The ash is important to the charcoal

This summer we have been fortunate to be able to burn charcoal and do sumidemae.  We can’t make tea if the charcoal doesn’t boil the water.  For some reason, the water boiled with charcoal tastes better, sounds better and the steam is more consistently fluffy and pretty.

Of course, it all begins with the haigata or ash form. The first time I saw the ash form, I thought it was some kind of cardboard, and I stuck my finger in the front of it and spoiled the look of it. Making the haigata takes patience and practice.

When I was at Midorikai we got to burn sumi everyday, and that means one of the chores after dinner was to do the haigata for the next day.  Fortunately for me, I like to do it, and my fellow students didn’t, so I did many ash forms during the furo season as I could.  When we switched to the ro season, I bought a furo, ash, gotoku and practiced  in my room just about every night.

I think we got one lesson on ash forms and the rest of the year we were left to discover for ourselves how to do it by practice and experience. Sometimes one of the teachers would come up to the mizuya after dinner and drop the haisaji (ash spooon) in the middle of the haigata.   If the spoon stood upright in the ash, it was too hard packed and the fire couldn’t breathe.  If the spoon fell over in the ash, it was soft enough for the fire to burn.  Of course, either way, you had to do it over again.

A few things I learned about doing haigata:

  1. Don’t spend more than 45 minutes playing with the ash.  The more you work it, the more it gets packed down.  Torigai-sensei used to say, “Better an ugly haigata that breathes, than a beautiful one that is too packed down.”
  2. There are three main tools to form the ash. The wide flat tool, the curved tool and the spear point tool. I use the wide flat tool for maybe 75-80%  of the time.
  3. Let the ash tool do most of the work.  You really are not pushing down on the ash spoon to smooth it out.  Just lay the tool down gently on the ash and drag it across the surface of the ash.  You will get a beautiful smooth surface without it getting too packed down.
  4.  I usually start smoothing the front, then the back then the U shaped valley in the center.  Make sure the valley is deep enough to accommodate the height of the charcoal, plus the width of the kudazumi and edazumi so it won’t get crushed when you put the kettle on the gotoku.
  5. Sometimes the angle of what you want to do is very awkward.  Learn to use your left hand to work the right side of the form.   You may have to re-grip the tool in  a different place to get the angle you want.
  6. The only place that is okay to pack down the ash is right behind the maegawara (front tile).  This helps hold the mae gawara in place.
  7. Pay special attention to the corners and the points of the mountains.   It takes practice to make these smooth and sharp.
  8.  Smoothing and cutting around the gotoku and maegawara are the trickiest.  The mountain in the front should look like there is no interruption in the line and it looks like it goes right through the gotoku.

If you get a chance to work the ash, it becomes very meditative and sometimes addicting.  Relax and it will show in the final product.  Good luck.

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Cicada’s Cry

We have been talking about poetic names and the sounds of the Japanese summer.  The Japanese cicada or semi are a ubiquitous part of the soundscape in summer.  Different species, I guess hatch at different times so there are different songs throughout the summer.

I remember trying to fall asleep in Kyoto and the semi being so loud that one night I opened my window and shouted “SHUT UP” at the semi and it got quiet for about ten or 15 seconds, then quietly, “meep, meep, meep, Meep,.Meep, MEEP, MEEP” louder and louder again.


There are some that sound like rain showers:  Semi shigure


But sometimes they just sing in the evening with an evocative song:


And this one sounds very sad or plaintive

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Kobukusa making workshop at Issoan Tea


Itoya Kinran

Date: Sunday, August 12, 1-3 pm
Where: Issoan Tea School 17761 NW Marylhurst Ct. Portland, OR 97229
Make reservations by Friday August 10, 5 pm. 503-645-7058

We are lucky to have talented students at Issoan.   This Saturday August 12 there will be a kobukusa making workshop from 1-3pm at Issoan Tea. That little square of brocade cloth is used in many instances such as serving tea from the kitchen, haiken, displaying utensils and intermediate and upper temae.

Kate has generously agreed to teach the workshop and will be providing practice fabric, patterns and teaching the workshop.  Bring  a sewing kit if you have one.  If you do not, we will supply everything.   Please call to make your reservations for this workshop by Friday evening, August 10, 503-645-7058.

Stay tuned we have other workshops planned for this fall.

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Kagetsu Koshukai, Beginner’s Perspective

Hello fellow Tea Lovers! It’s Karla and I apologize for my long absence from the blog. I recently completed my Masters in Teaching and have been busy, busy, busy with school, student teaching and a continuing job search. Here is a lovely picture of what Oregon looks like when the sun is coming through the doug firs near my home. Lovely, no?

I wanted to post today about an experience I had last weekend at a beginning koshukai regarding kagetsu study. Christy Sensai from San Francisco was the Sensai there and gave all of us some great things to think about during the beginning usucha hirodemae temae. (Note: Please forgive me my beginner Japanese spelling. If you see errors, don’t hesitate to let me know.) Christy Sensai said that one thing you should always strive for in kagetsu, and for any time you are in the tea room, is matching your timing to the other people in the room. I’m not talking about the host’s timing in making tea, but the guest’s timing. To put it another way, timing that guests may need to worry about would be bowing together, folding fukusa together, and standing and sitting together. These things should happen at the same time and it looks beautiful and effortless when executed that way. This timing shouldn’t be found by craning your necks to the left and right. Just watch the movement from the corner of your eyes. This is something, Christy Sensai said, that a person who studies tea needs to apply to any part of the study of tea. It need not only apply to kagetsu. It means matching the height of your bows appropriately to the people around you. It means being conscious of when people’s feet may be asleep so you don’t try to stand up too quickly in courtesy to the people around you. It means that tea isn’t just about yourself but it’s about everyone in the room with you. You are all there to enjoy the experience the host is presenting you. No one should feel ashamed that they can not rise as quickly as the others. Tea is about acceptance and humility. About slowing down where needed and always showing respect to those around you. I was honored to be reminded of such an integral part of the way of tea.

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Obonfest at Oregon Buddhist Temple

Obon is an annual Buddhist event for commemorating one’s ancestors. It is believed that each year during obon, the ancestors’ spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives.

Traditionally, lanterns are hung in front of houses to guide the ancestors’ spirits, obon dances (bon odori) are performed, graves are visited and food offerings are made at house altars and temples.

At the end of Obon, floating lanterns are put into rivers, lakes and seas in order to guide the spirits back into their world. The customs followed vary strongly from region to region.

Oregon Buddhist Temple will be celebrating Obon on Saturday August 4, 2012.  The program gets underway at 3:00 pm until 9:pm.  Obondori dancing starts at approximately 6:30. Admission is free.
Location: 3720 SE 34th Ave, Portland, OR 97202

Join us for food, gifts, entertainment and dancing. This year’s Obonfest features —
Food items: yakisoba, yakiniku, yakitori, shave ice, manju, chirashi sushi, beer garden, soft drinks, Spam musubi

Program: Tanuki Taiko, Portland Taiko*, Martial Arts Demonstration, Temple Talks, Bon Odori (public dance)

Vendors: Michiko Selby (Oshie art using chiyogami paper), Miwa McCree (massage), Kaori Oya (Shiatsu massage), Hiroshi Ogawa (Japanese Pottery), Margie Yap from Sweet Persimmon (handmade purses and meditation products), Karen Fullerton (notecards and art), Kinokuniya Bookstore (Japanese books, music, misc items) Others: Omiyage shop, T-shirt sale, children’s corner, raffle

I will be there with a booth to sell handbags, meditation seats, incense, matcha, and basic tea ceremony utensils. And I tell you, the spam musubi can’t be beat.

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