The Crucible

A crucible is a severe test or trial or an extremely challenging experience. A situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new. This figurative sense of crucible is based on the literal meaning of the word: a heat-resistant container used to melt metals

We have just completed the first Issoan intensive training on chabako in the midst of a record for Portland for the most days in a row above 95° (35°). Indeed, the students had to endure extremely challenging conditions for this intensive. It was the first in-person lessons we have had since July 2021, and was held mostly outside with minimal shade, due to Covid precautions. Not only was a lot of information presented, some students had never seen or done some the Chabako temae before.

After the first day of tearoom orientation, set up, and cleaning, students had a chance to practice furo haigata and laying charcoal for shozumi. By doing each of the 5 Chabako temae, 4 with haiken for guest part, students were able to see similarities and differences in each temae. We were even able to practice Shikishi Date with the Chakago basket, as well as do haiken, which none of the students had done before.

There were additional workshops in sweets making:

Haigata for the koro and hiire for the tobako bon

We made neriko blended incense for the ro season

And carved our own chashaku

We had a field trip to the Bamboo Gardens, a 20 acre garden and nursery with more than 300 species of bamboo.  The Black bamboo is now in flower, which happens only 120 years or so.   I have never seen bamboo in flower.


On Saturday we attended the Obon Festival at Oregon Buddhist Temple where there was a kimono sale, good eats, entertainment and of course Obon dori dancing.

On Sunday there was the Portland Tankokai/Wakai Seichuki Chakai at the Portland Japanese Garden

Thank you to all the students for your hard work.

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Between lessons

I have recently begun okeiko again with Bonnie Mitchell-sensei via Zoom.  I am so grateful for the time and energy that she invests in every lesson.   It has been more than 18 years since I attended weekly okeiko.  After so many years on the teaching side, being a student again is humbling.  Yet every correction, every suggestion, and every comment only make me want to double my efforts to improve my temae.

Although I have been teaching on Zoom for two and a half years, learning via Zoom is different than learning in person, as I am sure my students can tell me.

Because she cannot see everything as if she was there, she asks me for the exact placement of all of my dogu. While I am doing temae, she often asks me to describe what I am doing.  More often than not she will not correct the order of temae, but how quickly or slowly I do things, exact placement of fingers, how much space between the palm of my hand and the utensil, posture, or breathing — things that sensei never focused on before.

What is different now is that sensei has higher expectations from me and expects me to practice in between lessons. She will correct me once, and tell me to practice that move for next week.  And every week, she gives me assignments to help my understanding of the logic of temae.  What she is instilling in me is to be able to work out a solution when I do not know what to do or get stuck when I am doing temae. Not a day goes by when I am not practicing something – be it basics like pouring water with hishaku, to handling of special dogu in upper temae.

These weekly assignments and practice between lessons have deepened my study of temae.   I still prepare the tea room, getting up early to zokin tatami, hang a scroll, and arrange flowers.   I still put on the kama and fill tea containers.  I still arrange proper dogu for the lesson and put on kimono.  

As I sit and wait quietly for sensei to log-on to Zoom, I am thinking of the coming lesson, going over my assignments and preparing mentally for the lesson.  I am re-learning the commitment and discipline of practice.  Even if I thought that I had mastered a move as simple as coming into the room and closing the door, there is more to it than I thought.  I am learning to be conscious rather than unconscious during temae, to pay attention and be in service throughout the entire procedure.  

What great training for a flying girl like me.

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Is there magic in the world?

My husband teases me that anything I can’t explain, I just call it magic.  For example, we were talking about radio the other day.  Without a network link like WiFi or Bluetooth (both magic by the way), music, discussion, storytelling all get into these boxes. How does that work?  Magic!

When the sun sets, if you watch it go down, sometimes you can see a green flash.  Why does that happen?  Magic!

How can a commercial jet, bigger and than a house fly? Magic, of course.

See these brown things in my hand.  Put them in the ground and keep it moist. In about two weeks, these green things come out of the ground and grow up to be food.  Magic!

When there is heart to heart communication without speaking or even eye contact, what is going on?  Magic!

How does the human heart love or know compassion? Magic.  Forgiveness?  Magic again.

How is there hope and optimism in a world with such tragedy?  It must be magic.

There may be all kinds of scientific explanations for these things, but really, I myself cannot explain it.  It must be magic.

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The art of tea

I have been working with a journalist from the local arts web magazine on my journey with tea.  It is always difficult to gauge how deep to go with someone who has no notion of what Chado is about.  We started in January and he told me that he would like to interview me for about half an hour about Japanese Tea Ceremony.  He had seen a brief demonstration at the Portland Japanese Garden and thought that he could write a story from the interview.

Three hours later, he said that he would like to explore it further.  Then he emailed me and wanted to know if there was anything else he could read that might help him understand what it was about and why I had been studying it for so long.  I referred him to the SweetPersimmon blog.

I think he mined the blog almost from the beginning so many of the quotes in the article may be familiar to you.  He also did extensive research on his own about Chado.  And finally, I hosted him for a chakai in the Issoan Tea Room.  One of the few guests who have come to have tea in the last two and half years.

Anyway,  I am impressed that he captured the essence in such a short amount of time and extracted things from the blog relevant to anyone who doesn’t know about my journey.  Here’s is the link to “The Art of Tea,” by Brett Campbell.  I hope you enjoy.

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Lost in temae

Last week, Issoan Tea and students gave a Chanoyu presentation at the Newberg Camellia Festival.  It has been more than two years since we did one of these.  In many ways, it felt familiar, but also a little scary and a little intimidating.

We have done this particular festival many times, and the organizers have worked with us over the years to optimize the place and setting so that it is a better atmosphere for the presentation.  The first year we were on stage in a gymnasium, the next year in a tent with a major walkway to the bathroom in front of the stage.  But we found a corner of the large lobby with nearby water and a drain. Eventually we got a stage and an enclosed seating area.  But as I said before, it has been two years since we did any presentation.  The organizers have changed and the set up was not exactly what it was before.

Hataraki, the creative working out of problems comes into play.  Instead of a 3 mat layout, we had to do a two mat tea room layout.  Instead of asking for guests from the audience we had one of us be a guest.  Instead of making sweets and tea for the audience, we passed around an example of sweets, and talked about matcha.

How many of you have gotten lost in temae, either at a presentation or at a chakai?   What do you do when you cannot remember the next step in the procedure?  Hataraki, of course.  You have to work out a creative solution.  Many times when I lose my place in temae, I am either thinking too far ahead in the procedure or I am kicking myself for making a mistake.

Sometimes, I have an out of body experience, where I feel like I am looking down on myself sitting at the temaeza frozen, trying to figure out where I am.  Which would you rather do: make mistakes in front of total strangers that you will probably never see again, or make mistakes in front of your sensei and fellow students who know and love you?

Minako sensei said, “If you are going to make a mistake, make it beautifully. “  People who have never seen Chanoyu before will never know you made a mistake if you make it beautifully.  In fact, if you do not get flustered, sensei will probably not know you made a mistake.  Why point out to the audience that you have made a mistake?  Carry on and finish the temae.

If you are totally lost as opposed to an oops, in temae there are a few things you can do to regroup, refocus and move forward.   One thing is to stop.  Stop what you are doing, take a breath and look at where everything is.  The placement of your utensils should help you figure out where you are.  Nobody will fault you for taking a pause.  In fact there are many places in a normal temae that have pauses built in.  Now breathe.  It helps get more oxygen to your brain so it can function again.

Another thing you can to do recover is to look at your first guest and smile.  Re-establishing connection with your guest will help ground you in making the best tea for them.

Another thing is to rely on your training.  All tea procedures follow a pattern:  1, Bring in utensils and purify,  2. making and drinking tea, and 3, closing and taking everything out of the room.  Figure out if you are in place 1, 2 or 3 and proceed from there.

One more thing to keep in mind:  We are not saving lives here.  Making a mistake, or getting lost will not have consequences of life and death.  When you have a little time and distance on it, ask yourself, what did you learn?  All mistakes are opportunities for learning.  Tea is safe place to learn that.

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