End of May — a Midorikai interlude

May 19

We had our first chashaku carving practicum today. The guy who taught it made it look so easy. We got out our blades and began slowly shaving away small pieces of the bamboo strips to make the bent tea scoop that we use when we lift tea from the tea container and put it in the tea bowl. It’s basically a wooden scoop or spoon just for tea. These items are always made by hand and you can tell a lot about a person based on how this utensil is formed. Is it narrow or thick? Is it rough or smooth? Is it too long to be useful? Is it well-balanced? Did the person make long, confident strokes with their blade or short, hesitant ones?

IMG_4458I’m attaching a picture of mine. It ended up being way to thin and too short, but I was proud of it all the same. This chashaku will be exchanged via an Urasenke school program with a tea group in Fukushima. We will be receiving one back from them as well. I did writing on the tube myself which says the name of the scoop and my name. As you know Fukushima had the terrible earthquake and issues with the nuclear plant, so any chashaku I get back from there will have a deeper meaning attached to it that I can think about every time I use it. (And no, it won’t be radioactive, our teachers told us this already.)

Every chashaku is always given a name by the person who carved it. This one I called “Ame o tanoshimu,” or literally, enjoying the rain. I selected this gomei (poetic name) because, to me, it is a good example of how rain is a symbol of cleansing and purifying both literally and metaphorically. I also said that it rains a lot where I come from in America. This was written in an explanation letter which will be translated and sent along with the chashaku tube. I hope someone is able to use it and enjoy it!

May 25

We had O’iemoto’s monthly lecture / address to the school. In these situations, we show up to school in our best kimonos and wear the little earbuds that have a translator telling us what he is saying. It made me feel like I was in the United Nations! It’s pretty cool. As I reread some of the notes I took in my pocket moleskin, I see that he mentioned some great things to keep in mind for anyone let alone “tea people:”

He said that when things become too complex, return to your base: take a moment to notice the feeling in the air, the space around you, the conditions all around. When the wind blows you over, don’t make excuses for the wind. Just try, try. Then it was a mistake you didn’t have to make. Failures, mistakes lead to success. Recover from them. You can see you have more to learn and can grow even more. Then you won’t have regrets. Throw away the thoughts in yourself, your personal feelings about things that bother you. Take the animosity, the pride and throw it away.

He also said to consider all that has come before to lead to this one moment. For example, consider when you drink water to think about the snow melting in to water, flowing down the mountain to the river, leading to the reservoir, going around and around and finally ending up in our bodies. Or the seed that grows in to a plant which bears fruit which winds up on our table and sustains our lives. Or, in the tea room with guests, all of the ancestors who came before both you and your guests who brought you to this one shared moment in time which will never come again. Take value in every moment, in every minute.  …wow… I’m not learning about “just tea” here. I’m learning about how to live a beautiful, reflective, life of gratitude.

May 26 – First Student Chakai

We had our first Keiko Chakai of our sempai, Anna. She did a remarkable job with all the preparations and all of the guests (there were 7 of us) had a wonderful time. A chakai is like a party that is similar to something (in Western culture) that Martha Stewart would create: it has every detail planned out from the invitations to the decorations to the food. However, unlike western culture, a chakai has spiritual goals as well. It is trying to create harmony between guests.

The details that the host has prepared are supposed to make the people in the room feel special but without saying anything explicit. An example of this, is that our first guest is from Hawaii, and our host selected a natsume (tea container) with a hibiscus flower on the top. She noticed and thanked the host for being so thoughtful in selecting this particular item. There are thousands upon thousands of things the host could have picked from, and yet, she selected this one tiny thing because she knew it would bring her guest pleasure.


Our lovely host was wearing a beautiful obi she borrowed with matryoshka dolls on it, a nice nod to her heritage and the shared heritage of one of her other guests.

I experienced this feeling my first time coming to Urasenke with Kevin for a short visit and in my letter asking for permission to come, I mentioned that in Portland the daffodils had just started to bloom. When I came to Japan about 6 weeks later, the tea bowl that I received my delicious tea in had daffodils on it. Was it a coincidence to serve me that bowl? Absolutely not. They had made a note, somewhere way back when, that daffodils were blooming in Oregon and that bowl was served to me. It was a small gesture. It didn’t cost them anything, so to speak. And yet that gesture spoke droves to me. The key thing, the thing that makes it unique to this culture, is that after I had drunk my tea and returned that bowl, the host DID NOT come in and say “did you notice what was on the bowl?” That would have been the western thing to do. The host just lets it go unsaid and the guest may make an observation about it. Sometimes your guests might not even notice that you made the gesture in the first place. But the key is that you know. And that’s something that’s intuitive, it really can’t be taught. IMG_4504

Our teacher Hamana-sensei told us this story about how thoughtfulness can’t be taught but it can be observed and absorbed by others. His example was that he started to cough in lecture and a student got up and got him a glass of water. However, it was winter time and the water wasn’t just tap water. It was warm tea drinking temperature, so it was soothing to someone with a sore throat. He didn’t tell this as an example to shame us in to not paying attention to the needs of our teachers, but rather as an example of something to emulate. It cost nothing for that student to leave the room and bring water. No money was spent and no gift was given. But that tiny gesture spoke loads to this teacher and he still tells that story.


Here is a nice picture of me wearing kimono kneeling at the tsukubai cleansing my hands before entering the tea room.

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1 comment

  1. It sounds like you are learning so much about tea and life!

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