Early November update – A midorikai interlude

After a long and drawn out election cycle, America has a new president. I am not going to comment on the results of that election in these emails. I can just offer to the universe that I, myself, can only continue to try to be better at helping others, to be compassionate, to love more, to seek to educate myself on what I don’t know, to be kinder to myself, to see the beauty in the unseen, to spend time doing what matters, to fear less, and to try to make the world a better place than what I found. 

As someone mentioned to me the other day, sometimes these emails I’m sending make it difficult to understand what I’m talking about. I can only say, please ask me if you are confused or curious about something I’ve written. However, I am by no means an expert on anything I’m talking about. Just know that I’m enthusiastic and excited about many of the new things I’m continuing to encounter here. Except mizuya toban week: I’m having a VERY difficult time finding something to be enthusiastic about during that tiring week. I do however understand that sometimes I sound like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole. 



Autumn colors nature walk

In Kyoto

The autumn colors are here! There have been many toban duties, preparations for Christmas chakai, many school events and field trips to keep all the students busy. For Christmas chakai, we have finished the invitations and are beginning to create the omiyage (or presents) for the guests who will attend. We have to make a little less than 200 items. Midorikai gives an annual thank you chakai for the Sen family, all of the Urasenke employees, teachers and fellow students who have hosted, sponsored and helped us this entire year. It’s our way of telling the entire Urasenke institution, thank you! I am not going to ruin it by saying what the gifts are yet, but I can tell you that there has been a lot of folding and dying of paper happening. We have also been working on the sweets we will serve and have a really great idea. The office liked what we brought but we are just refining the recipe at this point. We’ve made a list of the dogu that we have and are trying to fill in the gaps. And we are planning how to decorate the rooms we will be using. For fun in my spare time, I’m trying to squeeze in some autumn color sight-seeing (momiji). I went on a boat ride from Kameoka to Arashiyama (called the Honazano Boat Ride). It was wonderful because the leaves were just beginning to turn crimson. 


Honazano boat ride

 We have been starting to learn chabako temae, which are procedures where you transport everything in a small square box. It’s great for when you don’t have a tea room around but you still want to make tea. People either love these procedures or hate them because there are a lot of utensils and it gives some people a feeling of that you are being too finicky. It’s difficult to feel the calm, “no mind” or zen quality of doing temae when you are thinking about all the different parts and wher they go and what hand to pick it up or put it down with. Though, this can be said for most any temae. To me, chabako sort of feels like playing with a doll house, even though the utensils aren’t necessarily miniature. We are continuing all of our lectures on architecture, art history, japanese history, chado history, Eastern Religion, japanese waka poetry, cooking, seasonality, tea utensils, and much more. There is always something interesting to learn and it continues to fill me with wonder and delight for how deep we are going in to Japanese cultural arts and history. Curiosity is a wonderful thing, though the deeper I dive, the more I realize I don’t know. Chado truly encompasses many Japanese traditional arts. 

We created two tea bowls this month. The first one we made with our hands. We started with a 1 kg ball of clay. We pushed a hole in it with our thumb and started molding the rough shape on a hand-wheel. Then we let it dry for a little while and began shaving/carving off the excess clay to make the bowl. The bowl should weight only 400g, so there was a lot of carving to be done. Sometimes you got dangerously close to cutting a hole in the bottom and our sensei had to rush over and save us before we wrecked it. Luckily, we had some close shaves but no one destroyed their bowl. I selected the “burnt caramel” glaze for my bowl partly because I already have a very nice black raku-style tea bowl with matte glaze made by Portland-potter Richard Brandt. I also have two white chawan. So, after black or white, the next most intriguing color was this “creme-brulee topping” color. There is a lot of variety in our bowls but everyone had a wonderful time carving them, and the sensei at Katsuragama was very knowledgeable. He made it look quite easy. When we get them from the kiln, they are going to be arriving in a nice wooden box (for those who ordered one for it). I’m hoping that it is at least decent enough that I will enjoy drinking tea from it. I will post a picture of it glazed and completed after December since we hope to use all the bowls we create for the Christmas chakai.


Tenryuji temple

The second tea bowl we received pre-fired and we had to paint a design on it. This is a kyo-yaki style tea bowl, where there is a picture painted on the outside of the bowl, and sometimes a bit spilling over in to the inside. We went to the kiln Akanegama for this activity. I painted a nice picture on mine and the sensei is going to do some highlight work in white and possibly gold. He said “leave it to me,” so we will see what I get. The painting was easier for me then hand-making the bowl.

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    • admin on November 20, 2016 at 11:22 am

    Hello Jodi,
    Thank you for your question. It’s true that the annual chakai hosted by Midorikai students for the Sen family is called Christmas chakai and not winter chakai. I can’t speak to the history of the naming of this event. What I can say is that even with the Christmas chakai name, there is a winter or seasonal theme adopted by the students to change it from year to year. Otherwise it could get pretty boring. I expect, given who the Midorikai students are and their beliefs, they pick a theme that reflects all cultures present in the program. We all bring articles from our home countries to help with this and tie them in to the decorations and motif. The Sen family and Urasenke guests look forward to it because of its eclectic and adaptive nature. It’s usually an event that celebrates how Chado has become adopted in to many cultures.
    Thank you for your interest and I hope I gave some more information.

    • admin on November 18, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Jodi, thank you for your comment. When I was at Midorikai, it was called the Christmas chakai. All the other foreign students eagerly participated as a way of saying thank you to the Sen family, as well as the teachers and the other Urasenke employees. The thank you card for our year included Christmas greetings in many languages, and those who did not celebrate Christmas wrote seasonal greetings in their native language.

    • Jodi on November 17, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    I am wondering about the use of “Christmas” chakai: Does Urasenke actually call it a “Christmas” chakai, or is it possibly ‘Winter” chakai or some other name? If it is called “Christmas” chakai, how do students from non-Christian countries feel about it? I’m just curious.

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