June 3- Kaiseki cooking class
We had a one-star michelin chef named Yamamoto Masanu of Sanyukyo come to teach us kaiseki cooking. We learned how to make rice in the old-style typical rice pot, daishi broth, miso and about five or so other things. This time he cooked and spoke while we watched and frantically scribbled notes and pictures to try and remember as much as we could. For westerners who have never eaten kaiseki before, I might describe it roughly as tapas quantity of food on your plate but with consideration of balance of flavors and appearance. The food should be attractive and taste great but may be just a few bites for each guest. However, there are many courses.
Mr. Yamamoto Masanu at our cooking class
A kaiseki meal in terms of the tea world means just giving your guests a full enough stomach so when they enjoy the thick tea that follows the meal, they have something in their bellies so their tummy doesn’t get upset from the rich taste of the tea.
Coming up at the end of the month, our sempai will be putting on a full-scale chaji at a tea house. A chaji lasts for about four hours and is, I would say, the longest of the events that we do in the tea world. They tend to require a lot of knowledge from both host and guests and can be quite expensive as you need a lot of unique serving utensils, friends to cook in the kitchen while you serve your guests, and knowledge of seasonal food to make it happen.
Very few people outside of Japan have experienced these before and it’s difficult to learn from a book. That’s not to say that foreigners aren’t incredibly successful at putting on chaji, however, I am appreciative that I will be learning from the source, so to speak. I will be tsume, the last guest, and I have some tasks that I will need to do. I’m very excited to participate in one, as we will be doing our own for our kohai in the winter. We also will have a chance to rehearse our parts, which will be helpful. It’s nice to know what to do at any type of party! More on this event at the end of June!
June 6- Kenniniji Kenchashiki
We were invited by Daisosho-sama to attend the 802nd memorial at Kenninji temple for the founder, Yosai Zenji (1141-1215). Yosai (also known as Eisai) is a monk credited with bringing tea to Japan after visiting China. He also brought with him tea plant seedlings, which allowed for Japan to begin cultivating it’s own tea. It was fascinating, but I began to nod off after about the first hour of the monks chanting. Every time they would ring a gong or bell, people would sort of sit up straighter and then, after about five minutes, begin to slump again. Luckily for us, they had chairs to sit in. I have heard that they used to make people sit seiza on the tile floor, and that sure would have made it impossible to sleep! Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it’s hard to not fall asleep when it’s dark and warm and there is incense! Even if it happens to be really interesting.
Kenninji Temple from the outside
In front of the earliest recorded tea garden (more like a patch) in Japan.
June 9 – Omi Jingu Kenchashiki
Unlike the Kenninji offering (Buddhist), Omi Jingu is a Shinto shrine. Daisosho-sama also invited us to this event. During the reign of Emperor Tenji (661-671), a water clock which told the time with a drum or bell was placed in the Imperial Court for the first time. (Note: I’m unsure when the first clock was invented, however, this is the first time it appears in Japan’s recorded history) Thus it is called Time Day to make people aware of the importance of time. It’s interesting because time can have many meanings to a person, like it’s important to be on time, to be aware of our time here, how time seems to move fast or slow, etc. The concept of wanting to measure and quantify something like time is actually pretty human, when you think about it. It helps our world make sense and things start fitting nicely into little compartments in our heads. Like it’s noon now so I eat lunch, or it’s X’oclock so I should prepare for bed. That can be very comforting in building routine as well as communicating with others.
The fire drill practicing with the fire extinguisher
Inspirational words from these two weeks:
We had a lecture by both Daisosho-sama (age 93, retired grand tea master) and O’iemoto-sama (age 60 this June, current grand tea master). I’m so lucky to hear them speak and to learn from them. Here were some words that I frantically scribbled down that I want to share with you. These are recorded as my paraphrase of their 90 minute lectures. Note: The ideas I recorded seem disjointed, however, I tried to record the phrases that resonated most to me.
There is so much around you that you can’t see. You are constantly being protected by that which you can’t see: spirits, the kindness of others, your ancestors. Please have an awareness that we are alive by the kindness of others. You have been given life, and so be thankful. Try to make yourself a better person every day. In the act of purifying yourself, those around you will be purified. Once we are born, we are all fated to suffer. We all have problems that we will have to figure out. We question why we are here and who we are. We should never compare ourselves to others or make ourselves feel inferior. You must walk your own way, even if you can’t see the path.
Open the eyes of your heart in order to really see things. When I walk in the dark, I may start by bumping into walls, but gradually I get used to it and can see. Humans are like this. Even when it’s bright people still can’t see what’s right there, what’s around us. Offer things to that which you can not see. Even if you have just one mouthful of food, offer it freely to be split with others. As long as the roof doesn’t leak and you have enough to satiate your hunger, you will be okay.
When I sit zazen, I follow it with chanting sutra and a prayer to the gods. Maybe that is why I live so long and with enough energy. Don’t do bad things, do good things. If you follow that, you will be okay. We all collect impurities. Every day, clean them, remove them, brush them away. If you can, you can open yourself, open your heart so that you can truly see. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but remember what I’ve said.
Nusa marking a sacred tree.
Don’t always look at the weather with judgement. For example by saying it rains too much or it’s too humid. Then you will only leave your room for 10 days out of every year. If you look only for the bad then you will always find it. After it rains and obscures the mountains, they are even more beautiful when the mist lifts. It becomes difficult to have these moments of clarity, so you must train at it every day. It’s like in baseball. If your team is losing at you are up to bat, don’t just let the ball pass without swinging. Something could happen if you just swing. Those who just see a loss and don’t try at that point, they miss an opportunity to learn. People will know that you are the kind of person that cares enough to try.
My amazing story for you:
During the daily morning chorei, we were chanting the heart sutra in Japanese. A little bird, most likely a skylark, sat on a branch right out in front of the window and sang and sang while we chanted. When we finished, it flew away. I can’t explain to you how amazing and inspiring it was to have this little bird perched so close to us that it was practically in the room, and hearing it sing and sing, blending with the sound of our voices. Overtaking us at some points and being overtaken. Such a small thing brought me such pure joy and astonishment.