Sweet Persimmon Blog Archive – 2008

Dec 2, 2008

Another short reading list

The Book of Kimono by Norio Yamanaka ISBN: 0870117858 Paperback
In this book you’ll discover the history of kimono, and complete and detailed explanations of actual and colorful kimonos presented with good quality pictures. You’ll also been presented to all accessories which are needed to wear decently a kimono. In the end you will get some hints about behavior you should have while wearing a kimono Nario Yamanaka, a leading authority on kimonos and who has also established the Sodo Kimono Academy in Japan , truly knows the kimono and exhibits its true beauty in a most lovely manner. Included in the book is a brief history of the origin of the kimono, the process of making the garment, different types of kimonos for different seasons, the tying of the obi sash, beautiful color photos and kimono etiquette. There is a also a detailed step – by – step section on how to wear the kimono.

Cha-No-Yu: The Japanese Tea Ceremony by Arthur Lindsay Sadler ISBN: 0804834075 Paperback
This book covers everything from the shapes of the tea kettles to the landscape design surrounding famous tea rooms. It discusses many particulars of the tea ceremony and its equipment, but balances this information nicely with many anecdotes which convey the “feeling” of the tea ceremony. The book also provides the reader with valuable historical insight about the development of the tea ceremony. An important feature of the book is that the index contains the Kanji characters for the items listed.

Chado The Way of Tea: A Japanese Tea Master’s Almanac by Sasaki Sanmi, Shaun McCabe (translator), Satoko Iwasaki (translator) ISBN: 0804832722 Hardcover
At once an almanac and encyclopedia of tea, Chado: The Way of Tea includes traditional contemplative poetry used during the tea ceremony, vignettes of festivals and formal occasions, and reflective short essays on the subject of tea. The entry for each month contains nine parts: features, events, memorials, flowers, cakes, foods, meals, words for contemplation, and meisu (utensils and related furnishings). Perfect for the tea-lover, Japanophile, or anyone interested in chanoyu.

A Chanoyu Vocabulary: Practical Terms for the Way of Tea translated by the Urasenke International Association. ISBN 978-4-473-03398-7 Paperback.
A long-awaited Japanese-English chanoyu vocabulary, offering easy-to-understand explanations of 1642 terms cutting across a broad range of subjects. This ground-breaking book comprises an English translation of selected and edited entries from the approximately 3,000 appearing in Tankosha’s Jitsuyo Chadoyogo Jiten (1993; fifth printing, February 2002), with helpful appendices and illustrations. People of the global community, whether involved particularly in the practice of chanou or generally in the study of Japanese traditional arts and culture, should find this authoritative volume a rare and valuable resource.

Nov 30, 2008

Do Gaku Jitsu revisited

In a previous post I explained the three guidelines for the study of chado – Do, the way; Gaku, the knowledge; and Jitsu, the practice.

Jitsu – the practice of chado. We get plenty of practice of temae, the procedure for making tea in class, but remember that the practice of tea is not just the practice of procedures. It also means to put into practice what we learn in our study into our everyday life. When we learn to work together in harmony in the mizuya we can take that practice and use it to foster the same team work in the business world, or in your family or in social situations. We train in the tea room to think of others and how we affect others rather than how others affect us. How can you put into practice what you learn in tea class?

Gaku – the knowledge of tea. This is a vast and deep subject. It includes everything pertaining Japanese culture, from drama, literature, and seasonal festivals, to etiquette, conversational idioms, and dressing yourself in kimono. It also is the study of the cultural arts: ceramics, flowers, calligraphy, fabric, architecture, gardening, woodworking, lacquer ware, basket making, metal work. Not to mention Japanese history and of course the study of Zen. Any one of these subjects could be lifetime study. What subjects are you studying?

Do – the way of tea is a hardest to define. It comes from study of knowledge and training. But also it comes from your heart. To have tea heart is unadorned. It is knowing what is appropriate in every situation. It is to apologize immediately for any mistake rather than defend it. It is to remain calm and unruffled when there is chaos around you. It is believing in the best while preparing for the worst. It is learning from the lessons of life and applying those lessons to make the world a better place. It is a pragmatic approach to life yet aspirational to be the best of ourselves. What is your path?

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Posted by Margie Yap at Sunday, November 30, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, practice, spiritual path, study, training

Nov 28, 2008

Okeiko, considering the past

When we greet the sensei at the beginning and end of class, we use the word okeiko, as in “Sensei, okeiko yoroshiku onegai itashimasu” and “Sensei okeiko arigato gozaimashita.” When asking for a specific lesson before starting otemae or tea procedure we say, “Sensei, hirademae no okeiko yoroshiku onegai itashimasu.” But what does okeiko mean?

Okeiko is often used to describe tea class, training or practice. Quite literally, the top part of the kanji kei means “to consider” and the bottom part of the kanji ko is the numeral ten on top of a mouth, the spoken wisdom of ten generations or old teachings. Taken together, keiko means to “to consider the old teachings.” With the honorific “o” at the beginning we have the meaning of okeiko. The original inference of this was to read the classics and understand their true meanings. This in turn came to mean to reflect upon, study and acquire training in matters that have come down from the past.

So the next time you attend okeiko and greet the sensei or ask for a lesson, you are studying the tradition, the teachings of the past.

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Posted by Margie Yap at Friday, November 28, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: Japanese words for the tea room, study

Nov 21, 2008

25 Things Chado, the way of tea has taught me

I apologize for not posting more this month. Time got away from me and I will be posting again more often.

Here are 25 things I have learned in my journey along the path:
1. Pay attention
2. Acknowledge others
3. Care for your guests
4. Be a considerate guest
5. Respect other people’s time
6. Respect other people’s space
7. Rediscover silence
8. Listen
9. Be inclusive
10. Speak kindly
11. Don’t gossip
12. Restrain yourself
13. Think the best
14. Accept and give praise
15. Respect even the subtle “no”
16. Respect others’ opinions
17. Mind your body
18. Be agreeable
19. Don’t shift responsibility and blame.
20. Apologize earnestly
21. Ask questions at appropriate times
22. Think twice before asking for favors
23. Don’t complain
24. Accept and give constructive criticism
25. Live in harmony with nature

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Posted by Margie Yap at Friday, November 21, 2008 4 comments Links to this post

Labels: art of living, Chado, practice, spiritual path, the way, training

Nov 5, 2008

Opening of the Ro

Congratulations to President-elect Obama on his run for the Whitehouse.

In November, the winter time hearth is opened. The ro is a sunken hearth that is larger than the summer time brazier. A hole cut in the floor houses the hearth and the heat from the charcoal fire warms the tatami from underneath and makes the room cozy.

The event that marks this opening of the ro is called robiraki. It is one of the major tea events of the year. Rikyu said that when the yuzu (citron) turns yellow is the time to open the ro. Usually that is around the first of November. To prepare for this event, the tea room is cleaned top to bottom. Shoji are repapered, and the tatami mats are rearranged so that they can accommodate the cut out for the sunken hearth.

At this time also, the chatsubo (tea storage container) is opened where the new tea leaves have been stored to age since they were harvested in the spring. The chatsubo is contained in a net bag or elaborate knots are tied to the lugs. There is a ceremony to cut open the sealed chatsubo and take out the leaves called Kuchikiri.

The usual sweet that is served is zenzai, or sweet bean soup with a pillow of mochi. Sometimes grilled mochi is mixed in with a chestnut. The highlight of the event is the laying of the charcoal fire and partaking of koicha – thick tea shared from the same bowl by the guests.

This year I was fortunate enough to attend Robiraki in both Portland and Seattle. The season is turning round one more time and it is comforting to participate as we move into the colder, darker time of the year.

Oct 30, 2008

In Praise of Shadows

As the days are getting longer, our tea classes are increasingly held in the darkness that fills the autumn evenings. At the Ryokusuido Tea Room, there is only a single light with a low wattage bulb in the tea room. I love the way that the light of this room reveals and hides at the same time.

I have often thought that this low light situation looks like the room is lit only by candlelight. It is quite romantic to have the corners of the tea room shrouded in the shadows and the face of the host softly lit with a mellow light. It concentrates the focus of the guests when the temaeza is all that is illuminated.

I have often thought of tea in the time of Rikyu. Without electricity, the tea room would have been quite dark in the evenings except what was shown by the light of a lamp or candle. The host and guests must pay more attention to sounds and to smells as the dependence on sight is diminished. The edges of the things are softened and the room itself seems to expand in the darkness. If one were to use charcoal to heat the water the glow from the coals is not visible with the lights on. Only in the darkness can we see the reflection of the charcoal on the black lacquer, and the chrysanthemum at the ends of the burning wood is revealed.

It now makes sense for the guests to go to the alcove or tokonoma to look at the scroll and then go to look at the kettle and utensils. It also makes sense to ask for haiken to look at the utensils close up as these things would only show a gleam of gold from across the room. And we get to touch them and savor the texture of the clay from the tea bowl or smoothness of the bamboo tea scoop.

There is something to be said for the bright light of day to penetrate the shoji and illuminate the tea room. But also do not forget the shadows of the evening to reveal what is hidden in the darkness at the edges of the tearoom.

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Posted by Margie Yap at Thursday, October 30, 2008 6 comments Links to this post

Labels: appreciation, Chado, chanoyu, tea ceremony, wabi

Oct 27, 2008

Intimate Silence

In the previous post, The host revealed, and by questions at tea demonstrations, I have been asked again and again about how much talking is allowed at a tea ceremony. While talking is not forbidden, there are appropriate subjects and times that guests and host can communicate.

In America, we are not usually comfortable with silence and talk to fill it or cover the perceived awkwardness. It seems more friendly and attentive to comment and chat about what is going on in the tea room.

If there is conversation in the tea room, most of it will take place between the shokyaku or main guest, and the host. It is the responsibility of the shokyaku to speak for the guests and to anticipate the questions the guests may have and to time the conversations so that the harmony and flow of the ceremony is enhanced and not disrupted. Other guests may address the shokyaku to ask the host questions and the shokyaku will find an appropriate time to ask the host.

It is in fact, more respectful at a tea ceremony to be silent and pay careful attention as the host goes through the procedures for making tea. Conversation, questions and chat during this time takes attention away from what the host is doing. For the host, his full attention should be on serving the guests. And for the guests, their full attention should be on receiving what the host has prepared and appreciation for everything the host has done in preparation/

Communications are subtle and nuanced in the silence and unspoken feelings can be intensified by a mere glance or gesture. In many ways, this careful attention on both sides creates an intimacy that cannot be achieved through conversation and talking.

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Posted by Margie Yap at Monday, October 27, 2008 2 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, chanoyu, guests, mindfulness, rituals, tea ceremony, tea gathering, the way

Oct 24, 2008

Workshop: How to Dress in Kimono

Have you always wanted to wear a kimono? For both men and women, come and learn how to dress and wear kimono properly. Everyone will be dressed in authentic kimono and obi. Ryokusuido has a new shipment of kimono, obi and haori. If you have your own kimono and obi, please bring them. Afterwards, you will attend a Japanese Tea Ceremony in the Ryokusuido Tea Room. Limited enrollment. Reserve your place now.

When: Tuesday, November 4, 2008 6:30 pm.
Fee: $25.00 Reservations required
Where: Nishiura Ryokusuido, 3826 NE Glisan St.
Portland, OR 97232

For more information and reservations, contact:
Margie Yap

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Posted by Margie Yap at Friday, October 24, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: art of living, Chado, chanoyu, classes, kimono, tea ceremony, tea gathering, Welcome

Oct 16, 2008

Elusive scents, the way of Koh

I had an opportunity earlier this week to attend a lecture and demonstration on Kodo, the way of incense. Kodo is a traditional Japanese art, a ritual that is meditative in nature, but unlike chado, it is also playful. Kodo has deep roots in Japanese culture, dating back to the Heian period (794-1192). It is mentioned in the Tale of Genji and evokes images of the beauty and wonder of ancient Japan.

Mr. Kihachiro Nishura from Tokyo is a Kodo master, and he prepared for 60 people an abbreviated version of Genjiko, an incense ceremony where guests were given 3 different scents and had to distinguish if they were alike or different.

The incense used was wood incense called jinko (meaning sinking wood). It is rare and primarily found in Vietnam and Laos. How it is formed is mysterious and natural. A resinous tree is eaten by bugs and the tree exudes resin to protect itself. When the tree dies, it falls to the ground and over many years it decays and changes into jinko.

There are a few rules before starting an incense ceremony:

  1. Don’t eat anything spicy or wear perfume
  2. Wear clean socks
  3. No accessories (rings, watches and bracelets can damage the porcelain incense burners)
  4. No flowers or plants in the room
  5. Don’t talk too much – the answers should come from your own perceptions

The incense burners (koro) are prepared by placing a live charcoal in a bed of ash, covering it up and pressing an intricate pattern on top with special utensils. A chimney hole is poked down through the ash to the coal so heat escapes. Over the chimney hole is placed a special mica plate surrounded by silver. The tiny, tiny bit of incense wood about the size of the letter o here is placed on the mica plate. This gentle heat releases the fragrance from the resin. The guests hold the koro in the left palm and cover the top with the right hand, leaving a small hole formed by the thumb and first finger. By putting your nose up to this hole, inhale gently and smell the fragrance. Exhale by turning to the left and down

This is often described as “Listening to the incense.” Mr. Nishiura likened the enjoyment of incense to listening to music – there are top notes and low notes and it changes over time. There is an immersion into the experience. Because our sense of smell is one of the most primitive senses, it is connected closely to our memories and smells evoke emotions and feeling connected to those memories.

So the Genjiko game we played was 3 different kinds of incense woods each packaged in 3 times in small wrappers for a total of nine packages. Of these, three are chosen at random and prepared in different koro.

Comparing these, there are five possible configurations to the set:

  1. If each one of the three are different it is scored like this: | | | three vertical lines
  2. If each one is the same it is scored with three vertical lines all connected at the top (sorry I can’t do it on the keyboard).
  3. If the first and last are the same it is scored with three vertical lines with only the first and last connected at the top and the middle line a little shorter.
  4. If the first two are alike then the first two vertical lines are connected.
  5. And finally if the last two are alike then the last two vertical lines are connected.

To give more interest, kodo master can give poetic names to the combinations such as:

  1. Three vertical lines (all different): Evergreen trees
  2. Three vertical lines all connected (all the same): Dew on pampas grass
  3. First and third connected: Snow on a lonely peak
  4. First two connected: Sound of the koto
  5. Last two connected: Plum blossoms form the neighbor’s house.

It was a challenge not only in distinguishing the fragrances (you only get one inhalation), but also in memory – did this one have as sharp a note as the last one, or did it gently fade away at the end?

In the game, the guests write their answers on small folded pieces of paper. The recorder collects them all, scores them and writes a record (in calligraphy) of all the participants’ scores. Many rounds are played and the one with the highest score gets to take the record home.

Knowledge of literature and poetry, calligraphy, as well as memory and discernment all play a role in the enjoyment of kodo.

If you’d like to try kodo, I have some supplies at sweetpersimmon.com

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Posted by Margie Yap at Thursday, October 16, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: appreciation, art of living, rituals, the way, training

Oct 9, 2008

The seven grasses of autumn

Aki no ni
sakitaru hana o
yubi orite
kaki kazoureba
nana kusa no hana

hagi ga hana
obana kuzubana
nadeshiko no hana
mata fujibakama
asagao no hana.
Flowers blossoming in the autumn fields
when I count them on my fingers
they number seven.

the flowers of the bush clover,
pampas grass, and arrowroot
dianthus, patrina,
also mistflower and morning glory.

In Japan, autumn is a time of mountains turning to magnificent crimson brocade, tapestries and cities glowing in wonderful autumn tints as the days grow cooler. From the earliest days, autumn has been extolled in Japanese poetry, painting, and design as well as enjoyed through foods that are available only in this season.

The seven grasses of autumn were often mentioned in the many verses of the Man’yoshu, the first collection of Japanese poetry and song. The images of autumn grasses presented in the Kokinshu, the first Imperial anthology of poetry compiled in 905, illustrates life in the Heian times in a way that could not be captured by painting. The subtle nuances of life and love at the time were illustrated with words alone, using nature and flowers to depict a clear picture of life in Hein Japan.

It is through the above poem by Yamanoue Okua, a court noble during 724-729, that the seven grasses of autumn have become well known.

from “An anthology of the seasonal feeling of chanoyu,” by Michael A. Birch, Soei

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Posted by Margie Yap at Thursday, October 09, 2008 5 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, chanoyu, haiku, tea ceremony, wabi

Oct 6, 2008

Nagori, a lingering feeling

It seems like overnight, we went from the warm pleasant days of September to the chill showers of October. It is indeed fall as the leaves are in their full color against the cloudy grey skies of the Pacific Northwest.

In some ways, October is the perfect month for tea. There are so many themes to choose from, and the lingering nostalgia for the summer months makes October a wabi tea month. The broken and repaired teabowls, the slender mizusashi, the gyogodana which we only get to use this one month of the year. Traditionally, the tea jars that were packed full from last year are down to the end of tea this time of year. Mostly there are the broken and discarded leaves at the bottom of the jar. The brazier moves from the left side of the tatami mat to the middle to move the fire closer to the guests and ward off the chill. Soon the brazier will be put away and there is a general melancholy at the coming of winter. Looking at what remains, there is a nostalgic lingering feeling of farewell. This is called nagori.

In a way, the autumn is looked as the end– end of bright summer days, the warmth of sun on our faces. As the days shorten and the rains come, we wish that summer could go on. But in many ways, autumn is the beginning. School starts in autumn, and for tea people, the new year of tea begins in autumn as we look forward to using the new tea leaves harvested in May. But now, with the coming of winter, there is an urge to use precious resources and not waste anything.

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Posted by Margie Yap at Monday, October 06, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, chanoyu, tea ceremony, tea utensils, wabi

Sep 27, 2008

It’s not about the numbers

When Christy-sensei was here for koshukai (intensive workshop) she mentioned that Chado is not about the numbers. Which led me to think about numbers in my study of tea.

When we find our place and sit in the tea room, we are told to sit 16 weaves of the tatami from the black edge; turn the bowl two times; place the natsume at 5 weaves from the corner.

All of these instructions help us to locate and orient ourselves in the tea room. But what Christy-sensei was teaching was that we should not get too attached to these numbers. It is a paradox that turning the bowl two times is not as precise as saying, turn the the bowl so that you are drinking out of the back or turn the bowl so that the front is facing you.

The 16 weaves back from the black edge of the tatami is difficult to do if your legs are two long and you come up against the wall. You must make sure that you have enough room in front of you to set the tea bowl down and bow formally when receiving tea.

I have had sensei who didn’t teach from the numbers. She would show me the precise place to put something, or tell me that I was a little bit off when I placed it — move it to the left or move it closer to you. When I asked how many cm from the edge or how many tatami weaves, she would respond, she would tell me to look at where she showed me and to train myself to see and remember the placement.

So when putting the whisk and natsume down, sensei said to make them like a married couple, close, but not too close.

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Posted by Margie Yap at Saturday, September 27, 2008 4 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, chanoyu, practice, sensei says, study

Sep 21, 2008

Seeking Beauty

I read an article in the newspaper yesterday about a man coping with Parkinson’s disease.He started having symptoms at age 47 and the story was about how he has adapted his lifestyle to accommodate his disease.He previously led a very active life, and cannot do what he used to do. By lowering his expectations, he said, he can do many things that still make his life meaningful – rock climbing, dancing, kayaking.Some of the things that helps him cope include developing a support network, seeking beauty and keeping a positive attitude.

It reminds me of the samurai who lived with death every moment. They studied the martial arts and they studied the cultural arts such as flower arranging and tea ceremony to give their deaths meaning. If they went to war and died without creating beauty, then they would have died no more than animals. The loss of life is also the loss of beauty yet to be created.

Today, in our study of Chado, we seek and create beauty. It is a valuable lesson too, that we have a short time in life to give it meaning. A deeper understanding of ourselves, serving others, creating beauty, and living this very moment can be very meaningful.

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Posted by Margie Yap at Sunday, September 21, 2008 2 comments Links to this post

Labels: art of living, Chado, chanoyu, martial arts, samurai, tea ceremony, the way

Sep 19, 2008

Chanoyu Demo Sept. 16, 2008

Slideshow of Chanoyu demonstration at Peninsula Odd Fellows Aikido Dojo:

Thank you Annette for taking the photos. Participants: Sean and Connor Toyooka.

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Posted by Margie Yap at Friday, September 19, 2008 7 comments Links to this post

Labels: Aikido, Chado, chanoyu, martial arts, presentation, tea ceremony, tea gathering

Sep 17, 2008

The rising moon

September is the month for moon viewing and this month in Portland we have had a spectacular full moon, perfect for moon viewing. This year I was fortunate to be part of the Portland Japanse Garden’s Tsukimi, or moon viewing. It was held over three nights, the night before the full moon, the full moon night and the night after the full moon. The event included haiku readings, koto concert, flute music and candle light throughout the garden. There were also light snacks, wine and sake. Demonstration of Chanoyu was also part of the experience.

It was a magical night for me. The weather was so fine and as the sun set, the garden took on a new character. We don’t have access to the garden very often at night. For something different, I set up the room to do gyakugatte to be closer to the audience. The tokonoma was lighted only and it gave such a soft glow to the room while the audience was in the darkness. However, the path from the pavilion to the tea house was lighted by many candles.

My student and I dressed in kimono and I had some special sweets as a gift from someone who had just flown in from Tokyo. We shared a bowl of tea and then I answered questions. People were so quiet and respectful, and the flute music playing in the garden added to the lovely atmosphere.

They had set up chairs and gallery in front of the pavilion facing the moon rise. The moon rose as a huge pink and yellow ball over the city. Everything was so perfect that I felt like we were in a movie.

I wish you all had been there to share in that experience.

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Posted by Margie Yap at Wednesday, September 17, 2008 8 comments Links to this post

Labels: appreciation, Chado, chanoyu, presentation, tea ceremony

Sep 16, 2008

Dogu, more tea stuff

Dogu is a term for tea making utensils. My husband laughs at me and calls them tea toys. In fact, all you need for chanoyu is chawan (tea bowl), chasen (tea whisk), chakin (wiping cloth), fukusa (purification cloth), chaki (tea container) and chashaku (tea scoop). With these six utensils, you can do chanoyu anywhere.

When I first began to study Chado, there were not many Japanese utensils available. Even if I could afford them, they just were not available to me. I began to look at readily available things that could be used for tea. I still have many of those improvised utensils: a ceramic bowl for kensui, a cookie jar for a cold water container, containers of various sizes and shapes for tea caddies.

It is easy now to get acquisitive with tea utensils. Over the internet you can see lots of dogu for sale and you can spend a lot of money on these things. Collecting can become an obsession. But I recommend students to make purchases with restraint. If you have the six basic utensils, do you need to have one more thing?

A lot of dogu from my collection of utensils have come to me unasked. Some were gifts from my sensei and sempai. Other things passed from someone who knew someone else. Other things have been improvised utensils. I also have some utensils on loan from other teachers.

When making utensil purchases, I usually wait for a while before I purchase something. Usually it is something to help facilitate teaching or to use as an example for students.

One of Rikyu’s 100 poems states that, “Tea should not be an exhibition of what the tea man owns. Instead the sincerity of his heart should be expressed.”

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Posted by Margie Yap at Tuesday, September 16, 2008 6 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, chanoyu, stuff, tea utensils

Sep 14, 2008

From the left hand

For students following the way of tea, everything is done right handed. Wiping, purifying, whisking, picking thing up with chopsticks, scooping water or tea, all are done with right hand. How disorienting it must be for left handers.

I have felt some of the disorientation that left handers encounter when I began to learn the gyakugatte procedures. Gyakugatte refers to the orientation of the room and it means ‘the opposite hand.’ In an orthodox or hongatte room, the guests are seated to the right of the host. The host makes tea and sets the teabowl out to the guests with the right hand. In a gyakugatte room, the guests are seated to the left of the host and the teabowl needs to be set out to the guests with the left hand because it is difficult to reach with the right hand.

In a gyakugatte room, the kensui is brought in with the right hand, entering the room is done with the left foot and the fukusa is worn on the right side. Though some things are done with the opposite hand, not all of the procedures are. Purifying utensils are done with right hand, water is still scooped from the kettle with the right hand and tea is whisked with the right hand.

Since I learned to do the gyakugatte procedures after ten years of doing it the orthodox way, my body was trained to anticipate the next move until I rarely had to think about it. The new procedures produced an uncomfortable sensation in my body and I became quite anxious whenever I made tea this way. My footwork was all off and my timing suffered. In fact, I felt like a beginner again because I didn’t know what to do next or which hand to use to pick up or put down anything.

It is quite humbling to feel this way. That is one of the reasons why I sometimes prepare a tea demonstration for gyakugatte. I have to pay strict attention and be very present to get through these procedures in front of people. Thank sensei, for teaching me these procedures so that I won’t forget what it feels like to be a beginner.

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Posted by Margie Yap at Sunday, September 14, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, chanoyu, practice, study, tea ceremony, temae, training

Sep 12, 2008

Choosing a tea school

In Japan, there are many schools that teach Chado. I belong to the Urasenke school and have studied it for 25 years. It is one of the 3 schools from the Sen family, descendants from Sen no Rikyu, the man who essentially codified Chado. It was Rikyu’s grandson Sen Sotan who divided the family property into 3 parts: the front gate (Omotesenke), the back gate (Urasenke), and the property on Mushanokoji street (Mushanokojisenke). The San Senke as they are known are also referred to by the tea room that exemplifies each style of tea: Urasenke sometimes also referred to as Konnichian, Omotesenke as Fushinan, and Mushanokojisenke as Kankyuan

Here are a few of the other major schools of Chado in Japan:

  • Yabunouchi Ryu – founded by Jochi Yabunouchi (1536-1627).
  • Enshu Ryu – founded by Kobori Enshu (1579-1647)
  • Sohen Ryu – founded by Yamada Sohen a disciple of Sen Sotan
  • Matsuo Ryu – founded by Suji Genya
  • Endosenke Ryu – founded Kawakami Fuhaku. He went Edo in the direction of the 7th generation Omotesenke master and founded this school
  • Sekishu Ryu – founded by Katagiri Sekishu (1605 ~ 1673) Sekishu School was appointed as tea ceremony style of Shogunate family by the third Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604 ~ 1651) This is the daimyo style school which was most spread through the Edo times.
  • Dai Nippon Sado Gakai (the great Japanese Tea Academy)

I am sometimes asked what the differences are between schools, and which school of tea is the best one to study. I have studied Urasenke for 25 years, and have not studied any other schools of tea. However, when I lived in Japan, I attended as many tea gatherings as I could no matter what the school. Since I lived not far from Urasenke and Omotesenke, those were the tea gatherings that I attended the most frequently though I have attended a Yabunouchi and Enshu Ryu chakai.

I always tell people who ask that each school may have some stylistic differences, but the history, much of the philosophy and aesthetics are very much the same. The important thing, I think, is to find a teacher willing to teach you; one that you feel comfortable staying with for a long time. Urasenke and Omotesenke schools seem to have the most teachers in the U.S. Both of these schools have made outreach to people outside of Japan. But you can find teachers of other schools as well.

For those of you in California, the Hakone Gardens sponsors a Dai Chakai every year. This year there will be presentations of Omotesenke, Urasenke, Mushanokojisenke, Yabunouchi and Matsuoryu style of tea. It would be a good place to view some of the differences and similarities in the tea schools. There’s still time to reserve your place before October 10th:

Hakone Dai Cha Kai
Location: 21000 Big Basin Way, Saratoga, California
Schedule: Sunday,October 19, 2008
11:00-11.45 A.M. Registration
12:00-5:00 P.M. Chaseki

For Further information please contact: John Larissou at 415.731.0622 or e-mail larissou@gmail.com for details and reservations.

Reservation Form (42KB PDF)

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Posted by Margie Yap at Friday, September 12, 2008 5 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, chanoyu, tea ceremony

Sep 10, 2008

When is the best time for Chado?

I have a new class of tea students in my Introduction to Tea Ceremony class. I want to thank them for committing the next ten weeks to the study of tea. There were others who were interested in the class, but did not sign up or did not show up for the first class. The reasons? Many and many reasons: I don’t have enough time, I don’t have enough money, it’s too far to drive, my life is too busy, I can’t commit to ten weeks. So when is the best time to for Chado?

When I had taken a new job that involved a lot of international travel and executive responsibility. I always took my traveling tea set with me and invited people to have tea with me while I was traveling. Even though I had little time, it was the best time for Chado.

I got layed off from my job after the dot com crash, I didn’t have a lot of money. We had to redo our household budget and cut back on everything considered luxuries. I continued to make tea for people. Even though I had little money, after I was layed off was the best time for Chado.

When my mother was sick with cancer I went to take care of her. Through those hard days, I continued to make tea for her and for my family. Even though I was emotionally upset that my mother was dying, it was the best time for Chado.

For twenty years my tea classes were on the other side of town. To get to tea class, I drove in rush our traffic sometimes for 3 hours. Some days I really dreaded getting on the freeway to go to class. But going home, I always reflected that I was so glad that I braved the traffic and went to class. When is the best time for Chado? The best time for Chado is right now.

Posted by Margie Yap at Wednesday, September 10, 2008 4 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, the way

Sep 9, 2008

Excuses, excuses

One of the habits that I used to have is to offer excuses for things I did or did not do. For example, if I was late for keiko (tea class) I would blame it on traffic, or something came up, or someone else detained me. Quite often, I would spend time on my way to class to make sure that my excuse sounded plausible when in reality, the simple reason for my being late is that I did not plan ahead or I lost track of the time and started too late to make it to class on time.

When I went to Japan, the sensei there were not particularly interested in my excuses. The fact remained that I was late. Being late is rude to the people in class and to anyone else who is waiting for you to show up. Sensei was interested in apologies and steps to make it up to the people (including him) who were kept waiting by my lateness.

It is a hard habit to break this offering of excuses. Sensei would cut me off if I started to do it and wait for my apology. If I continued to try to explain myself (articulate my excuse), I was not allowed in class. I felt stifled and uncomfortable and yes, angry that he would not let me use my justifications and rationalizations for why it was not my fault for being late.

And that is the lesson, isn’t it? That being late was my fault. I knew when class started and really there was no excuse for me to be late. When I offered my excuse, I felt much better and it relieved me of the responsibility of getting to class on time. If I did not get the chance to excuse, explain, justify or rationalize my being late, the responsibility of getting to class on time remained with me.

In spite of the difficulties, I made a commitment to get to class on time. Everyone else made that commitment, too. I was not special just because I had difficulties. Everyone has difficulties. The best thing to do is to apologize for my rudeness and change my behavior so as not to make people wait for me.

Posted by Margie Yap at Tuesday, September 09, 2008 4 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, chanoyu, practice, study, the way, training

Sep 7, 2008

A rich and generous spirit

I just had a lovely visit from Alexandria Dewey. She is the daughter of one of my first tea students in Portland, Debra Furrer. Recently I found out that Debra had passed away from breast cancer. I dedicated a week of tea classes to her and mentioned it on this blog.

Alexandria found the post and called me. She wanted to donate her mother’s tea utensils to Issoan Tea school. This is a heartfelt thank you to you, Alexandria. You have inherited your mother’s rich and generous spirit. Every time we will use these utensils in class, we will remember Debra and your mother will live on in our memories. She has now become part of the provenance of these utensils and I hope when the time comes, they can be passed on to new owners with stories and memories of your mother.

Alexandria has a team running in The Race for the Cure on Sunday, September 28. If you’d like to sponsor Alexandria and her team in memory of Debra, please go to this donation page. Your donation will go to research to find a cure for breast cancer. We have agreed to attend the Obon Festival next summer together to honor Debra.

Thank you so much, Alexandria. Take care and good luck.


Posted by Margie Yap at Sunday, September 07, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: appreciation, art of living, spiritual path, tea ceremony, tea utensils, the way

Sep 5, 2008

The host revealed

In chanoyu, the guests pretty much make their way into the tea room alone, look at everything displayed and settle themselves before host comes into the room. After the greetings, the host brings in the utensils and sets up for the tea ceremony.

Because of the attention and focus of the guests, the host’s actions are magnified. Every gesture is revealing about the host. Because every gesture has emotional and psychological impact, we must be careful and attentive to what we do. How we open the door for example, says a lot of things about the host’s state of mind.

Precision when handling the hishaku, the water ladle, the position of the kokoro no kagami (mirror of the heart) and the sound it makes when it is put down, these first impressions set the tone for the rest of the temae.

When the host begins to fold the fukusa to purify the utensils, it can be a time that the guests begin to breathe in unison with the host. Unconsciously, the host is bringing the separate guests into one with this breathing. If the host hurries through this part of the procedure, the guests cannot catch up and the opportunity is lost to bring guests and hosts together in this subtle way.

The choice of scroll and theme, of flowers and how they are arranged, of utensils chosen are all clues and reveals something about the host. In these non-verbal communications, the host is speaking to the guests and telling them about himself. Guests, are you listening?

Posted by Margie Yap at Friday, September 05, 2008 2 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, chanoyu, practice, tea ceremony, the way

Sep 3, 2008

The presence of the teacher

When Christy sensei comes for koshukai, there is so much information that my head spins. She not only teaches us the formal tea procedures, has also lectured on aesthetics, talked about the history of the grand tea masters, given us background and context of Japanese history, literature, drama and poetry.

And I was reminded once again that we don’t take notes in class. Tea is an oral tradition, passed by the spoken word and practice of making tea. It also helps to train our minds to remember if we don’t take notes or become dependent on them. As an inveterate note taker with a bad memory, this is very difficult for me. I just had to take a few notes and found myself running out of the room at breaks to write a few things down even though by the time I got my notebook and pencil out, I had forgotten much of what I wanted to write down.

I have heard that in learning chado, the way of tea, the presence of a sensei is more important than the actual teaching that they do. Christy sensei told us of an older sensei who told her that when he was learning tea, all his sensei did was watch him. No words were spoken, the student had to read the body language and figure out for himself what was wrong and how to correct it. She said that we are very lucky that our sensei want to transmit the knowledge and just give us corrections and teach us actively. It used to be one had to steal the knowledge of tea from the teacher.

My experience of learning chado, is that much of teaching is indirect and subtle. That is through anecdotes and stories, we learn what is valued. By reading scrolls and discussing possible meanings of the Zen phrases, we learn the philosophy and by observing and looking at tea utensils, we train our eyes and mind in the aesthetics of chado. Temae, or the procedures for making tea teaches the heart of tea itself.

Posted by Margie Yap at Wednesday, September 03, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, classes, practice, study, tea ceremony, temae, the way, training

Sep 2, 2008

Intensive training

Twice a year, we are so very fortunate to have Christy Bartlett sensei come to Portland for Koshukai, intensive training workshops in the way of tea. We have just concluded three days going from very highest and most complicated procedures to the basic beginning procedures. As in the Rikyu poem we went from one to ten and back to the original one again in the space of a weekend.

For those of us who participated in the entire three days, sitting seiza the whole time is a challenge, but a place where training shows. Some of the procedures we only do once a year and to recall them and do them in front of sensei and everyone can be intimidating.

Christy-sensei is so knowledgeable that just listening to her teaching as others do temae, is educational. She incorporates stories of past tea masters teachings, history, aesthetics, zen phrases and information about other Japanese arts in her teaching.

I will be writing about what I learned in koshukai for the next few days in posts following this one.

It is always inspiring and humbling to attend koshukai. Inspiring because I reconnect why I follow the way of tea, and humbling because there is so much that I have yet to learn.

Posted by Margie Yap at Tuesday, September 02, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, classes, practice, study, temae, the way, training

Aug 28, 2008

What’s in the package?

The Japanese are famous for packaging. Gifts are exquisitely wrapped; even candies come in unique and intriguing packages. From simple paper wrappings to elaborate cloth bags and wooden boxes, this packaging may seem redundant. But isn’t it nice to unwrap a treasure, layer by layer to admire and appreciate the time and effort somebody went to give you this experience? The more valuable the treasure, the more elaborate the packaging.

Utensils for Chado are traditionally packaged,too. Most often you will see teabowls, cold water jars, kettles in wooden boxes wrapped with woven ribbons. Often there is writing on the boxes, with a paper cover to help protect the writing. Please don’t mistake these boxes for packing boxes and throw them away. Some utensils given to the Japanese Garden were unpacked by someone inexperienced with these packages and were thrown away. The writing on the outside often tells what is inside them, who made them and often the lineage of the piece. We have some beautiful utensils, but know nothing about them or their history. It is these things that tea people want to know when you use the utensils. Where it came from, who made it and how it came to be in your hands.

There is an art to tying the ribbons on the boxes so that the knots are flat. The boxes often have recessed bottoms so that a flat knot will allow you to stack them and store them. To help you out, here is a video on how to tie a box.

Posted by Margie Yap at Thursday, August 28, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: appreciation, calligraphy, Chado, chanoyu, practice, tea utensils, training

Aug 27, 2008

Something old is something new

In the Urasenke curriculum there are more than 70 temae or procedures for making tea, depending on the formality, season, the rank of your guests, and many other factors. There are also informal procedures that are taught, for example, using a leaf in the summer time instead of a lacquered lid for the cold water jar. And there are training group training exercises where students draw lots to find out who will make tea and who will drink tea.

While this may sound intimidating to the new student, each procedure builds on the previous one so going through the curriculum takes time. For people who master skills easily, there is always a new procedure to learn.

Part of why I like the many procedures is that when I choose to put on a chakai or tea gathering, I can choose a different one each time, and keep the guests interested. The other reason that I like so many procedures is that each time I learn a new one, I feel like a beginner again. Even when I revisit a procedure that I haven’t practiced in a while, I have to learn it all over again. This feeling like a beginner keeps chado fresh for me.

Keeping chado fresh helps me to understand what my students go through when learning it for the first time. Though many people like the feeling of mastery, it also can get boring after awhile. Learning something new challenges me and keeps me interested.

In the creed we also say “As we diligently learn the Way, at the same time, we shall not forget the humble but eager heart of the beginner.”

Posted by Margie Yap at Wednesday, August 27, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, study, temae, the way, training

Aug 26, 2008

The universe responds

I have a friend that I talk with regularly in getting his business going. When I first met him he wasn’t quite making it and complained all the time about how some people are so lucky while he had to work so hard for just the scraps. He put in countless hours knowing that it would not make much difference and he always got what he expected, crumbs. He was convinced that he’d always be poor and not quite make enough to survive – and by golly, that was what happened.

I told him one day that he deserved cake and to ask the universe for what he wanted. I told him to ask very specifically what it was he wanted. Not something like – “I don’t want to live like a pauper” The universe works in the positive and if you ask for something like that, it hears “I want to live like a pauper” and that is what you get. So we set down some very specific positive goals for his company. Then he sat back and nothing happened. You have to keep working towards those goals everyday. So he got is stuff together and worked just as hard as he used to and nothing happened. I told him that not only does he have to work toward his very specific goals, he has to believe that they will be fulfilled.

I am happy to say that two years after that conversation, my friend has had all sorts of good luck with his company. He is making enough money to live on and he has attracted some very good people to help him out and sponsorships that he would not have dreamed he could land. Every week, it seems, more good things come his way.

So the universe does respond, but you have to be specific, work hard and believe. Also, don’t forget to be thankful and help other people out, too.

Posted by Margie Yap at Tuesday, August 26, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: art of living, the way

Aug 22, 2008

Assumed responsibility

One of the things taught by my sensei was if you see something that needs to be done you do it. No complaints, no bragging about it, no getting credit for it. It is your responsibility to do it and it is assumed you will take care of it. Also, if you don’t like the way that things are being done, it is up to you to work out a solution that is amenable to everybody.

An example of this is in the mizuya. There is usually a mizuya cho (person in charge). It is his or her designated responsibility to see that everything runs smoothly, that the correct utensils are put out for class, and that everything is cleaned and put way and all mizuya procedures are done properly. Everyone is responsible for cleaning up their own teabowl and utensils and refilling the tea container for the next person. At the end of class, everyone pitches in to clean up everything else.

Don’t wait for the cho to tell you what to do. If you are trained to do something, show someone else how to do it. If you are not trained, ask someone who knows how to do it to show you. Look to see what needs to be done and just do it. If someone didn’t clean up their bowl and refill the natsume, clean it up and refill it yourself. If all students assume the responsibility then it gets done quickly and things run much more smoothly.

This can also be extended to your life. When you see something that needs to be done, just assume it is your responsibility to do it. If you notice it, it becomes your responsibility to do it or fix it or find a solution amenable to everyone one (not just yourself).

Posted by Margie Yap at Friday, August 22, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, chanoyu, practice, training

Aug 21, 2008

The tsukubai

“Guest and host both joined as one, share a bowl of tea. In tranquil meditation, no margin divides their hearts. The tea garden is a way apart from this bustling world and its many cares. Why not sweep away the dust from within our hearts?”

As part of the tranquility of the tea ceremony, one must leave behind the world and prepare oneself for the tea room. The host has cleaned and prepared everything, and now the guests must prepare themselves. Before entering the tea room, guests make their way through the garden and wait at the covered bench called the koshikake machiai. Sitting here in the garden, one can hear nature and begin to remove oneself from the cares of the world.

The host will signal the guests to enter the tea room by bringing a bucket of clean water and watering the plants around the tsukubai. Then she will rinse her hands and mouth at the tsukubai, and refill it with the bucket of water. After returning the bucket to the crawling in entrance (nijiriguchi), she will come to the middle gate, open it and bow silently. Then she will enter the tea room by the nijiriguchi and leave the door ajar.

One by one the guests will go to the tsukubai to rinse their hands and mouth. First squat down in front of the basin to dip a scoop full of water and rinse the left hand, then the right hand. Take another scoop and pour some water into your left hand and rinse your mouth. The scoop is tilted upright to let the water run over the handle to purify the handle for the next guest. The scoop is returned to the tsukubai and the guest wipes his hands on his own handkerchief. Thus purified, the guest may now enter the tea room.

NEW! Introduction to Japanese Tea Ceremony
Harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. These are the four principles of tea ceremony distilled from Japanese culture. In this ten week class, students will be introduced to Chado, the way of tea. The arts of Japan will be examined through the ritual preparation and drinking of matcha, Japanese ceremonial tea. An overview of Japanese aesthetics found in gardening, architecture, art and literature and how Tea Ceremony has influenced Japanese culture will be presented. Also covered are tea ceramics, calligraphy, kimono dressing, and participate in an incense ceremony. We will also learn zazen meditation and discuss how to put tea practice into every day life.

When: Thursdays 7:00-8:30 Starting September 4, for 10 weeks
Fee: $250 most materials, tea and sweets furnished. Others available for purchase at class.
Where: Classes will take place in an authentic Japanese tea room located at Ryokusuido Tea House, 3826 NE Glisan St. Portland, OR 97232.
How to register: Call Margie 503-645-7058 for registration or email margie at issoantea dot com.

Posted by Margie Yap at Thursday, August 21, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, chanoyu, classes, etiquette, practice, rituals, tea ceremony, tea gathering, training, Welcome

Aug 20, 2008

Multitasking is not a virtue

In our over scheduled modern life, multitasking is seen as skill that to be praised and applauded. My husband used to watch television, read the paper and listen to me talk with him all at the same time. If you can answer email, return phone calls, finish a report and surf the internet during meeting, it is seen as being both efficient and productive. Talking on the cell phone while driving, doing homework with the radio or TV on and texting friends, searching the internet or talking on the phone – we try to cram in more information more action to save time.

But research* determined that for various types of tasks, subjects lost time when they had to switch from one task to another. These “time costs” increased with the complexity of the chores: It took longer, say researchers Rubinstein and Meyer, for subjects to switch between more complicated tasks. Not being able to concentrate for, say, tens of minutes at a time, may mean it’s costing a company as much as 20 to 40 percent in terms of potential efficiency lost, or the “time cost” of switching, as these researchers call it.

Multitasking is not a virtue in Chado. Making tea is a complicated procedure and sensei says, “Complete this moment before going on to the next.” Over 400 years in the making and serving tea, it has been refined to be the most efficient and beautiful way of doing it. My own poor brain begins to shut down if I try to multitask while making tea. Even talking and making tea makes me freeze up. Either I stop making tea, or I stop talking. It is difficult to do both at once.

There is another reason multitasking is not held in high esteem in the tea room. It prevents you from being in the present. It prevents you from concentrating on making the very best tea for your guests. “When you make tea, make tea. When you are drinking tea, drink tea – nothing more.”

* “Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching” American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance

Posted by Margie Yap at Wednesday, August 20, 2008 4 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, chanoyu, mindfulness, study, tea ceremony, training

Aug 19, 2008

Japanese words for the tea room – Haiken

At the appropriate time (when the lid is placed on the cold water jar), the first guest will ask the host to examine and appreciate the utensils used to make tea. He does this by asking:

O natsume, o (to) chashaku no haiken onegai itashi masu. (please let us examine the tea container and teascoop).

The host will acknowledge this by bowing and clearing the other utensils from the mat so he can purify the tea container and tea scoop for the guests. Once he has put them out, he then takes the rest of the utensils from the tea room and leaves the guests to examine the tea container and tea scoop up close.

When everyone has finished looking and appreciating, the utensils are returned to where the host has put them out. The host comes back into the room to answer questions. It is the first guest who initiates the conversation:

Guest: O natsume, o chashaku no haiken arigato gozaimasu (thank you for letting us examine your tea container and tea scoop). O natsume no katachi wa? (what is the shape of the natsume?)

Host: Rikyu gata chuu natsume, de gozimasu (it is Rikyu’s favored shape in the middle size)

Guest: Onuri wa? (tell us about the lacquer)

Host: Oimatsu makie, Sotetsu de gozaimasu (old pine in gold lacquer done by Sotetsu)
Guest: O chashaku no osaku wa? (who made the tea scoop)

Host: Zabosai Oiemoto, de gozaimasu. (Zabosai the grand tea master made it)

Guest: Gomei wa? (what is the poetic name?)

Host: Tombo, de gozaimasu. (dragonfly. This a seasonally appropriate name)

Guest: Odogu no haiken, arigato gozaimashita (thank you for letting me see your utensils).

Posted by Margie Yap at Tuesday, August 19, 2008 2 comments Links to this post

Labels: appreciation, Chado, chanoyu, etiquette, Japanese words for the tea room, practice, tea utensils, temae, training

Aug 18, 2008

Questions, questions

When I first began to study tea, I had a million questions and I asked them all the time of my sensei. Often she would not answer my questions and I thought that it was because her English was not so good. But that didn’t stop me from asking questions or asking them repeatedly. I was there to learn and I thought that asking questions was the best way for me to do that. It showed sensei that I was active, engaged and participating. Quite often, sensei would answer my questions with responses like, “You already know the answer,” or “Because it has been decided,” or “If I give you the answer, you will not remember.” None of which were appropriate answers as far as I was concerned.

It wasn’t until I went to Japan to study that I realized that what I was doing was very disruptive and quite disrespectful of my sensei. Although there are no inappropriate questions, there were definitely inappropriate times to ask them.

I take that back. There are inappropriate questions – those questions that are asked to show off what you know and questions that are meant to embarrass the teacher. Questions asked sincerely are appropriate, and only the student can regulate these questions.

As for inappropriate times to ask questions, it is bad form to ask questions when the teacher is actively teaching another student and there by taking attention away from another student’s learning. It is inappropiate to ask questions that will sidetrack the teacher from what is being currently being presented. It is better to wait until the teacher asks if there are any questions. If the questions only engage one student in a back and forth that leaves out the rest of the class it is better to take it off line and ask the teacher outside of class.

Just because you ask a question, doesn’t mean that you will receive an answer that you like. The learning style of question and answer is only one form of learning. As I learned from my sensei, “Because it has been decided,” is a perfectly good answer. This teaches us that there are things we accept now without understanding it may lead to a deeper understanding later. A hard concept for our culture, I know.

The response of “If I give you the answer, you will not remember,” teaches us that not everything is given to us. We must work hard to come by knowledge. By trying to work out an answer or researching it, trains you to think for yourself and seek out the answer by yourself.

If there are any questions, I’ll try to answer them in the comments.

Posted by Margie Yap at Monday, August 18, 2008 11 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, classes, practice, sensei says, study, training

Aug 9, 2008

Putting it into practice

Every week we go to okeiko to practice the procedures for making tea. Inside the tea room there are rules and etiquette to guide us in the proper behavior for both the guest and the host. It often seems archaic and stiff – too formal for today’s modern life. But what we are learning can be of help to us outside the tea room if we put it into practice in our everyday life.

One of the things we learn is kansha, when we lift the bowl of tea or tray of sweets in silent gratitude. During the day we can take a few seconds and acknowledge what we have in silent gratitude. Nobody has to know what you are doing.

When we say “Otemae chodai itashimasu” we are not just thanking the host for the tea. We are thanking him for the preparation beforehand and making of the tea as well as the person who ground the tea, grew the tea and packaged the tea. In fact, we are thanking everyone that made it possible for the tea we are about to drink.

In doing our work in the mizuya, everyone cleans their own utensils. And further, everyone helps to clean the mizuya and put things away in their proper place. In other words clean up your own mess and then help clean up the group mess.

People get a chance to practice leadership skills when they become the mizuya cho. As the head of the mizuya, you must know what needs to be done and be able to direct people to get it done and take all the responsibility if something is not done or not done right. As a mizuya worker, it is good to practice doing what needs to be done without the mizuya cho directing you. Just get it done with the least fuss. This is learning to work together. The sooner the chores are done the sooner the whole group gets to go home.

The very first words of the Kotoba or Creed are “We are striving to learn the essence of Chado and to put it into practice in our daily lives.”

Posted by Margie Yap at Saturday, August 09, 2008 4 comments Links to this post

Labels: appreciation, art of living, Chado, chanoyu, classes, Cleaning, gratitude, practice, study, temae, the way, training

Aug 6, 2008

Suzushi the cooling breeze

In the heat of August it is often difficult and challenging for tea people. It only makes sense to do asa cha, early morning tea before the heat of the day makes it unbearable. Who wants to sit near the furo with charcoal fire burning while it is 95 or 100º ? According to the lunar calendar, the first day of autumn is around the 7th or 8th but autum seems like a long way off especially since we had a long cool spring that lasted until the end of June.

Be kind to your guests and invite them to early morning tea. You will have to get up very early, but water the garden and the water droplets look inviting and cool. Outdoor tea in the morning would refreshing, too.

Project cool, cool, cool with light colored kimono that may be a little less formal, serve food that is cool or resembles flowing water, ice or seasonal fruits. Use wide flat teabowls to dissapate the heat of the tea and whisk longer to get a good froth and cool the tea a little.

Pray for a cooling breeze to rustle the leaves and most of all project with your mind cool, calm and collected.

Don’t forget the new class How to be a guest at Tea Ceremony starts tomorrow night at Ryokusuido Tea House.

Posted by Margie Yap at Wednesday, August 06, 2008 3 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, chanoyu, classes, guests, tea ceremony, tea gathering

Aug 5, 2008

Bits and Pieces

I am sorry for not posting more last month. A lot of tea events going on. We just completed the C.H.A. Creative Handmade Art show and sale. It was so good to see many old friends and meet additional new ones. We had a lot of fun and it was amazing to see all the art created by followers of chado. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it again.

I also attended an asa chakai, or early morning tea. In the summer, holding a tea gathering in the cool of the morning before the day advances with heat is considerate of guests. While challenging for the hosts (they have to get up practically in the middle of the night to prepare), it is very nice for the guests. The asa chakai I attended, not only had sweets and tea, but a meal to break our fast. The cool bright morning was perfect for tea and the guests congenial. The best part was we were done by 8:30 am and had the whole day to use as we wanted.

Thank you all who attended the open house for Ryokusuido tea room last month. We are so lucky to have this facility available to study in. A total of 30 people have had tea there and now in August 7 and 14 we will start the workshop for how to be a guest at a tea ceremony. The second section will be August 21 and 28. Call Margie 503-645-7058 to make reservations, space is limited and classes are almost full.

The beginner’s class also had their final chakai at the Portland Japanese Garden. After ten weeks of class, they were able to invite friends and family to dress in kimono, show off what they had learned, serve their guests tea and enjoy the garden.

For those interested, the new 10 week Introduction to Tea Ceremony class will begin in September. More details coming soon.

Posted by Margie Yap at Tuesday, August 05, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, chanoyu, classes, tea ceremony, tea gathering

Jul 27, 2008

Chashaku, the tea scoop

One of the humblest tea utensils is the bamboo tea scoop. Historically, tea scoops were made of wood or ivory, but Rikyu began to make tea scoops from bamboo in the wabi cha aesthetic.

The chashaku is merely a strip of bamboo, curved at the end, and yet it holds much significance. Chashaku are one of the utensils scrutinized by the guests during haiken (the time of appreciating utensils in a tea gathering). They are given poetic names and help to set the tone of the tea gathering. Buddhist priests and other famous tea people have carved tea scoops and given them names thus connecting us with them when we study them or have the good fortune to use them in a tea gathering.

I have been trying to carve my own chashaku, and like everything else in chado, it is much harder than it looks. I was given some very nice bamboo by a basket weaving artist who grew it in his back yard. This bamboo was about four inches in diameter and I thought it would be easier to bend into a chashaku shape.

I wouldn’t say that my carving skills are very good and it took about 18 tries before I had what I thought was an acceptable chashaku. Along the way I learned many subtleties of that humble tea scoop – such as how bamboo tends to split in straight lines, except when it doesn’t. And how to bend the bamboo with enough curve without cracking it, or how to finish the end in a pleasing manner, or even by golly, to make sure that the scoop will fit on top of the tea container without becoming a helicopter during a tea procedure.

I have a new appreciation for the chashaku and the next time I have an opportunity to haiken a tea scoop, I will understand much better how that humble piece of bamboo reflects the soul and spirit of the person who lovingly carved it.

Posted by Margie Yap at Sunday, July 27, 2008 11 comments Links to this post

Labels: appreciation, artists, Chado, chanoyu, study, tea ceremony, tea utensils, temae, wabi

Jul 22, 2008

C.H.A. Show and Sale

Creative Handmade Art

With the study of Chado (Way of Tea) comes the appreciation of beauty.
C.H.A. is a Show and Sale of Articles of Beauty* by people who study Chado.
*may or may not be for Tea

Richard Brandt ~ Sanje Elliot ~ Linda Nelson ~ Craig Tenney
jan Waldmann ~ Barbara Walker ~ Ernie Walker ~ Margie Yap

Possibly a few Guest Artisans

Friday, August 1st 4 pm ~ 8 pm OPENING GATHERING
Saturday & Sunday Noon ~ 4 pm

DoShin Tei
Jan Waldmann
8855 SW 36th
Portland, Oregon 97219

Posted by Margie Yap at Tuesday, July 22, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: artists, Chado, stuff, tea gathering, wabi, Welcome

Jul 21, 2008

Sitting and listening to the wind in the pines

Most of Issoan tea classes are in the evening and students often come right from work or right from fighting traffic to get to the school. We usually begin our class with about 10-15 minutes of zazen. Just sitting with the stillness and breathing deeply helps to put some of the dust of the world behind us, center us and get ready for study.

My students often ask me about what is the correct way to meditate. I don’t know very much about Zen meditation but to get students started, I have them sit seiza (if in kimono) or half lotus (thank you, Jordan) or cross legged. Sitting up straight with ears aligned with shoulders, arms comfortably in your lap, left hand on top of right, palm up and thumbs together. We light the incense, ring the bell and empty our minds. Try counting breaths 1 to 10 and back to 1 again, or just letting thoughts come and go and settle down inside.

Some days I am more successful than others, but when I reach a place of aware alertness, I can hear the sound of the kettle singing without getting carried away listening to it. Sometimes my feet fall asleep and I lose all feeling. Sometimes I just can’t stop thinking about things. Sometimes I really feel my breathing deep in my lungs. And sometimes, not very often, I just sit and hear the wind in the pines and nothing else matters.

Posted by Margie Yap at Monday, July 21, 2008 6 comments Links to this post

Labels: breathe, Buddhist path, Chado, chanoyu, classes, meditation, the way, training, zazen

Jul 14, 2008

Sitting alone in contemplation

This post and all classes this week are dedicated to Debra Furrer who was the first tea student in Portland for Issoan Tea School. She passed away May 27th, though I just recently found out. Rest well, and thank you for your support, confidence and adventuresome spirit.

One of my classes just hosted their first chakai in honor of Tanabata, the star festival. The Star festival dates back to the Chin-Tang dynasties in China. The legend is that the lord of heaven’s daughter (the star Vega) who lived on the East bank of the Milky Way (amanogawa or river of heaven), was so intent on weaving that she did not think to ever get married. Her father gave her to the goat heard (the Star Altir) who lived on the West bank. They were so happy that she gave up weaving and angered her father. He separated them on each side of the river and they could only see each other one day of the year on the seventh day of the seventh month. If it rained, however, she would not be able to cross the river, but the magpies would spread their wings and make a bridge for her.

The students did a very good job from the invitations to choosing the utensils and the theme was carried throughout. The chashaku was named hashi no kasasagi (bridge of magpies), the sweets (two small an mochi in a silver star meimeizara) poetically called “lovers”. The flowers were lily and dill weed (two stars) in a woven bamboo basket and the scroll was “ichigo ichie” – one lifetime, one meeting by Taikyo Nakamura. The omojawan was named yozora or evening sky.

The author of “ichigo ichie,” Ii Naosuke was born the 14th son of a daimyo family in Hikone. In 1858 Naosuke became prime minister and about that time began writing a handbook on chanoyu, “The single encounter of a lifetime.” (ichigo ichie) This work gives a detailed account of matters requiring attention in hosting a tea gathering, beginning with the etiquette for invitations and proper dress to preparation of the tea garden, tea room and utensils.

For Naosuke, after the tea gathering was an important time for the host. He writes, “For both host and guests, a surplus of feeling and lingering thoughts have arisen, so that when the parting greetings have finished, the guests exit from the garden path with hushed voices, departing with quiet glances back and the host, of course, sees the guests off until they recede from sight. To hastily shut the door or gate of the garden or other sliding screens would be tasteless in the extreme, nullifying utterly the hospitality of the day; hence, even though the parting guests may no longer be visible, one should not rush to straighten up. One should, with a tranquil heart, return to the tearoom, now entering through the crawling in entrance. Sitting in solitude before the hearth, one should for a time, with the feeling that words yet remain to be spoken, consider how far the guests have gone in their return. One should reflect that this single encounter of a lifetime has now ended this day, never to recur and perhaps partake of a bowl of tea alone. This is the practice that is the ultimate core of the gathering. This moment of stillness; there is only the kettle for partner in conversation and nothing else. It is indeed a realm that one must attain for oneself.” ~ excerpt from Wind in the Pines, by Dennis Hirota.

Posted by Margie Yap at Monday, July 14, 2008 2 comments Links to this post

Labels: art of living, Chado, chanoyu, classes, practice, spiritual path, study, tea ceremony, tea gathering, the way

Jul 12, 2008

What’s new at SweetPersimmon.com

I have some new products up at the SweetPersimmon.com website.

Heat wraps – These flannel wraps are filled with rice. Just put them in the microwave and wrap them around your body for soothing moist heat. They are 4 inches by 34 inches to wrap around your shoulders, neck, or back. Comes in it’s own lined flannel carry bag. Great for Christmas gifts.

Also, just because I like making them — Handbags and purses. I got a new sewing machine and I love to design and make handbags and purses. Choose from quilted shoulder bags, summer straw bags, purses or tea wallets. New bags going up all the time as I get inspired to design and sew them.

A Year of Haiku — Haiku for everyday of the year. Spoken word CD now available.

Don’t forget we have seiza zazen seats, matcha tea, tea ceremony utensils, oolong tea, tea travel mugs, kyusu teapots, incense, books and cards and gifts. Check it out SweetPersimmon.com.

Posted by Margie Yap at Saturday, July 12, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: oolong tea, stuff, sweetpersimmon.com, tea utensils

Jul 10, 2008

Ryokusuido Tea House Now Open in Portland

Ryokusuido Tea House

We’d like to invite you to the opening of Ryokusuido Tea House. Please join us for a Japanese sweet and bowl of powdered matcha tea. Thursdays July 17, 24, and 31 at 6:30 or 8:30 pm. Fee $5.00. Reservations required. Contact Margie 503.645.7058 for reservations and directions to the tea house.

Want to learn more? Being a Guest at a Tea Ceremony
For these interested in learning to be a guest at a Japanese tea ceremony, we offer two workshops. Thursday August 7 and 14 or August 21 and 28, 7:00-8:30 pm. Fee $10. This class will cover the basic etiquette of receiving a bowl of tea and sweet at a Japanese Tea Ceremony. It’s for those who want to know what to do and what to bring when invited to a tea ceremony. Reservations required. Workshops will take place at Ryokusuido Tea House. Contact Margie 503.645.7058 for reservations and directions to the tea house.

New Introduction to Japanese Tea Ceremony
10 week class beginning in September. More details coming soon.

Ryokusuido Tea house is located at:
3826 NE Glisan St;
Portland, OR 97232

Posted by Margie Yap at Thursday, July 10, 2008 2 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, chanoyu, classes, study, tea ceremony, Welcome

Jul 9, 2008

Wherever you are, you are here now

This is a scroll that is hung in the tea room:


Hobo seifu okosu
Step by step, the pure breeze comes

It is a timely scroll as the hot weather is upon us now. The pure breeze like a breath of fresh air, cools and cleanses us. Step by step, as if we are walking towards the breeze, it comes closer.

Fellow students and my own tea students often lament that they wish that they were further along with their tea studies. Other times students look at how far they have to go in their studies that they get discouraged.

What this scroll is telling us is that looking ahead and wishing for something that is not here yet can be frustrating. If I take one step at at time, the rewards will come. In our tea studies each temae builds upon the last one. Jumping ahead before learning the lessons of the previous temae will only confuse you. It is better to concentrate on where you are now, learn the lessons before moving on to the next one.

Like any endeavor or undertaking, step by step will get you towards your goal. There are no shortcuts. Like gardening, losing weight or getting in shape, you cannot wake up one day already at your goal. You must work at it every day — and then the pure breeze comes.

Posted by Margie Yap at Wednesday, July 09, 2008 4 comments Links to this post

Labels: calligraphy, chanoyu, practice, spiritual path, study, tea ceremony, the way, training

Jun 29, 2008

Mizuya, the preparation room

When people see a tea room, they do not think of the mizuya, the preparation room. It is the training ground for the tea room and here that the some of my most profound lessons were learned. There are many rules to learn about preparing for tea class and tea gatherings and it all starts in the mizuya.

Some mizuya I have worked in were small rooms that barely fit two or three people side by side. I once prepared 300 bowls of tea with two other people in a mizuya that was six feet by six feet. It also contained an electric burner, a sink for washing bowls, cold water rinse buckets and room for about 30 bowls. There was no table in this mizuya, everything was done on the floor sitting seiza.

Because the mizuya is hidden from the guests, we must be extra diligent about doing things, cleaning up after ourselves and working together with a minimum of fuss. Sensei says that the mizuya must be cleaner than the tea room.

So every spare minute you spend in the mizuya you should be cleaning. Whether you are washing bowls, filling the tea container, arranging flowers or preparing for the next temae, clean up before you work and after you work. Do not leave your cleaning for others. If you are not working you can zokin (wipe the floor with floor towels). If you are not working, get out of the mizuya. It is no place for idle talk, gossip or just standing around.

When cleaning up after your temae, you should wash, rinse and dry your bowl, rinse your chasen and clean out your kensui. Rinse and remove all the green tea from your chakin, and fold neatly and return to the flat chakin darai. Wipe your chashaku with tissue so that all tea residue is removed and refill the natusme with tea. Replenish the sweets tray and arrange them for the next person. Return all utensils to their proper place when you have finished.

Because the mizuya is often a confined space, working together in harmony is essential. Usually there is a cho or head of the mizuya. It is the cho’s responsibility to make sure everything is done correctly in the mizuya. Therefore, there is no arguing with the cho. If he asks you to do something, you do it. But don’t wait around for the cho to tell you what to do. If you see something that needs to be done, just do it – and with a minimum of fuss. If you have a problem in the mizuya, call a meeting with the cho – later, outside of the mizuya.

When handing things to other people in the mizuya, you should put it down in front of them and let them pick it up. It is safer than passing utensils from hand to hand. A good foundation in the mizuya, allows you to concentrate on doing the right things in the tea room. I find that it helps me mentally to be present in the tea room if I have done my mizuya work well.

Posted by Margie Yap at Sunday, June 29, 2008 3 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, Cleaning, practice, tea ceremony, temae, the way, training

Jun 27, 2008

Leaving no trace

I was working out in the yard pulling weeds this week. When I was younger, my dad made me pull weeds for punishment, but after awhile, I really got into it and I asked to go out to the backyard to pull weeds. It became an experience for me. I was going to write a post about leaving no trace and in my yard, it looks like I have not left a trace since last month, the last time I weeded.

My husband is a woodworker who makes exquisitely beautiful and artistic furniture, boxes and shoji screens. He never signs his work. He thinks that the design and craftsmanship of the pieces should speak for themselves rather than him, the artist. He doesn’t own the piece and doesn’t feel right putting his name on it.

In tea, we must let go of owning the experience. It just is what it is. It is not a tea gathering by Margie as if it was a production or performance. It is a collaborative experience with host and guests each contributing.

In my chado training and teaching, it is not about letting everyone know about how hard or long I have been training, or how many students I have or imparting wisdom to students. I am a conduit to transmit what I learned from my sensei, try to preserve the tradition as best I can, learn about myself and continue my journey.

It is not about awards, or accolades or certification levels or reputation. I do it because I must. I cannot imagine a life without chado. Shunryu Suzuki said, “When you do something, you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.”

Posted by Margie Yap at Friday, June 27, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: art of living, Chado, practice, spiritual path, study, tea ceremony, the way, training

Jun 25, 2008

Who is the best teacher?

Sono michi ni iran to omou kokoro koso waga mi nagara no shisho nari keri

“The very heart which decides to enter the Way is the best teacher.”

Rikyu left us with 100 poems to study the way of tea. This was the first poem of Rikyu’s that I learned. Some people look and look for the best teacher. They look at credentials, they look a personality and teaching style, one that suits their learning style and makes them feel comfortable. I didn’t know that you could choose your teacher. I thought that whatever teacher you found or found you, that was the way it was supposed to be.

When I went to Japan, Mori sensei, one of the teachers at Urasenke, read us this poem and told us that we, in fact were our own best teachers. She said there is nothing to teach us. All we can do is point to the moon. To learn chanoyu, you must seek for yourself. If you have a strong will, you will learn.

I have had students who wanted me to make them tea masters just for showing up at class and argued with me about the “right” way to teach them. I have had students who are so eager to learn that they research and practice on their own. I find that students will only learn as much as they want, no matter how I strive as a teacher. The student must be motivated to learn on his own, have the discipline to work through the tough parts of the learning and desire to become better and know more.

Literally translated, sensei means “one who one who has gone before.” My sensei said to me, “When I am teaching you, I will show you what I know.”

Posted by Margie Yap at Wednesday, June 25, 2008 2 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, practice, Rikyu, sensei says, study, tea ceremony, the way, Welcome

Jun 17, 2008


I have heard that 80% of Chado is preparation. Every week we go to keiko and train. We not only learn the temae, but also the mizuya work and preparation of the tea room. This includes cleaning, hanging the scroll properly and arranging flowers.

Preparation for a tea gathering also includes deciding on a theme, choosing scroll and utensils and inviting guests who will make the tea gathering a success.

When I decide to put on a tea gathering, I have lists and checklists starting a month in advance and counting down to the day of the gathering. I also have a check list of things to do for three days after the gathering.

This preparation for chado and tea gatherings, whether chakai or chaji also includes the mental preparation. As the host of a gathering, it is your responsibility to plan ahead and think about what could go wrong and have a back up for each contingency. What if nobody responds to your invitation? What if one of your guests unexpectedly brings another person? What if it rains on the day of your event? It takes some mental preparation to handle these things as graciously as if you had planned it (which you have).

It also takes mental preparation to handle things that you never even thought of. I once gave a chaji and the person who was supposed to make sweets for the tea gathering didn’t, even though we had discussed in many times. We ended up using an apple that I had brought for snacks for the mizuya workers.

Being prepared for okeiko is important as well. Choosing a poetic name for your sweets and chashaku ahead of time, studying your temae and notes before class, and setting up your own utensils all helps you prepare for the temae ahead.

Being mentally prepared for okeiko means that you are open and willing to receive teaching and/or correction from your sensei. That means not taking correction personally or getting too flustered or embarrassed about being corrected. Being open means that you will correct what you are doing and move on, rather than dwelling on the correction, losing your concentration and focus. Being open to teaching means that while other students are doing their temae, you are paying attention and learning from their corrections, too. It also means that you are open to the lessons that other students or situations going on around you.

Posted by Margie Yap at Tuesday, June 17, 2008 4 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, chanoyu, study, tea ceremony, temae, training

Jun 11, 2008

The art of craftsmanship

There has always been an ongoing debate of craft vs. art. My husband is a woodworker and when he looks at art pieces he sometimes is disgusted with conceptual art pieces that show sloppy execution. When we went to the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery in Washington D.C, there were wood furniture and studio craft art pieces that were exquisite. Every single one of them so finely crafted. Truly these creators were masters of their medium, whether it was glass, wood, ceramics or metal. The care and precision in making the pieces were readily apparent.

We have a friend who has a couple of works purchased by the museum. He has been a wood worker for more than 30 years. He talks about no do overs with wood. Once it is cut, you can’t put it back together and cut it again, so it must be right the first time. He also talks about wood being a living medium, in that wood once was a living substance unlike clay, or metal or glass. Wood even after it is cut and worked continues as a living substance. It breathes, for instance. When there is humidity in the air it expands, and when it is dry it shrinks. So a woodworker who is also a craftsman will take this into account and design and build his pieces so that the movement of the wood will not break it apart or show gaps at the joints.

Craftsmanship like this takes more time and more attention to detail. It is a self discipline in that the artist determines how precise and how perfect the finished product has to be before it is acceptable. Tea has so many opportunities to make a decision of how precise and perfect our work is to be acceptable.

When I first began my tea studies, I really didn’t care if my fingers were open or closed. I didn’t pay attention to what hand I used to pick up and put down the tea bowl or if I was sitting precisely 16 tatami weaves back from the black border. What did any of these things matter when making or drinking tea? Close was good enough for me.

And yet, because Chado is a 400 year tradition, refined and modified to be efficient and beautiful, all of these things matter. Making and drinking tea is about tea, but it is also a great canvas to experiment and exercise your creativity. It is also an opportunity to explore your own personal standards and level of craftsmanship.

Posted by Margie Yap at Wednesday, June 11, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: art of living, Chado, mindfulness, study, tea ceremony, the way, training

Jun 8, 2008

Self discipline and tea studies

One of the great lessons that I learned during my 25 years of tea studies is the importance of self-discipline. I think it is one of those grown up values that don’t seem to be emphasized much anymore. I used to think of self-discipline as punishment; feeling guilty for not doing the things I should be doing and denying myself the pleasures of life.

When it came to tea studies in the beginning, I was not a particularly good student. I wouldn’t practice between classes, my sensei would scold me during class for my wandering mind, I would be late for class and I would always be asking questions even when sensei just finished explaining the very thing I was asking (I was not paying attention). As a consequence, I didn’t progress very far.

Sensei said to me one day, that it didn’t matter to her whether I progressed or not. I was paying her to teach me, but I had to meet her half-way in my learning. It wasn’t until I was clear that I wanted to study tea, that I became focused on what I was doing every week. I began to think about class after I went home and before the next one. I became diligent about choosing a poetic name for my chashaku every week. The funny thing was that when I became a better student, sensei was much more strict with me. I had to work even harder than when I was a lazy student.

When I went to Japan, one of my sensei there told us that we were sitting on a mountain of jewels, but we’d have to dig them out ourselves. It was not the teacher’s job to see that I had a good experience for the year we were there. This was the hard lesson for me. When I rebelled or was lazy or didn’t do what I was supposed to do or be where I was supposed to be, it just got harder for me. When I applied myself, all kinds of special things came my way. They were training me.

There were some students who were very good at looking good. They would appear to be busy while sensei was looking, and then do nothing if he wasn’t. For the first half year, I would often complain to one of my sempai about things that upset me or that I thought were unfair. She would nod her head wisely at all of my complaints and say, “Yes, it is good training for you.” When I could control my reactions to other people or what was going around me, I had a much better experience. I knew what I had to do and just doing it became satisfaction enough.

Sensei says, “Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.”

Posted by Margie Yap at Sunday, June 08, 2008 2 comments Links to this post

Labels: Chado, practice, sempai, sensei says, study, tea ceremony, the way, training

Jun 5, 2008

The art of tea

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.

A lot of people look at chado and think it is rigid with too many rules; that creativity is stifled with tradition and etiquette. And yet, within the context of the rules, there are infinite possibilities to create a unique experience. The host has so many decisions and choices to make to pull off a tea gathering. When, where, and who to invite. Coming up with a theme, choice of utensils, type of temae, what to serve for sweets, and so much more.

For example, I was invited to a tea gathering and the host requested that there be no talking during the gathering. She held it on a weekday at dawn. We were given a light meal to break our fast and then she served sweets and made tea. As we finished the tea gathering the sun was rising and we went on our way to work. What an incredible way to start the day. Ichigo ichie – one lifetime, one meeting.

As you grow in your tea life, be open to the possibilities and use your creativity to create unique experiences for your guests. It’s the art of tea.

Posted by Margie Yap at Thursday, June 05, 2008 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: art of living, artists, Chado, chanoyu, the way, theater

May 30, 2008

Oolong tea tasting in Portland

Have you always wanted to know more about oolong tea? For those of you in
Portland, I’ll be hosting an oolong tea tasting workshop through PCC next month.

Oolong is the most complex of all teas. In between black and green tea,
there are infinite varieties of oolong. Learn how to brew oolong tea and
appreciate the different tastes and aromas of 5 different premium teas
from Taiwan and China.

Everyone will receive an oolong sampler of the teas that we will be tasting
and a gaiwan, a traditional brewing vessel, to take home.

I hope you can join me. Sign up early as space is limited. Bring a friend,
pass this along.

Thursday June 26th from 6:30-9:30 pm
Downtown at the Whitmarsh Builiding, 803 SW Morrison St. 97205
Sign up through PCC Community Education
Course number 33047

May 26, 2008

Kaiki — the tea record

At the welcome chakai for Dr. Genshitsu a couple of weeks ago at the Fairmont Hotel in Seattle, we were fortunate to be provided with a program of events by the hosts, the Chado Urasenke Tankokai Seattle Association. Included in the program was a kaiki for both seki (tea gathering sessions). These tea records have survived from Rikyu’s time and by looking at them, we get an idea of what kind of tea gatherings and utensils that were used in those long ago tea gatherings.

In one room there was a Misonodana (table style) tea and in another there was a Chabako (portable traveling box) with many utensils done by very well known collectible artists. The kaiki is a record of the tea utensils and the sweets or other food served at a tea gathering. It serves as a personal memento of the gathering, and as a record of the host’s thoughtfulness in putting together a particular arrangement of utensils.

For example in the Misonodana seki the kettle was a hexagonal Mt. Fuji hailstone kettle made by Josei Sato. The mizusashi (cold water jar) was a Shoko ware cherry blossom with a box inscribed by Hounsai Daisosho. The chashaku (tea scoop) was made by Hounsai Daisosho and its poetic name is “Jiai” (deep compassion).

The chabako seki had an octagonal iron kettle with scenery on all sides; its handle was a bamboo pattern with inlaid silver. The chabako was Setsugekka (snow, moon, flower) box made by Ikkan (one of the famous ten craftsman lines of the Sen families). It came in a box inscribed by Tantansai (14th generation Urasenke grand tea master) and was one of only three boxes ever made. The natsume (tea container) was flat natsume with cherry blossoms and a petal lacquered in the back of the lid, made by Sotetsu, another one of the ten craft families.

These are just examples of some of the utensils that were used. I personally did not get to see all of the utensils close up because I was working in the back. (But I did get to wash the black raku bowl by Seinyu, what a thrill). So I was able to at least see what kinds of utensils were used in the seki.

I have kept all of the kaiki I have received, and I look at them when ever I am putting together utensils for a tea gathering. It gives me ideas and also I get to re-live the tea gathering that I attended previously.

May 21, 2008

The shape and form of tea practice

One of the topics of Dr. Sen’s talk was about kata and katachi. These terms are very closely related, and yet there is a difference. I touched on this difference in the post

…Patterns or rules are involved not only in chanoyu but in all endeavors.
Especially in sports and other games, if rules are not followed, there can be
no pleasure in the competition. Similarly within the training of temae (the
various procedures by which tea is made) one first thoroughly masters the
basic steps and gestures that comprise the pattern of each temae. When
one’s own personality begins to come to life through the pattern, at that
point the pattern becomes inherently intermingled with the nature of that
person’s expression of the Way of Tea.

I think of this process as the sublimation of pattern into form. Suffusing
the pattern (kata) with one’s own spirit (chi) creates form (katachi).
From long ago, Japanese people have considered spirit (chi) an extraordinarily
important thing. For example, combining the characters for mountain and
spirit yields the word orochi or giant serpentine deity; the characters for
rice field and spirit give tachi or agricultural deity; the characters for
water and spirit, michi or aquatic deity. In truth, spirit surpasses all human
understanding or imagination.

Questions such as whether a person’s movements in temae are beautiful or
whether a person is able to proceed through a difficult temae without
mistakes, while important, indicate a temae in which pattern has been
achieved. I urge you to go beyond that, to pour your own fresh individuality
into the temae and guide it towards achieving spirited form. ~ excerpted
from a translation, Pattern and Form, in the April issue of Tanko Magazine,
Heisei 8 (Kyoto: Tankosha, 1996).

Kata refers to shape of practice, that mode of ‘still thinking’; an awareness of
technique and self; Kata the form is visible in your practice.

Katachi the form is invisible, coming from within. Perhaps it is like flow, being one with
your practice. There is a deep focus; you have become empty, with mind of mu. In katachi
understanding there is no separation, being one with tea.

As we do tea again and again, we move from shapes ( kata ) to form, (katachi); to the
form within ourselves – empty mind and clear heart, the mind of mu.

~ Thank you to Lynn Moser for her notes on Dr. Sen’s lecture.

May 18, 2008

Lessons from the gyotei sensei

Part of the entourage that traveled to Seattle were the gyotei sensei, teachers directly under the Grand Tea Master, and those who serve in the Sen household. They travel with the Grand Tea Master whenever he goes abroad. They come as the advance team, set up team and help to organize and smooth the way.

In my experience working under the gyotei sensei, they don’t say much, and I thought it was because they don’t speak much English, but that is not the case. Many of them speak quite good English. They teach their lessons by example.

Over the course of the three days of events in Seattle, they were always there first to set up and there last to pack up and clear the area. They were quiet, efficient and good humored throughout. When presented with logistical problems they just took care of it. I never heard any protests, complaints or arguments about how to do anything.

In making tea for 200-300 people each day, they just showed up, filled in where there was the most need and did the work. I saw gyotei sensei assisting teishu and hanto, whisking tea, washing bowls, heating water and packing up dirty towels. Each job was done thoroughly, calmly, efficiently and almost always silently. There was no job too menial for them.

On Tuesday, where we were setting up in the Seattle Asian Art Museum for the tea presentation, there was a large old cherry tree outside the window. Amidst the flurry of activity, each gyotei paused at some time to appreciate the cherry blossoms scattering in the wind outside the window. It wasn’t done to impress anyone, it wasn’t done with an audience, just a quiet moment of appreciation for the beauty of nature. This comes from a depth of practice that is not simply about going through the motions but genuinely living the way of tea.

May 17, 2008

Inspiration from the Grand Tea Master’s visit

I just returned from Seattle where Dr. Genshitsu Sen, the retired Grand Tea Master of Urasenke School of tea visited last week. During the thee day visit, there were many chakai (tea gatherings), lectures, and receptions and meals shared with this remarkable man. He has made it his vision and life mission to spread peace through a bowl of tea.

Though many people have not heard of him, Dr. Sen has traveled the world and hosted many of the world leaders to tea. He is charismatic and inspirational. Just being part of the events in Seattle have instilled a new fire within me to be a better chajin and share the way of tea with people.

Even though I was dressed for 3 days in my very best formal kimono, I was part of the work crew behind the scenes to make it all run smoothly. We served more than 300 bowls of tea each day. From setting up equipment in the morning, to whisking tea, to washing tea bowls and cleaning up in the evening only to begin again the next morning, I felt part of something much larger. And I learned so much about how to work a large event such as this.

I was also able to assist with teaching a session of the University of Washington chado class with Tim Olsen sensei and Genko san. They have moved all classes to Shoseian, the tea house in the Japanese Garden. How lucky they are to study in a real tea house surrounded by a beautiful Japanese garden.

And Monday we begin our new introduction to Japanese Tea Ceremony class at Issoan.

Aren’t we the lucky ones, whose hearts were stolen away by tea?

May 10, 2008

Everything’s important, nothing really matters

Long ago my friend Max gave me a shikishi – a poem card you can hang in the alcove of the tea room with this saying and it really tells us what the seeming contradictions are in studying the way of tea.

We learn and train hard to master the smallest details. Learning again how to walk, sit, get up, and arrange flowers, follow etiquette and clean properly. We learn and train to master the order of tea procedures. We train to prepare for the real tea every time we make tea. We train to be aware and sensitive to our guests and their needs. We learn to incorporate the seasons, study history and literature, gardening, architecture, craftsmanship and aesthetics. All these things and more inform our understanding of the way of tea.

And yet, none of it really matters. We just need to be present and sincerely make a good bowl of tea.

I’ll be out of town for a few days. The retired Grand Tea Master of Uranseke, Dr. Genshitsu Sen from Japan will be in Seattle for a number of both private and public events. I’ll be in the mizyua whisking tea.

May 9, 2008

Chisoku – Contentment

I wanted to write something about this as the last post was about desire and achieving goals. So often I compare myself to other people and find myself coming up short. So and so has more money and if I had what he has, I’d be happy. Or I wish I had her job, or I wish I had more time to ——–.

There was a story about two neighbors. One had a beautiful yard, green lawn, trimmed bushes, and flowering fruit trees. The other’s yard was overgrown with dandelions, leaves unraked from last year and wild branches everywhere. The unkempt neighbor said to his friend, “I want a yard just like my neighbor’s.” His friend responded, “Jim, if you had a yard like your neighbor’s, in six months time, your yard will look exactly the same as the yard you have now.”

I have found two ways to deal with this coming up short feeling. Get to work to change yourself or want what you already have. The last post was about working to get what you want, but I’d like write some more about wanting what you already have. You can also read here about how much is enough.

In our society it is not easy to be satisfied with what we have. 6-7,000 advertising messages a day exhort us to want more, be more, buy more. The consumer economy only works as long as everyone keeps on buying more and more. We are richest country on earth, so much so that overeating is a major problem. We have the largest houses in the world, and yet 1 in every 10 rents additional storage space for their stuff.

When we moved from Seattle to Portland we bought a smaller home and people asked us why when we could afford a larger one. Because we have no need of a larger home. My sister just bought an 800 sq. ft. home for herself, her husband and daughter. They will be moving from a 2400 sq.ft home to one a third the size.

With the economy tanking, smaller more fuel efficient cars are rising in popularity as well as an environmental consciousness to leave a smaller carbon footprint to stop global warming. Publications such as Real Simple and the Tightwad Gazette feed into these trends.

Rikyu said, “There is shelter enough if it keeps the rain off, and food enough when it staves off hunger. We draw water, gather firewood, boil the water and make tea.” (from the Nampuroku) and “Tea should not be an exhibition of what the tea man owns. Instead the sincerity of his heart should be expressed.” (from Rikyu’s 100 poems)

The Japanese kanji for contentment is made up of two characters: chi soku, literally to know sufficiency. Nobody can tell us how much is enough. If we rely on external sources to tell us, there will never be enough. There will always be something more that we do not have. Only we know what it is in our lives to know sufficiency. It comes from inside us. It comes from appreciating what we already have, from knowing what is really important to us, and deciding what we can live without.

May 6, 2008

New tea stuff

SweetPersimmon.com now has beginning matcha sets. Tea bowl, whisk and tea scoop with a can of powdered tea and you can now make a good bowl of matcha

There are also new tea bowls, Japanese green tea kyusu (side handled tea pots) and iron tetsubin.

Also for those of you who need a taller meditation seat for seiza sitting or zazen, I have developed a new taller model. Same high quality, portability, simple design with its own carry case. You can choose from 5 colors or unfinished.

Stay tuned for more developments at the site.

Don’t forget, the new beginner’s class at Issoan will be starting May 19th.

May 2, 2008

The living fire

Since this is the year for fire, I thought I’d write a little about how much I am motivated this year.

I quit my very lucrative corporate marketing job nearly two years ago. I wanted to teach tea ceremony for a long time, but always there was something stopping me – I didn’t have enough time, couldn’t make enough money or I didn’t know how to go about doing it.

But if you have enough motivation, you do anything. A lot of people say that they have strong desire, or passion to start their own business, or go live in Europe or change careers or — fill in the blank. What counts is what you are doing to bring about the desired goal.

First of all you need to be clear what it is you are pursuing. Write it down, look at it every day, then plan out milestones to get you there. A wise person told me that you need to work every day to bring your goal closer, and you have to keep up your motivation to keep doing it every day. Do one thing everyday that moves you closer to your goal, and one thing everyday that nurtures your passion.

I am on fire for chado. Everyday I have a list of things to do and I can hardly wait to get to it. I am moving closer to my goals everyday and the closer I get the more motivated I am. I know there are no shortcuts to get there, there are no days off and no excuses for not getting at least one thing done on my list.

Yes, there are bills to pay. Yes, I need to take care of my family. Yes, the housework needs to get done. Because I have the living fire inside me, I have enough energy to get one more thing done on my list.

Apr 27, 2008

Time for reflection

There is a point in temae where you hold the water scoop in a certain position called “kokoro no kagami,” translated, that means mirror of the heart and there is a pause here in the procedure. As in many of the things about tea practice, it allows us to look at things is new ways.

Reflection can mean many things, including the return of light, heat, or sound, etc. after striking a surface; a fixing of the thoughts on something; or careful consideration; as well as a thought occurring in consideration or meditation.

And so the mirror of the heart can mean many things, too. It can mean the return of the heart between host and guest. I like this explanation in the context of chanoyu, the host and guest each reflecting their hearts to each other and sharing the experience as one.

But we can also take it another way as in careful consideration of the heart. To examine what is in your heart and what your intentions are. Tea practice can be a time of self examination of how you conduct yourself. By clearing away all the hidden agendas, the petty jealousies, the competitiveness, and the imagined hurts is one way that the host purifies himself so that by the time he is ready to make tea for the guest, there is only the pure intention of making a good bowl of tea. This is one of the principles of tea – purity.

Kokoro no kagami is seeing the true reflection from your heart, or even the true reflection of your heart could be like seeing into your own true nature. Since nobody else can see this, it is a time for honesty and reflection.

The kokoro no kagami also reminds us to polish the mirror by striving to improve ourselves through the cleansing of our intentions. The mirror shows us our true nature. Like housework, it is never done. You must continue to remove the dust of the world and be vigilant.

Apr 26, 2008

The Physicality of Tea Practice

For those who study martial arts or are involved in sports, tea practice looks like it is sedentary, not a physical activity. After all, it is done sitting on tatami and it is quiet and calm. But there is a physicality to tea practice that is sometimes much more difficult than that of moving your body vigorously.

Tea practice is about control. To be able to move slowly, precisely and gracefully takes long practice. To be able to make it look effortless and easy takes even more practice. To know where your body will end up when you sit down takes practice. To put utensils down in the proper place (a centimeter off is in the wrong place), takes experience to know where in relation to your body it should go.

Most excruciating of all is being able to make tea and drink tea while sitting in seiza. Being uncomfortable and still be able to do what you need to do with your whole attention and awareness is mostly mental. But physical endurance is also important. It takes training to work up to sitting for hours on tatami in seiza, but if you sit for a little bit each day and gradually increase your time sitting, your body will adjust. The thing is to stick with it long enough to build up your endurance.

It is funny when sensei tells tea students that it is time to take a break, so everyone should stand up to rest. Only in the tea room.

Apr 25, 2008

Introduction to Tea Ceremony Class

When: Mondays, beginning May 19 from 7:30-9:00 pm.
Where: Issoan Tea School, 17761 NW Marylhurst Ct., Portland, OR 97229
Cost: $250 for 10 weeks
Registration, more info: 503-645-7058, margie@issoantea.com

In this 10 week class you experience the tranquility of the Japanese Tea ceremony. An overview of Japanese aesthetics found in gardening, architecture, art and literature and how Tea Ceremony has influenced Japanese culture will be presented. Also covered are tea ceramics, calligraphy, kimono dressing, and participate in an incense ceremony. We will also learn zazen meditation and discuss how to put tea practice into every day life. There are only a few places left, please register early.

Performance anxiety

When I first began to make tea for my sensei, I had terrible performance anxiety. I would be very afraid of making tea and making a mistake. No matter how much I practiced at home, when I got in front of sensei and guests, I would make stupid mistakes. My brain would wander far from the tea room and I would forget even the most basic things. It was not as though I did not know the procedure, but the pressure made me forget or do stupid things. I would freeze and my brain would go out the window. When I was alone, I could get through my temae without mistakes, but when I went to class, I would forget which was my right hand and which was my left hand. My hands would get so sweaty, that the utensils would slip out of my hands. I spilled tea all over the tatami and myself (and yes one time on sensei). She would scold me and I would clean up and continue with my temae.

“In a certain place for practice of the way of tea, there hangs a plaque that reads: ‘A Place of Making a Shameful Show of Oneself.” Once you pass through the entryway, you will experience no shame, no matter how shameful a show you may make of yourself. The practice room is where you are trained as a human, even as you are sharply scolded and hesitate to humiliate yourself in the process. The principal aim of your training is to enable you, when the time comes, to perform tea splendidly and without shame. This is the reason why those who pass through the entranceway of this place are prepared to endure severe discipline. For it is in this way that they gradually develop fine characters as people. They cannot achieve this simply by reading books and listening to others. They must experience it through their own bodies.” ~ Sen Soshitsu XV, The Spirit of Tea.

The only way that I could overcome this anxiety was to continue with tea study. Continue to make mistakes and continue to practice. I still make mistakes and get scolded, but now I look upon them (mostly) as learning opportunities.

Apr 17, 2008

Aisatsu – show some respect

Aisatsu is the formal greetings before and at the end of class. In the beginning we place the fan in front of us and we ask our sensei to teach us and have a care for us, “Okeiko yoroshiku onegai itashimasu.” At the end of class we formally thank the teacher for teaching us. “Okeiko arigato gozaimashita.”

There is an aisatsu before the host begins his temae, first to the sensei, “Sensei, otemae okeiko onegai itashimasu,” and the guest “Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu.”

Likewise, the guests ask the sensei to teach the guest part, “Kyaku okeiko onegai itashimasu,” and to the other guests studying “Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu.”

After the end of the temae, the host returns to the mizuya (preparation room) and takes out his fukusa and folds it neatly and puts it away, then picks up his fan and returns to the tea room to thank the teacher and guests: “Sensei, okeiko arigato gozaimashita” and to the guests “Kyaku, arigato gozaimashita.”

That is a lot of greetings and thank yous. Many students see this as empty form. One of the principles of chado is respect and aisatsu shows respect for the sensei and the knowledge that sensei is willing to share. For the guests it is an acknowledgement of being in this study together.

When I lived in Japan we would do formal aisatsu before the school term started, after the term ended, before and after events, and before and after holidays or important anniversaries. So every day, every study, every event and anniversary, holiday or celebration, aisatsu is appropriate.

Even now, when we work together at a chakai, or a presentation, there is an aisatsu before we begin and after the clean up is finished. It shows respect, but also when we follow this form, it reaffirms relationships and makes people feel appreciated.

Apr 13, 2008

New beginner class

I have a new Introduction to Japanese tea ceremony class beginning in May. More details as I work out the schedule.

Also Issoan tea school will be presenting Japanese tea ceremony at Uwajimaya’s Sakura Festival in Beaverton, Oregon on Saturday April 19 at 9:45 am.

Uwajimaya Parking lot
10500 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale HWY
Beaverton, OR 97005
Phone: (503)643-4512

Working without a net

We had a chabana flower arranging lesson in class recently. Chabana is different from the more well known Japanese flower arranging study of Ikebana. Chabana is flower arranging for tea. According to Rikyu’s rules, one should arrange the flowers as if they were growing in the field. Chabana is also known as thrown in flowers – that is, the flowers are arranged in one breath and put in the vase.

I have already mentioned about looking at flowers before picking them so that you know how they grow and can arrange them according to their nature. Quite often we have an image of how the flowers should look in the vase and then when we put them in, they droop or twist around. Arranging flowers in one breath means to be able to let go and let the flowers arrange themselves. There is the temptation to “fix” the flowers by moving them again and again after they are put in the vase, not just let them do what they would do naturally and leave them alone.

You only get one chance to arrange the flowers, then you have to let them go. It is like doing crosswords with a pen or calligraphy on rice paper. Once you put the mark down, you cannot go back and change it. It becomes what it is at that moment in time. My husband is a woodworker and with wood you only get one chance to cut the wood.

If we are doing things with intention, you don’t go back and re-do it. This is what he refers to as working without a net.

Apr 12, 2008

Making a good bowl of matcha tea

Matcha tea is the powdered green tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony but more people are beginning to drink matcha. Starbucks has a drink called a matcha latte (sorry, I did not finish mine, it’s just not my cup of tea). You can get matcha mixed with sugar and milk and matcha ice cream is often served in Japanese restaurants, plus there are any number of matcha baked goods, candies and other food you can get now days. I even bought a pack of some matcha gum.

I made matcha for my brother-in-law and he said that it was so different when I make it for him. So I thought I would post a little bit here on how to make a good bowl of matcha.

There are different grades of matcha, so if you are making a bowl of matcha to drink, you should get matcha of good quality. Drinking grade matcha is sold in quantities of 40 grams or less (about one and a half ounces) and usually costs from $18- $50 or even more in that quantity. I recommend getting it on the internet from www.tea-circle.com, they have a good selection, or www.matchaandmore.com. (or if you’d like to support me, you can buy it from my site www.SweetPersimmon.com. I only have one kind of matcha, though).

When exposed to air, matcha goes bad quickly. So buy it fresh, and store it in the freezer until you unseal it. When it is opened, it can last for about a month if you put it in the refrigerator. When you first open a can or container of matcha it should be brilliant green and have a good fragrance. If you have a dull green and it doesn’t smell, or smells off, the tea is not good for drinking (you can still use it for cooking or ice cream, though). I usually put it through a sieve or strainer to remove the lumps.

Having a good tea bowl helps in making tea. If you don’t have a tea bowl, a ceramic bowl that is three and a half to four inches in diameter (9-10 cm) and about three inches tall can do. You will also need a bamboo whisk (they can be had from the two places above). It helps to have a bamboo tea scoop, but it isn’t essential.

Make sure you have good water. I use filtered water (don’t use bottled water) and bring it to a boil. I don’t know exactly what the temperature of the water is, but I can tell it is right by the sound of it boiling in my iron kettle. The sound is matsu kaze, (the sound of the wind in the pines). If you don’t have an iron kettle to sing to you, just before it comes to a roiling boil – when there are lots of small bubbles rising to the surface is about right. Heat the bowl by pouring hot water in it and letting it sit for about a minute. Empty the water and wipe the bowl dry.

If you have a bamboo scoop, put two scoops of the powdered tea into the bottom of the bowl. I had to go measure it, but it is between one half to a full teaspoon of matcha depending on how strong you like it. Then add water. Most people who are beginning to make tea put too much hot water in the bowl. I would say that you should pour about one quarter cup (2 oz. or 75 ml) into the bowl with tea in it. I try to pour down the side of the bowl because if you pour hot water directly on the tea powder it splashes up on the sides of the bowl and it’s hard to incorporate it and it looks messy.

Now whisk the tea to a froth. The technique I learned is to put the whisk into the tea bowl and whisk vigorously from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock, not around in a circle. Just whisk straight across the bowl as fast as you can. You will start to get a bouncing action and the bubbles should start to come up. Use your wrist as well as your whole arm. It helps if the bowl is a lower than your elbow. (I use a low table like a coffee table if I can). You don’t need to move the whisk across the bowl, just whisk at the widest part of the bowl until the foam covers the surface. (that is why you need a big bowl for so little tea, it has to accommodate the whisking action). Bring the whisk to the top of the foam and whisk more slowly to break up the larger bubbles. If you have a good head of foam, it will form a hill as you pull the whisk out of the tea bowl. Now you can enjoy!

Matcha, tea bowls and tea sets for making matcha are now available at www.SweetPersimmon.com.

This moment is complete

Sensei said, “complete this moment before moving on to the next,” What did she mean when she said that? How long is a moment, and how do you know when it is complete?

I often live in my head rather than in the world. By that, I mean that I have an active imagination and I am always thinking about what comes next and what will happen and what will I do if this or that happens. While I am day dreaming or imagining disaster or concocting fantasies in my head or planning out my next move, I miss what is actually going on around me. I am famous for saying to other people, “what just happened?” or “what did I miss?” My husband gets exasperated with me. “Don’t you know? You were here, where did you go?”

For me the challenge is to stay in the world rather than retreat into my head. When they tell me to stay present, I am most often staying future. Some people have trouble because they are staying past and always thinking regrets or would have, should have or could have.

So I think completing this moment is staying in the world, to simply notice where I am and what is going on around me rather than what is going inside my head and imagining or fantasizing what I think is going on or want to go on or should be going on. Tea study helps me stay out of my head because all I have to worry about is what I am doing right now. It focuses me on what my body and hands are doing.

Sensei also said, “Tea practice gets us out of our heads and into our bodies so that we can touch our souls.”

Apr 11, 2008

Grinding tea

I tried grinding my own matcha last week. I used some Gyokuro, which is leaf tea grown and processed like matcha, only it is not ground up. I didn’t have a tea grinding stone. I used a mortar and pestle because I thought it would grind it to a fine powder.

I remembered from my tea lectures that often it fell to the daughter of the house to grind the tea because the tea grinding stones are heavy and young girls, unlike young boys don’t try to muscle the stones to grind the tea faster. Something about the heat from the friction of the stones changes the flavor of the tea. So I tried to grind the tea slowly and make good matcha.

Whew! Grinding tea is hard work. After about an hour, I had some broken up tea flakes, but nothing that resembled the fine powder of matcha. We’re talking baby powder fineness here, and I was still a long way from that. I began to press harder on the pestle, but then remembered the friction and heat.

Two and a half hours later I had ground enough tea for one hearty bowl of matcha. I thought it was fine enough to whisk into a good bowl of tea.

And how was the taste? It was terrible. Completely awful. Though it whisked up to a fine froth, the taste left much to be desired. Besides being the most bitter matcha I ever tasted, the mouth feel of this tea was like a big bite of compost. It grassy and chewy and not in a good way. Apparently it was not ground fine enough and perhaps the gyokuro was not the highest quality. I drank the whole bowl, but I don’t think I’ll be grinding tea again. Now I know why good matcha costs so much.

Apr 10, 2008

It’s in the details

I had a tea student once who was very bright and enthusiastic about chado. She never missed a class. And she was very competitive and impatient to move to higher levels of temae. As soon as she had done a procedure a couple of times, she wanted to move on to the next level. Though she could not always remember the order of the procedures, she could grasp concepts and philosophy very quickly.

One time when I corrected something she didn’t do in her temae, she got very impatient with me and told me that it was just a small detail and not that important. So I just let her proceed and didn’t correct anything else that she did. Eventually she became stuck and couldn’t remember what to do and didn’t know how to backtrack to get out of her dilemma. If she had just done a small little thing, the next step would have been obvious.

I tell this story, not to make this student look bad but to illustrate that chanoyu is all about the details. The small little things are what keep us present in our temae. It is the details of life that bring us all those little joys and satisfaction throughout the day.

To notice and celebrate the details takes time, awareness and attention. These things are in such short supply in our busy life. Sometimes I look at the way the steam curls around the kettle lid, or see the shadows on the shoji screens, or listen to the rain on the roof and my heart wells with emotion. Chado teaches us that when we notice the details, life is so much richer.

Apr 9, 2008

It’s not about perfection

Students often think that having the perfect temae is the goal of tea study. Though we strive for perfection in temae, that really is not what tea study is about. I wrote previously about hataraki, making adjustments and moving forward. Making mistakes are other opportunities for learning and growing.

Sensei often said that in class, you can to nothing right, but in chaji you can do nothing wrong. She would correct every little thing in class. And I would rather make my mistakes in class and be corrected, than to be in a formal tea gathering and make my mistakes.

Just about the time I thought I could get through a tea procedure without making any mistakes, sensei would mention things for me to pay attention to or ask questions while I was making tea, such as what is your left hand doing? Or explain to me the significance of of the guest role. And she would tell me to keep going to make tea while thinking, talking and answering her questions. Quite often, I would have a brain freeze and not be able to talk, nor could I continue making tea, nor could I remember where I was in the procedure or what came next. (I am quite easily distracted and have a hard time even walking and talking at the same time).

What sensei was doing was training me to be more aware of everything, to hold more than one thing in my head, and to trust my body. She was also training me to hold onto my concentration on what I was doing, to move forward when there were distractions and to be able to converse with guests without stopping the procedure and getting my work done. The trick in chanoyu is to make everything look natural, easy and uncomplicated, even though there is a lot going on.

Sensei also said, “If you are going to make a mistake, make it beautifully.”

Apr 8, 2008

Hataraki – working things out

So often we look at any change with anxiety rather than seeing it as an opportunity to stretch and grow. In tea study, there is “hataraki,” which is to calmly adjust to any situation that arises and confidently move forward. Making tea is a complex procedure and there are so many variations. Add to that the social interactions, etiquette, choice of utensils, and the weather and there are many, many places that things can go wrong.

We rely on training to face any situation and move forward. We rarely have an ideal situation for tea gathering. And how uninteresting that would be. I had a sensei in Japan tell me once, that I would never have a perfect temae. But, she said that it was interesting to watch me because of how I would get myself out of my mistakes. And I did make many, many mistakes. So what would you do if your fukusa caught on fire? Or you emptied your teabowl full water all over the tatami mat? How would you handle a formal tea gathering if a guest brought along a friend uninvited? Or your guest of honor got sick at the last minute? What if you planned a moon viewing and it rained that night?

I once gave a chaji and the person who was supposed to make sweets for tea forgot to bring them. Rather than yell at that person, the focus was to solve the problem and move forward. We cut up an apple I had brought for a snack for the kitchen crew. The challenge is to problem solve on the spot and not waste time stewing about what is going wrong or blame other people. Make adjustments and move on.

Apr 7, 2008


Phillytea.org has a new look. This site is dedicated to the Japanese tea ceremony community in the Philadelphia area. They are an active group, and have lots of good information on their site. Morgan Beard has also started a blog about tea ceremony that you can check out as well. I’ve added the links at the left.

Moving in kimono

Part of the beauty of chanoyu is the stately and graceful way that the host moves in and out of the room and the sound of silk on tatami mats. I am so glad that my students want to wear kimono to okeiko. As part of the introduction to tea ceremony, I dress my students in kimono so that they know what it feels like.

It is amazing how much the kimono affects our movements within the tea room. When I was first learning tea, I felt like a cow in the tea room. I had such a hard time moving around in the tea room and feeling like I had any kind of control of my body. Then when my sensei dressed me in kimono I felt even more restricted and awkward. Just sitting down and standing up became a challenge. I could not judge where I would land and I always made a loud thunk as my knees would hit the tatami. Then I would have to squirm back and forth or side to side to move to the right place and the kimono would come apart at the knees and it would take me forever to fix and adjust it.

I thought I knew how to walk, but in the beginning I would take too large a stride or walk too fast and my kimono would tangle in my legs. In the tea room, we take two steps per half tatami mat and if you walk properly in kimono, your stride comes out to just the right size and you end up entering and exiting on the correct foot. Women’s obi do not allow slouching so it forces you to sit with correct posture and when you sit with correct posture, seiza sitting is not as painful (though seiza sitting is still hurts, just not as much). If you sit with the correct posture, you also won’t have to keep adjusting your collar because of gaps that come with slouches.

I also found in dealing with the sleeves of the kimono, I was much more conscious of my arm position, wrist position and keeping my elbows round. That is not to say that I still drag my sleeve through the kensui on occasion.

After okeiko, I would always wear my kimono home. Partly because I feel very special wearing kimono, and partly because my husband says that all women in kimono are beautiful.

Mar 29, 2008

Pointing the way

It is a funny thing that students think that the sensei has so much control of the students in what they teach them and how they teach them. But from the sensei’s side, the student has the ultimate control: they simply can stop coming to class, or find another teacher if they are not getting what they think they should be taught. Students choose their teachers, but teachers rarely get to choose students.

The student also has control of how they experience their own learning. For some students, the way of tea is harsh and demanding; for others, it is an endlessly fascinating puzzle with more and more intricate mazes and pathways. To a certain extent, your sensei will influence your study and so will your personality and interests. Some people are attracted by the rituals of tea, others the sweets. Still others come to tea to learn about kimono, gardening, or ceramics. Whatever it is that brings you to chado, welcome.

I have had the fortunate experience to have had wonderful sensei who were sometimes very hard and strict, and some who very enthusiastic and there were some who were extremely knowledgeable. My sensei taught me the basics of tea, and showed me the pathway to continue my own studies. Because ultimately, chado is a pathway that only you can travel. Everyone’s path is different and will experience the way of tea differently. Yet we are all striving to realize the four principles of tea: harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.

Mar 26, 2008

There are no shortcuts

When I first began to learn about Chado, I thought I could become a tea master in ten lessons. But I found out in those first ten lessons just how much there was to the ceremony, not just making tea. I still did not understand what a lifetime of study meant, but it was intriguing enough for me to continue.

My sensei drilled into all of our heads that in tea, there are no shortcuts. We thought that what she said pertained to the temae (tea procedures) that we were studying. There are no shortcuts in tea procedures because through 400 years of refinement, the moves have been honed to the best and most efficient and most graceful way of making powdered matcha tea. If you shortcut one part of the procedure, often you will come to a place that you cannot move forward without backtracking, kind of like knowing the way into and out of the maze. I have learned to follow the exact procedures because I have gotten myself stuck and didn’t know how I could get myself out of it again. And each more advanced procedure is based on the one preceding it, so you cannot skip up to a higher level because you will not have learned something essential to the next procedure if you haven’t mastered it in the previous level.

And like sensei says, there are no shortcuts in many other parts of my life. Often we think we can take a class and attain skills and mastery in “tea ceremony in ten easy lessons” or learn everything we need to know by watching the video “tea mastery in a day.”

Want to get into shape? There are no shortcuts in exercise. Want more patience? To be a better parent? Have a loving relationship? There are no shortcuts here either. In fact, to acquire or strive for something of lasting value, one must do the work and learn it from the beginning.

Mar 22, 2008

Observing vs. doing

Observing is much harder than doing in tea. Perhaps in life as well. When I began to study tea making procedures, I was very excited to make tea. But when it came my turn to be a guest or just an observer, I let my focus wander. When the teacher was correcting another student at some point in the procedure, I really didn’t pay attention. Inevitably, when it was my turn to make tea, I made exactly the same mistake at exactly the same point in the procedure.

A note one of my students made to me last month was that sitting seiza was much easier when making tea than being the guest, and hardest of all was to sit in seiza through the whole temae as an observer. By having something to occupy our minds and hands, it takes the focus off of the pain in the feet and legs.

Chanoyu cannot be learned from a book or video. While you can learn many things from observing and watching, one must experience chanoyu and participate fully with all of your senses for both the host and the guest roles.

In this regard, I often compare chanoyu with learning to ride a bicycle. We could listen to experts talk about the physics of balance and have experienced bicycle riders relate stories of great rides they went on. We could even have an instructional video of learning to ride a bicycle with step-by-step procedures. And yet, until one actually gets on a bicycle and learns what it feels like to balance, pump the pedals and lean into a turn, you really have not learned to ride a bicycle.

Mar 20, 2008

On receiving teaching

In my study of Chado, I have had some very strict sensei. They would watch me make tea and pick apart everything from how I wore my kimono to the speed or slowness of my movements. They insisted that I sit properly in seiza even when my legs and feet were screaming at me for movement. I almost quit tea lessons a hundred times. Yet I came back for more. There was definitely something that drew me back again each time I got discouraged.

I have a friend who is a Zen priest. When she began to study chado, she learned everything very quickly. She told me, if you truly want to learn the Way, you have to steal the knowledge, sensei don’t just give it to you for free. Another sempai told me that the way of tea is filled with jewels, but you have to dig them out yourself.

It wasn’t until I went to Japan to study that I finally appreciated how strict my sensei were. I complained regularly to my sempai about how tough the teachers were on me. Often they were stricter with me than any other student, and I would get flustered and angry. Why were they being so unfair with me? Finally, after listening to me for months, he said, “Don’t you get it? It takes a lot more effort for teahcers to be strict with their students. The strictness you see as picking on you is really them showing you how much they care about you. They want you to do well and will spend the time to correct you. So next time you get a correction, just say ‘hai’, or even better say ‘thank you’”.

Mar 19, 2008

The all-purpose furoshiki

The Japanese are famous for packaging. Even when you buy vegetables at the market, they wrap or tie them up in very pleasing ways. Department stores wrap up your purchases to take home. Gifts are wrapped, tied and decorated in elaborate ways.

There is also the humble furoshiki (furosh-ki), a nearly square piece of cloth that can be wrapped and tied in many different ways depending on what is inside. These wrapping cloths can be utilitarian in a plain, solid color cotton or beautifully and elaborately dyed chirimen silk and it is versatile and re-usable. You can carry watermelons to wine bottles in furoshiki. It can be used as a shopping bag, a laptop wrap, or used to wrap up your kimono and accessories. They can be used to wrap up your lunch. Sometimes, instead of a handbag, I wrap everything in a furoshiki and carry it with me. It looks sort of like I am running away from home. Now days, furoshiki are often used as giftwrap.

There is a Japanese word, “mottainai.” It has become a catchphrase for Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, equating it roughly to the English phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” (It might include “Repair”, too.).

Here is an excerpt of the 88th Commencement Speech she gave at Connecticut College in 2006: “Recently I was in Japan. They told me they used to be very conscious of this concept of mottainai, but we are losing it. Since I went there, they have revived that concept. The Japanese custom, before they became very affluent, was to tie gifts in a piece of cloth, which they called furoshiki. They tie it so you give the gift but you keep the cloth. So, you recycle it, you reuse it. Now, of course, we use paper and every time you use paper, remember that is a cut tree. That is a tree that has died to produce paper.”

More about furoshiki in this article “The Japanese Gift for Shopping”

Mar 13, 2008

What to bring to a tea gathering

I have a class graduating from the 10 week introductory class and we are holding our final chakai (tea gathering) in a few days at Kashintei, the Japanese Garden tea house. Most people cannot believe that it takes ten weeks to learn to make tea. My students get to invite family and friends to show off what they have been studying and these guests will have a Japanese sweet and a bowl of powdered green tea (matcha) prepared and served by the students.

Most of the students want to dress in formal kimono for this special occasion so one must come dressed in kimono or bring everything needed to change into kimono for the chakai. The experienced guest will also make sure to bring their fukusa basami (tea utensil pouch) with fukusa (silk cloth), kaishi (sweets papers), sweets pick, fan, handkerchief and a packet of pocket tissues. Experienced guests always bring extras, in case someone else forgets or doesn’t have these things. Sometimes, a very conscientious guest will bring something for the host and kitchen crew as well – a light snack, a box of sweets or something small to show appreciation. And an even more conscientious guest will leave a discreet envelope with some money in it to help defray the costs of the tea gathering.

Most important of all, the guest must bring a good tea attitude to a tea gathering. While the host does his best to prepare everything for the guest, it is an experienced created by both the host and the guest. The guest role is every bit as important to a tea gathering as the host. The host’s role is to serve the guests. The guests’ role is to receive and to appreciate everything that the host has done to prepare for the gathering. A good way to show this is to ask questions or comment to the host about everything that the guest sees or experiences. How refreshing the garden looks, how beautiful the flowers are arranged. The guest can ask about the meaning of the scroll hung in the alcove, and about any of the utensils used to make tea or serve sweets. In fact, it is not unusual to ask about the names of the sweets and the tea – they often have poetic names.

After the tea gathering, it is polite not to linger too long. The host has many more duties to clean up and close the tea house before they can rest. And a well written thank you note is an essential part of being a guest.

So the next time you receive an invitation to a tea gathering you will know what to bring.

Mar 11, 2008

Straight shooting

There is a scroll that is often hung in the tea room:

Jikishin kore dojo

It is often translated as the heart without lies, a straight forward heart, is the place of practice. Like most zen phrases, it can be interpreted many ways.

There are some people who are direct in their communication. They seem to be comfortable in their own skin and present themselves as they are with no hidden agendas. They don’t change their behavior or role depending on who they are with. This may seem uncomplicated and even naïve, but you always know where you stand with these people. There is no guessing about what they are thinking or what their intentions are. Just ask them, and they will tell you. These people will tell you the truth with no apologies and no excuses.

These people seem to have jikishin, the straight forward heart. We often call them straight shooters, which the slang dictionary defines further as having or marked by uprightness in principle and action: good, honest, honorable, incorruptible, righteous, true, upright, upstanding. If this is what jikishin means, then indeed, it is a good place to practice, not just in the tea room, but in life.

Mar 4, 2008

Order from chaos

When we first begin to learn chanoyu, it seems like all we can manage is to remember the order of things, and getting control of our bodies in the tea room. All of our energy is drawn inwards as we exercise the self-discipline of temae. We face the challenge of endurance as we build up our tolerance for sitting seiza for longer and longer periods of time without excruciating pain. Our focus and concentration improves and the movements become more familiar.

One day it just happens. Order comes from the chaos inside our brain. Something clicks and we are here in the tea room with a guest. Yes, we are making tea for our guest, but now there is a live person in the room with us. When this happens, the tea room changes. Our guest is breathing with us, he is participating in the ritual. Through mutual consideration, host and guest create a new experience for each other. Unspoken communication occurs and small nuances in the ritual take on new meanings. Though host and guest have their roles to play, the give and take of such an experience can be quite moving.

This, for me is the magic of chanoyu. This is why chanoyu cannot be done alone. This is why one cannot learn chanoyu from a book, or from the video “Tea mastership in a day.” Each experience of the ceremony is unique and special. All the training, all the preparation and all the years of work make it worthwhile.

Mar 3, 2008

On Plum Blossoms

Before his retirement as the 15th generation O-Iemoto (Grand Master) of the Urasenke school of tea, Hounsai Daisosho wrote the following words about tea practice:

The plum tree bent under the winter freeze,
With showers, all at once opens its buds
The moon, through mists, projects its shadow;
In the dark, breezes carry its scent
A few days back, the trunk was buried in snow;
Now, branches bear flowers anew,
Through hardship and the bitter cold—
This dignity, at the forefront of spring.

I love this poem by Hakuin because of the teaching and guidance for our own lives which can be gleaned between the lines. In life, we all have wintry seasons of severe cold. What matters is how we endure this cold. The poem teaches us to face the difficult seasons of life, and to benefit from the experience.

When you think about it, our struggle is much the same as the plum’s. Before embarking on the severe path of the Way of Tea, we have to rid ourselves of the consciousness of difficulty and apply ourselves wholeheartedly, without regard for personal gain or sacrifice. Only then can the flowers of our lives blossom. Only then can one attain an unimpeachable dignity which cannot be tarnished by the words of others. The Way of Tea demands a courage comparable to that of the plum tree. For this reason, many people who have lived the life of Tea have loved and appreciated the plum.

Chanoyu should be as refreshing and soothing as a spring breeze, yet to achieve this, strict self-discipline must first be experienced. When making tea, one must never show that one has come through a severe winter of self-discipline; but that self-discipline is essential in order to be able to make a bowl of tea as refreshing and soothing as the spring breeze.

We live in an easy-access society in which many look upon the discipline demanded by the Way of Tea as odious. Even many long-time practitioners of Tea think too lightly of the training that is necessary. People tend to emulate the goal of attainment, missing the true meaning of the Way. . . .

Trying to attain the end without enduring the means is the same as trying to harvest the fruit without planting the seed. To attain a great goal, one must always endure great self-discipline. Thus, because the plum is the first to show that it has successfully endured the harsh winter, its early blossom is so precious, so deeply appreciated, and so noble.

The retired 15th generation Urasenke Grand Tea Master, Dr. Genshitsu Sen (fomerly Hounsai Daisosho), will be visiting Seattle on May 11, 2008. For more details on his visit to the U.S. please go to Issoantea

Mar 2, 2008

The nature of things

As I went for my daily walk in the park the other day, I saw a red-tailed hawk hunting. I love these birds and I often see them circling overhead in the park or on the freeway. As I walked in the park, new growth was everywhere, from buds on the trees to daffodils and crocus coming up.

The world is renewing itself after the winter. Seasons change and with it we change, too. I find myself getting up earlier and having more energy. I am wearing brighter colors in my clothing and am more active.

In the tea room we mark and note seasonal changes. The tea flowers we arrange are never store bought flowers, but only those that are in season. This makes it difficult in the winter months, but thank goodness I live in a place where the winter camellias are abundant.

The simple arrangement of flowers for tea is called chabana – it’s different from the familiar and stylized ikebana. Chabana is often called thrown in flowers, in that it looks very haphazard, but one of the rules of Rikyu is to “arrange the flowers as if they were growing in the field.”

Like many things in chanoyu, it is actually harder to do than it looks. First of all, we need to know what flowers look like growing in the field. I remember picking flowers and bringing them inside to arrange and trying to make them look like what I thought they should look like. My sensei said to me that obviously, I did not look at the flower before I picked it because I was trying to make it face the opposite way it had grown, to fit my own idea of what it was supposed to be.

The flowers are teaching me a lesson about the nature of things. Like our children, or students, we need to observe how they are rather than how we think they should be and work with their nature, not against it.

Finally, I picked a flower once and it was facing the wrong way, but I put it in the vase anyway. By the end of the tea gathering, because of the warmth and the light – the flower had turned itself around to face the other way.

Feb 17, 2008

Everything is illuminated

I was sitting in the tea room yesterday morning and was marveling at the quality of light coming through the shoji screens. Outside the fog was just clearing and the morning light hit the windows without any softening of leaves from the bare trees. Inside the room, the paper had diffused the light so that it fell brightly but softly.

The guests that were sitting with their backs to the screen were silhouetted and it looked like there were halos around them. It made each guest look distinct and special. The contrast of the utensils, one part in the soft light and the other in softer shadow brought out subtle colors and textures of the pieces and the hint of gold in a dark lacquered piece. Even the black and white calligraphy scroll seemed to take on increased depth because of the light.

A favorite artist of mine, Vermeer was a genius at capturing the subtleties of light from a window. For a single moment, he put down in paint and canvas the play of light as it runs across the faces of the subjects and disappears into to the interior of the room. But even Vermeer cannot capture the changing quality of the light. As the fog clears the light is different, as the clouds move across the sun, there is a slight shadow diffused by the paper.

The placement of shoji windows is very important in the design of a tea room. What will be highlighted during the ceremony and where the light comes in during the day must be taken into consideration. The orientation of the room to the North, East, South or West and even the season is important. Will there be leaves on the trees to block the light?

The next time you are in a shoji room, look at the light coming into the room and how it is controlled by the shoji.

Feb 5, 2008

The wind in the pines

Matsu kaze is a beloved phrase of chanoyu and one of my favorites. In a poem by Sen Sotan, Urasenke third generation tea master, he wrote, “If asked the nature of chanoyu, say it is the sound of windblown pines in a black and white painting.” The pine symbolizes steadfastness because it doesn’t change color like other trees in the autumn. The wind symbolizes the ephemeral nature of life.

In the tea room, as the kettle begins to boil, it sings different tunes. You know that the temperature of the water is just right to make tea when you hear the sound of the the wind in the pines coming from the kettle.

This suggests the depth of the study of Chanoyu. All of the senses are engaged in a tea ceremony. It is not just a visual feast, the sound of the water, the smell of the incense, the taste of the sweets and tea, the roughness of the teabowl all come together in a kind of super experience that rarely happens today.

The phrase matsu kaze reminds me to become fully engaged with all of my senses for a fuller experience of life.

Jan 30, 2008

Haiku and Waka poetry

‘Poetry has its seed in the human heart and blossoms forth in innumerable leaves of words … it is poetry which, with only a part of its power, moves heaven and earth, pacifies unseen gods and demons, reconciles men and women and calms the hearts of savage warriors.’

Ki no Tsurayuki, Preface to the Kokinshû, Ninth Century

Most people know the haiku form of Japanese poetry from grade school, a short poem of three ‘lines’ of five, seven and five syllables and describing an aspect of nature. Haiku is descended from renga a linked verse form that was descended from waka a 5 line poem with 5-7-5-7-7 syllables in each line. Some of the earliest and most famous of waka poetry were collected in the Man’yoshu, Kokin Wakashu, and the Shinsen Waka in 759, 905 and 934 respectively as Imperial anthologies.

Some people say waka is easier because you have a little more room for expression, where haiku is so brief and one must be very concise. Waka were first composed, before the advent of writing in Japan, to celebrate victories in battle and love, or for religious reasons, and this tradition of poetry for public occasions carried through to the first great age of written waka in the seventh and eighth centuries, with highly wrought nagauta ‘long poems’, consisting of alternating ‘lines’ of five and seven syllables, being composed for performance on public occasions at the imperial court.

Here is a link to a great site about waka poetry, including poems in kana, romanji, English translations as well as commentary on famous waka poets and major collections of waka poetry.

Waka was used as a means of communication between lovers during Heian (medival times), so you find a lot of love poetry — and a lot of lost love poetry throughout the collections of waka. Waka was also frequently written on beautiful rice paper in running kana script. So for Valentine ’s Day, why not compose a waka poem and write it out on some fancy paper for your partner, lover, or spouse?

Jan 29, 2008

Beginner’s heart

Hatsugama is a formal tea gathering put on by the teachers for the students. This year’s Hatsugama celebrations included students who have never been to a formal tea gathering before. To be able to participate at a major event with beginners was a refreshing reminder to me of my very first tea gathering. I remember the nervousness of not knowing what to expect and being afraid that I might offend someone, yet I felt the incredible privilege of being invited to something very special.

At my first tea gathering, I don’t remember seeing so many people in kimono before and how graceful they all seemed to move in their finery. From the first scent of the incense to the beautiful arrangement of the charcoal, to the exquisitely prepared meal to the tongue-melting sweet and refreshing cold air to the bitter tea, it was an almost overwhelming experience of the senses.

By the time it was drawing to a close, I felt like four and a half hours had flown by, and I didn’t even mind the ache in my legs from sitting on the floor for so long. I was so sad for it to end and leave the warmth and the people I had grown so close to. To say goodbye to our host, and just leave to go back to the real world was such a shock. For the next several days, I was dreamily re-living the experience. How the host’s kimono swished when she walked, how the meal and the sake seemed to be so right together.

So this year, with the new students, I caught the spirit of everything as if Iwas a beginner again at a formal tea gathering. With the humble but eager heart of the beginner, I want to thank them, as I have become a little jaded at these events. Thank you for making it exciting and fun and full of magic and wonder for me. Aren’t we lucky to have our hearts stolen away by tea?

Jan 26, 2008

Shokyaku, the guest of honor

I was invited to a formal tea gathering for Hatsugama last night. The host called me a week ago and asked if I would be the shokyaku (the principal or main guest). Being asked to be the shokyaku is a great honor and carries a lot of responsibilities. The first thing I would have to do is get a list of all of the other guests, their contact information, and the order of how our host would like us to sit in the tea room. Much like any dinner party, deciding who sits next to whom is important for maximum harmony, interesting company and mix of experienced guests and those who have never attended a formal tea gathering before.

When I found out that information, my next task was to contact everyone and ensure that they knew the general order of the tea gathering, what to bring, what each of the guest’s roles were going to be, and to come 15 minutes before the start of the event. Some people were going to dress in kimono and I had to tell them the details of where the changing room was going to be and offer assistance in dressing people. I then had to communicate with the host that everyone had been contacted and everyone understood.

On the afternoon of the gathering, I assembled my most formal kimono and duplicate accessories in case anybody forgot or didn’t bring the proper things for the gathering. I also packed a small snack of fruit for the people working behind the scenes to eat. I took extra care with my kimono and headed off the event. When I got there, I noticed everything as I made my way from the foyer to waiting room. The host had put up special decorations and I would ask and comment about them later during the ceremony. As I greeted the guests, I asked them to be indulgent with me and I would try to take good care of them. If they had any questions for the host, they could ask me and I would ask them at the proper time during the ceremony.

We proceeded into the tea room and the garden was particularly beautiful with lanterns provided by our host to light the pathway. My job was now to serve as the example to all of the guests as they would follow my lead throughout the meal. I tried to include everyone in the conversation and bring their attention to something especially thoughtful or interesting provided by the host, like warm water in the hand rinsing basin.

The entire tea gathering was magical and one guest said as we were leaving that she was so sad that it had come to an end. We had just spent 4 hours together and it had seemed like time had sped by so quickly. At the end, all the guests bowed and thanked me formally for being such a good shokyaku. My final responsibility was to write a formal thank you note to our host. I hope everyone had a good time, including our host.

Jan 24, 2008

10,000 ichi

When I took calligraphy lessons in Japan, I went to an old man who would teach me if I brought him tea sweets every week. He had many Western students, but they sometimes came, were late or did not bring sweets. I came promptly at 8:00 pm every Monday with my sweets to share.

Each week he would give students a character to practice, and other students would get characters like “willow”, “horse”, “dragon”, “brocade of flowers”. Some students would come for a few weeks and quit. Every week I got the character for “ichi”, just one horizontal line. He would come and look at my efforts and say “da me, no good. mo ichido, do it again”. I would practice at home all week and bring my best efforts to show him the next week. He’d look at them and shake his head. He never gave me technique instruction, he just said do it again. He would, however, straighten my posture and adjust my grip on the brush, but did not tell me how to achieve what he did with so much ease.

After six months of trying to copy exactly the character he wrote for me every week, the single character ichi, I asked sensei that because I was only going to be in Japan for one year, I would like to take home to show my mother another character. He said that I probably only wrote 5,000 ichi and to be competent, I would have to write another 5,000. But since I had been diligent and uncomplaining, he would give me a second character “for my mother”. The character he gave me was “ju” or 10. It consisted of a single horizontal line and a single vertical line like a cross. So, as I had promised to write another 5,000 ichi, I could also practice the new charater ju. After one year of study I could write two characters passably — ichi and ju.

In the end, though, at my last class, I went to the most expensive sweets shop in Kyoto and bought him their most famous sweet. He surprised me with two gifts. One was a brand new calligraphy brush that he said would be my friend for life. The other was a scroll he had written (unmounted) that read “yukima no kusa” and that means the sprouts of grass under the snow. He told me that he recognized that I was a serious and diligent student and he wanted to teach me the correct way.

Jan 23, 2008

Japanese tea sweets

One thing I love about Japanese tea, they always serve wagashi (general name for sweets). It is practically impossible to count how many different types of wagashi exist when you take into account the numerous recipes and ingredients. The main ingredients for wagashi are beans (Azuki beans, kidney beans, soy beans), grains (mochi-rice, rice flour, wheat), potatoes, sesame seeds, Kanten (a natural hardener) and sugar. No fat or oil is used to make wagashi. These confections run the gamut from frothy abstract shapes to exquisite works of art made to look like flowers, animals or seasonal shapes such as autumn maple leaves.

In Chanoyu, there are two kinds – well there are many different kinds. but two main categories of sweets, higashi or dry sweets, and omogashi the larger wet sweets. Generally speaking, higashi are for usucha or thin tea, and omogashi for koicha or thick tea. Omogashi usually have a poetic name, too – like hakubai (white plum blossoms) or Yamazato (mountain village).

In Japan, it is pretty easy to get sweets. There are shops that specialize in certain types of sweets, some are very famous. Sweets are made fresh daily at shops and we used to go just before closing to get the marked down leftovers.When I lived in Kyoto, one of my sempai and I would go around to the different sweet shops to sample the sweets. We made a map of the best shops in the city with notes on their particular specialty and which ones we liked the best. There is one that has a wagashi bar. It is like a sushi bar. The chef behind the bar will have a selection of seasonal sweets. When you choose one, he will make there in front of you and they will serve you a bowl of matcha. Heaven.

In America, it is more difficult to get sweets, though sometimes you can get them at Asian grocery stores and they tend not to be very fresh. I learned an easy to remember recipe for mochi and red bean paste sweets from my sensei that can be made with easily obtained ingredients.

Easy Daifukumochi tea sweets
Make a bean paste of red azuki beans, (kidney beans if not available). You can also buy sweet bean paste powder or red bean paste in a plastic bag if you can find it.

Soak beans overnight, and cook until very soft. Strain cooking water and beans through a mesh strainer into another bowl to eliminate bean skins. Throw skins away (or compost). Then strain the beans mush and water through a muslin cloth. Squeeze as much water out of the cloth as you can. Put the bean paste in a pan on the stove and add one third (in weight) sugar and cook over medium heat stirring it until the paste thickens. It will tend to get very thin and watery as the sugar melts, but then it will thicken up. When it is thick enough, the bean paste will stand and mound nicely and is not too sticky. Remove from heat and distribute in small mounds on a well wrung, lint-free towel to cool. Cover with towel so it will not dry out. This can also be double wrapped in plastic wrap and put in a zip lock and stored in the freezer up to 3 months. When cooled, form into 1 inch balls.

To make mochi covering, take one cup of mochiko flour (can be found in the Asian aisle of most supermarkets), one cup of sugar and one cup of water and mix together. (The proportion is important 1-1-1. You can make half a recipe, too). Put through a sieve to eliminate lumps. At this point you can add food coloring to suggest seasonal references (such as purble for iris). The secret to keeping the mochi soft is to add a tablespoon of karo light corn syrup. Mix well and microwave for 1 minute, take out and mix well. Microwave for 2 minutes, take out and stir to mix well. Microwave 2 more minutes and stir again. By now it should be getting clear and elastic. Make sure it is completely translucent by microwaving in 30 second increments. Turn out glob of mochi from the bowl onto a cookie sheet or pan sprinkled liberally with corn starch. Sprinkle corn starch on top to prevent sticking. Wait until cool enough to handle. Pinch off about a one inch ball of the mochi and flatten it in your hands. Be careful it will be hot. Put bean paste ball in center and pinch closed. Turn over and bush off excess cornstarch with soft brush. I put them into a paper muffin cup to keep them separate until I am ready to serve.

Jan 22, 2008

The right stuff

When people approach something with a passion there is always the excitement of learning something new. Many times I see the various stages that my students go through as they pursue the way of tea, but you also see this in the way people pursue other activities of passion such as martial arts, photogrpahy, snowboarding, for example.

The first stage is learning basic competency – how do I walk in the tea room, what is the correct way of receiving tea? What comes next in the procedure for making tea? Am I sitting exactly 16 weaves from the black line? Do I have the exposure correct in my camera? Can I stand up on my board? Can I fall without hurting myself? Did I use the correct form for that hip throw? Most of the energy is focused inwards to the self as we develop the discipline of our bodies and minds to the task at hand. It takes concentration, memory, and body memory to do things in the proper order, in the proper amount to come to a satisfactory conclusion. This self-mastery is an important stage.

When the student feels a level of competency, the next stage I have observed is the getting the right stuff. Acquisition of the right equipment or gear becomes very important. How many photographers do you know who have different lenses, filters, timers, tripods – or skiers with different skis for wet snow, powder or rock skiing? The right bicycle shoes, helmets, or clothing? Tea people with the right tea bowl, kettles, braziers, kimono? Quite often, the student feels that if he doesn’t have the right stuff, he cannot practice tea. If they don’t have tatami mat room, or the appropiate bowl for the season, it is just no use.
And yet some of the most memorable photographs were taken with a simple manual box camera. The most memorable tea gathering that I attended was a spontaneous one with utensils collected from students in the dormitory where I stayed in Japan. We used what we had and it was an odd mish mash of things — some found objects, some gifts, some very inexpensive practice utensils.

While it encouraging to have students dedicated enough to continue studying, There is just so much to learn and it takes time to train your eye and sensibilities in the wabi aesthetic of tea ceremony. I mostly recommend to my students to hold off buying equipment and utensils until they have enough experience in holding tea gatherings, working with more experienced tea practitioners and feeling confident in their purchases. The right equipment doesn’t make you better at chado, a sincere heart does.

“Tea should not be an exhibition of what the tea man owns. Instead the sincerity of his heart should be expressed.” (from Rikyu’s 100 poems).

Jan 19, 2008

Everything fresh and new

As member of the information age, it is always the next thing, then the next thing, even before we master the previous thing. By the time we know something it has passed and we are on to something different. There is very little time for reflection on what we have learned because we are always keeping up with the next new thing. But how do you make something that you have done hundreds of times fresh and new? As we begin the new year of tea classes, it may seem redundant when we do things over and over again.

In the world of chanoyu we learn things with our body. They say that in order for something to become a habit, you must do it at least 30 times. How do we know where to sit down on the tatami mat so that we are exactly 16 weaves from the line? How do we know what comes next in the tea procedure that is two hours long? By training our bodies for tea procedures, it becomes second nature to us. Training our bodies takes patience. We must do it over and over again until we can do it without thinking.

Like bicycle riding, when we train our bodies, we can finally look up and see the scenery rather than concentrate on keeping our balance. With our well trained body doing tea procedures, we can free our mind and our heart to look beyond ourselves to what is happening in the tea room. We can be sensitive to our guests and communicate on many levels at once. This is what makes everything fresh and new again even though you may have done it a hundred times before.

There is a saying in chanoyu – nichi nichi arata — every day is new. To make each tea procedure, each movement fresh and exciting as if it was the first time you were doing it takes lots and lots of practice. What a conundrum. This attitude will make your tea study more exciting for you and ultimately more exciting for your guests.

Jan 18, 2008

Keiko is good training

In the course of my lessons for chado I had to drive across town after work to get to class. That meant fighting traffic for 45 minutes to an hour, struggling into kimono and sitting on my knees for an hour and a half at class every week. I did this for many years and there were days that I faced the freeway stopped up with cars and not looking forward to the pain in my legs. But as I drove home after keiko (tea practice), I was so glad that I did make it to keiko as I felt ready to face another week with more peace in my heart.

I learned that many of the unpleasant things we do often turn out better than we anticipate. By adjusting our mental outlook or the context of what we are doing, we have a shift in perspective that brings unlooked for rewards. The tedium of driving in traffic can be converted to meditation time. The pain in my legs from sitting in the tea room is my way of strengthening my endurance and concentration. As one of my sempai told me whenever I would complain about something “…hmmm, this sounds like very good training for you.”

Jan 17, 2008

Receiving a bowl of tea

The etiquette of receiving a bowl of tea at a tea ceremony may seem somewhat tedious as there is a lot of handling and moving the bowl around. The proper way to receive a bowl of tea is for the guest to slide across the tatami mat and get his own bowl of tea after the host puts it out; making sure the front of the teabowl is facing himself. It takes a certain amount of grace to slide backward then move the bowl with you back to your place in kimono without it opening up and become a mess. But once back in your place, the bowl is brought just inside the line and placed between you and the next guest. “Osaki ni” (excuse me for going before you) is said with a semiformal bow of both guests together. The bowl is then placed inside the line in front of your knees and a formal bow thanking the host with “Otemae chodai itashimasu.” The bowl is then placed on the left palm for kansha (silent thanks) and the bowl turned twice clockwise to the back to drink from.

When the guest has had the last sip, and it is okay to slurp the last of the tea, he wipes where he has drunk with fingers that are then wiped on kaishi papers. The bowl is turned counterclockwise to the front and put down on the tatami mat outside the line for haiken or appreciation. After looking at the bowl, the guest returns it to the host exactly where the host put it out. Before returning it to the final place, the guest turns the bowl so that it is facing the host. He then returns to his place.

This whole ritual of receiving the bowl of tea is good because we are not often taught how to receive anything. Using this etiquette we can express our respect, thanks and appreciation of not only the tea, but the bowl, the host, and the other guests.

Jan 16, 2008

Gratitude for my sempai

In Japanese, sempai is the word for senior students. Kohai is the word for junior students. For many people who have not grown up with the sempai-kohai system it can be difficult to understand and for the system to work, it must have the cooperation of both the kohai and the sempai.

The sempai as a senior student has many responsibilities: to act as an example of the teaching of the sensei, to be the source for etiquette questions, to teach the kohai the behavior and procedures in the preparation room, and any other teaching out of sight of the sensei. If the kohai misbehave or make mistakes, it is the sempai who takes responsibility and is the one that gets in trouble.

The responsibilities of the kohai are to respect the sempai, to be humble and defer to the sempai, to ask the questions before attempting anything he hasn’t done before and accept the teachings.

A hard concept for me was to accept someone younger than I as my sempai. As we enter the way of tea, everyone who has been before you is your sempai, no matter how young and how inexperienced. I had 15 years of experience studying with my sensei when I went to study in Kyoto. Though I did have sempai that were wise and more experienced, some of my sempai were 18 or 19, had studied for less than a year and they had been in the program for six months before I came. They were still my sempai and though I might have known how to conduct myself at home, they still had more experience in the protocol and how to conduct themselves in Japan than I did and had a lot to teach me.

The lesson I learned from this is that everyone has something to teach me, even those younger and less experienced. To all of my sempai in the way of tea, thank you. Thank you very much for showing me the way.

Jan 14, 2008

Do Gaku Jitsu

Do Gaku Jitsu
When I first went to study chanoyu in Kyoto there were three large kanji at the entrance to the second floor classrooms where we had our lectures. They were: Do – Gaku – Jitsu, At my first opportunity, I asked Mori sensei what these three words meant and why they were important.

She said that to study Chado, it is not a thing to learn from teachers. The things that you seek are already in you and that you must discover them for yourself. Sensei are there to point the way, but how you progress with tea is up to you, not the teacher. They can only open doors and expose students to the many, many aspects of Chado. The way of tea is a process of self-discovery about yourself, the world around you and how you are in the world.

Unlike modern American education, in Chado, the students are expected to take an active part in their learning. This doesn’t mean that students tell their sensei when they are ready to advance to the next level, the next procedure or the next certification. Chado is not the procedure for making tea, though oftentimes that seems to be the emphasis in teaching. Chado is not what level of certification you attain as some of the most respected tea people have never gotten beyond the first licenses.

For students to learn Chado, the three kanji are a guide. Do is the way, the path, the spiritual philosophy. To follow the path of tea (Cha-do) one uses the way of tea and all its lessons as a measure of life. It is a way of doing and thinking and approaching life. Without the practical discipline and the study of knowledge, you cannot reach the way.

Gaku is the study of the knowledge of tea: the facts. It is the learning you can get from others who have gone before you. This includes the rich history and literature, the study of utensils, famous tea men, poetry, calligraphy, the seasonal aspects, drama, the lineage of the Urasenke family, and much more. With the internet there are so many resources now, from museums to literary translations to articles and blogs such as this one.

Jitsu is the practice of tea. That includes but is not limited to learning the temae or procedures for making tea. It is also the practice of wa-harmony, kei-respect, sei-purity and jaku-tranquility. These principles are easier in the tea room when we make a conscious effort to embody these principles. But they can also be put into practice in everyday life. Harmony in the office? Respect for your kids? Cleaning up your messes both physically and in your relationships? Bringing calmness in emotional situations?

The guide for Chado, the way of tea – Do, Gaku, Jitsu — the way, the knowledge, the practice.

Jan 7, 2008

Aikido and chado – Wa : harmony

Happy New Year to you all. We have just concluded Hatsugama at Issoan and are looking forward to the first keiko of the year. Beginning January 13th a new Introduction to Tea Ceremony class begins.

I’d like to introduce my guest blogger, the author of seiyoucha (also in the links section). It is a blog in French about the history of chado and sukisha, the dogu and their crafts, arts and literature of tea and some elements of Japanese culture based on his feelings and research. Please click over and check it out.

I have asked and he has agreed to write a few essays for me about Aikido and Chado, since he is a student of both and may have some insights about how they are similar or different. If anyone has additional comments or thoughts, please post them in the comments.

Aikido and Chado – Wa : harmony

Harmony (wa) is this ideal relationship between human beings which the chajin tries to establish. The tea room (chashitsu) is his favorite place to search for harmony, but his real goal is to find harmony in all the situations of life.

In western countries, aikido people usually translate the japanese character “ai” by “harmony”. In fact, this “ai” is more the harmonious encounter, the ability to harmonize one’s behaviour and attitude to those of the partner (uke). In a sense, we can say that ai is a dimension, a component of wa. I would say, in this regard, that aikido as well as chanoyu only mean something because of the underlying relationships: from this point of view, a solitary practice would have no meaning.

As Saotome sensei explains (Aikido and the harmony of nature, p. 243 of the American edition):

“There are no individual kata in Aikido, for Aiki is the harmony of relationships. On the Aikido mat you will find people of different social backgrounds and status, different cultures and languages, different political and religious philosophies. They are coming together not to compete, not to press their own ideas on someone else, but to learn to listen to each other, to communicate through Aikido “skinship”. On the mat, we cannot hide our true selves. We show our weaknesses as well as our strengths, we sweat together, face stress together, help each other, and we learn to trust. […] We are individuals, but we are a part of each other. […] This is harmony.”

If the quest for harmonious relationships is altogether rich by itself, it is only a stage in the quest for a more universal harmony. The further one advances, the chado student becomes more and more aware of the natural rhythms which sourround them: rhythm of the fire which heats water, rhythm of the gestures of temae, rhythms of the sun along days and seasons, rhythm of the breathing of his partners… This sensitivity to rhythms enables one to be aware of everything around them, to adapt fluently to circumstances. The aikido student pays attention to everything that is going on around him, not only to his partner. This is the meaning of shiho nage: to face the four directions at the same time. Just as well as the chajin adapts to the unexpected: he keeps an umbrella ready even in sunny weather.

OSensei used to teach that in aikido, he made one with the Universe.Saotome sensei illustrates in the quoted book how aikido techniques use just the same rythms as one can find in nature: koshi nage is the wave breaking on a reef, ikkyo omote is the ebb of the tide on the beach… From their initial encounter, there is a connection between to aikido partners, which they keep as long as they work together, technique after technique. Just the same as a connection is established between host and guests (and between guests themselves) from the welcome at the machiai or the roji door to the end of the chaji, when people try to keep this relation as long as possible even after guests have left the chashitsu. This connection, in aikido as well as in chado, is made from heart to heart (kokoro e kokoro kara, I would say in my poor Japanese), and needs no words.

The further one is aware of this harmony with nature, the further one is feels deeply the evanescence of every thing, the permanency of change, and value each moment for itself. It is just the same in aikido: each technique is unique, born from the meeting of uke and tori, and only exists for this moment. In dribs and drabs, this sensitivity extends to all the domains of life. When practice from the heart, tea as well as aikido lead us to feel this harmony which leads to peace.

Permanent link to this article: https://issoantea.com/sweet-persimmon-blog-archive-2008/

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