Preserving Japanese traditional culture

A couple of weekends ago, Mr. SweetPersimmon and I attended a festival not far from Portland, Oregon put on the the Kominka Collective.  This non-profit organization’s mission is “to save old Japanese folk houses while preserving and passing on traditional carpentry methods.”

The word kominka refers to houses built at least 50 years ago and in particular to those built before the Taisho Period. Komika were constructed with high-quality local wood, including zelkova, sakura, chestnut, and cypress. These structures are characterized by traditional Japanese timber framing using broad beams and posts, ceramic tiled roofs, and a rustic yet elegant beauty.  Japanese timber framing, used for wooden construction in temples, shrines, and folk houses, has many advantages, including strength, durability, and maintainability – as well as its elegant appearance.

The day was a celebration of traditional Japanese culture.  It took place at Camp Colton, a picturesque camp about an hour from our house.  The large lodge structure had booths showcasing traditional Japanese arts food and culture.  During the day there were taiko and shamisen performances, calligraphy, tea ceremony, ikebana, demonstrations and workshops, origami for the kids, panel discussions, restoring tansu chest workshop, yakisugi (burnt cedar) demonstrations, traditional woodworking with tools and maintenance demonstrations.

One of the presentations by Kiyomi Koike of Kominka Life Coaching. The challenges facing her led her to the healing of Japanese tea, tea ceremony and embracing the mission of Kominka preservation.  One of the first Kominka disassembled, shipped overseas and reassembled is in Enterprise, Oregon where Kiyomi lives and runs her business of importing green tea and coaching people “to help you live a life as your authentic self in the midst of life’s chaos.”  Enterprise is located in rural Northeast Oregon, with spectacular scenery.  You can book a stay in the restored Kominka.

Sora Shodo presented an energetic demonstration of big brush calligraphy to the beat of Tako Hach taiko drumming as well as a calligraphy workshop for adults and children.

Ikebana demonstration by Nana Bellerud was graceful and educational.

Besides the taiko drumming by Tako Hachi, the highlight for Mr. SweetPersimmon was the traditional Japanese tool workshop by Yann Giguere of Ashland, Oregon.  Yann demonstrated how to use chisels and saws to carve intricate joinery in wood that is as beautiful as it is strong.  The highlight of Yann’s presentation was tuning up the Japanese wood plane and producing translucent, thin shavings.  He also let anyone who wanted to try to produce the perfect curling, continuous shaving.


And I certainly enjoyed my udon noodle lunch and strolling the campgrounds in the beautiful autumn weather.

Permanent link to this article:

Robiraki 2023

Yesterday, Issoan celebrated the opening of the winter hearth.  The day was cold, rainy and windy.  A great day for a cozy tea gathering.  Guests arrived from across town, from Seattle area, and half a world away via zoom for two seki.  It was especially exciting for three new students, who had never attended a chaji before.

It is a treat to see the charcoal fire laid in the sunken hearth.  There is nothing like the steam coming from the kama when it is heated with charcoal.

A light meal was served (with sake!) while the water in the kama was heating.  After the meal, zenzai sweet was served. I only make this sweet once a year and the students look forward to it.

The tokonoma featured the chatsubo with decorative knots. The scroll by Fujii Kaido, Daitokuji reads, “Shuku issei no kari,” Autumn sky, a single cry of the wild goose.  One very foggy night, my husband was taking out the garbage and heard a very lonely faint honk, as if a goose had lost his way and could not find his flock.  So I remember this story whenever I hang this scroll.

Surprising late chrysanthemums.

Minako sensei’s daikai chaire with karahanamon shoha donsu naga o shifuku.

Genko’s chashaku, named Kan, barrier or gate.

Tofuku natsume, made by Shuho Kumagai.

Mizusashi by local potter Richard Brandt.

Main usucha bowl, kuro Oribe, named Furosato, hometown.

Special shout out to Stephanie Wilson, Kate Comstock for assisting with the meal and in the mizuya.  Thank you all for attending.



Permanent link to this article:

Shoshin, the beginner’s heart

After a long hiatus for Covid, I opened the tearoom last spring.  I did not teach any beginner classes for 2 and a half years while the tearoom was closed.  There were about 20 people on the waiting list and when I opened the new introduction to Chado class, it filled quickly.  Then I started a new introduction class while graduates of the previous class went on to take the Ryakubon class.  Of the eight brand new students, I now have 3 long term students.   

These new students are integrating with the regular and long-term students of the keikoba. I really like to mix the new students with the long-term students.  The new students get the benefit of having sempai show them what to do in the mizuya, how to set up and how to clean up.   Sempai can also encourage the new students because we have all been there with numb feet, getting lost in temae, wrestling the fukusa, and feeling like a clumsy oaf when walking and sitting in the tearoom.  

I also love having new students with regular students because sometimes we can get jaded doing the same temae year-in and year-out.  When we don’t have to think about the order, it is easy to just phone it in.  

New students bring excitement and enthusiasm to the tea. Everything is brand new and interesting.  Every job is important, from filling the natsume to folding the chakin correctly.  They pay attention intently to what is going on and what sensei is saying. They have a thousand questions, and their concentration is fierce.  New students remind us of what we found fascinating about tea in the first place.  

I am grateful that these new students choose to attend tea class once, and sometimes twice, and even three times a week.  I want to nurture their passion for tea. In return, they give me energy and purpose to my teaching. A sensei told me once that it is easy to teach a student who is eager to learn. 

As a long-time student and teacher of tea, we want to get back to shoshin, the humble, but eager heart of the beginner.  It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying, even at an advanced level, just as a beginner would. The practice of shoshin acts as a counter to the hubris and closed-mindedness often associated with thinking of oneself as an expert. This includes the Einstellung effect, where a person becomes so accustomed to a certain way of doing things that they do not consider or acknowledge new ideas or approaches

 The challenge is to find shoshin every time we do temae. If we can embody the enthusiasm and excitement for our guests, we can create a unique and memorable experience for them. 

Permanent link to this article:

Autumn has arrived

Here in the Pacific NW we are usually blessed with beautiful clear days and pleasant temperatures for Autumn.  The new school year starts, and football season begins.  But for me, moon viewing signals the beginning of the Autumn.  This year the September moon came late in the month, but we had hot weather into the middle of the month.  Last week, it rained and the temperatures at night became chilly.

Every year, we participate in the Portland Japanese Garden’s O-Tsukimi, Moonviewing event.  The event is held over 3 nights, and usually includes, bento, sake or beer, shakuhachi and tea.  Making tea in Kashintei, the tea house in the garden, by candlelight is always is treat.  This year was no different.

Seifu meigetsu, the pure wind cleanses the bright moon. Susuki and Kibune giku, grasses and Japanese anemone.

The next night, I held my own moonviewing chakai at Issoan.  It was hybrid online and in person so we could accommodate guests from far away.  The theme for this chakai 万里同じ月をている “Ten thousand miles, looking at the same moon.”  So I wish for all of my readers of this blog a wonderful moonviewing, knowing we are looking at the same moon.

掬水月在手 Mizu Wo Kikusureba Tsuki Te ni Ari “Scoop water and the moon is in your hands”


Permanent link to this article:

Reunion reflections

I have much to still to process about the 50 year Midorikai reunion. I think overwhelmingly it was being in the company of those who have had the experience of studying tea in Japan. Everyone learns how to get into kimono in less than ideal conditions. Everyone starts as a beginner learning to walk, sit and stand again. Everyone struggles with the nuance of language, etiquette and expectations of being a Midorikai student. Everyone knows what it is like to not get enough sleep because your toban begins at 5 am.

Also everyone has participated in incredible, once in a lifetime events, and experienced things no tourist could ever dream of. We have all met people who we have only heard about and bonded with others who will remain in our lives and hearts for a lifetime and beyond. Meeting legends of Midorikai who we have heard many stories about, meeting old teachers, meeting new faces.

Revisiting places I used to go. I think everyone has their special place along the Kamogawa where they went to get away. The regular haunts where we would talk and eat and drink late into the night. The old shop where the couple who ran it would always give you a little extra “service.” The sweets shops where you favorite sweets are still sold.

Even as I exited the train in Kyoto eki the smell of Kyoto was somehow telling me I made it back home again. I’ll tell you a story about my last day in Midorikai. It was the first of April and the sakura were blooming, and I ran to my place by the river crying because I did not want to leave. I had finally gotten the hang of how to live in Japan, how to conduct myself so I wasn’t scolded all the time, and now I had to leave. My senior sempai came and found me there, crying. He said, “I know how you feel. I felt the same way when I had to leave Japan the first time. But you have now spent a year in Oiemoto’s house under his care. How can you not come home again?” And so I feel every time I visit Kyoto it is like coming home again.

Permanent link to this article: