where is the beauty, the harmony and tranquility?

Making a bowl of tea can never be replaced by machine.  It can only come from our own hands.

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Of art and artists

I have some artist friends and we talk about art and artists all the time. A few of them include: a musician (cello), a woodworker (studio furniture and sculpture), ceramic artist (vessels and sculpture), a dancer (modern and ethnic), a film director, a theater director, a landscape photographer, a writer (magazine/novel/essayist), and fashion designer among the most verbal. Most of them have been working and making a living in their art for more than 25 years. Most of them have gained some regional, national or international recognition.

Here are a few points from the conversations we have been having:

  1. Most of them did not set out to be an artist. Even the musician and the dancer came to their art later than high school.
  2. Most of them spent years working on technique, fundamentals, and basic craftsmanship in their chosen art.
  3. None of them (most in the 60s – 70s ) felt like they were at the top of their game. They were sure that their best work is yet to come.
  4. At one time or another, all of them had taught others in their chosen art.
  5. Most had wide ranging interests in many fields other than their art. A few were history buffs, some were gardeners, others were interested in psychology and other fields.
  6. Most of them did not pursue their art because they could make money, though a some have commercial endeavors to fund their artistic explorations.
  7. Public acceptance, while a consideration, most of them would still pursue their art if nobody bought, listened or viewed their work.
  8. Contrary to the popular conception of artists pursuing their work as “artistic expression” most of them talked about “personal exploration.” Conversations have revolved around “finding myself in art” or “discovering what and who I am” in their art.
  9. None of them considered themselves masters of their art. They were open to learning more, learning from others, and sharing insights.
  10. All of them had failures or major set backs at some point in their artistic careers. A couple have had catastrophic failures.
  11. All of them at one time or another, questioned whether they were meant to pursue their art.
  12. All of them felt compelled to pursue their chosen field of art, it was something they could not imagine not doing for the rest of their lives.

For me, these conversations have fueled my own pursuit of Chado as my chosen “art.” These artists are inspirational and I see my own life reflected in these conversations. I hope you will find these points interesting and inspirational, too.

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