Apr 13, 2015

My first chawan, ichigo ichie

I think I had been studying for about 3 years when I thought I would like to acquire my first teabowl.  In those days there was not the internet nor eBay to purchase utensils.  So we had to ask someone to buy it for us in Japan or find some other way of acquiring utensils.  I used to haunt antique shops and estate sales because living on the Pacific rim there were many people who have traveled to and from Japan.

Not the original bowl but similar
In an antique shop one day I found a modest brown and white chawan.  Though I went to look at it several times, I didn't want to buy it yet because I didn't know if it was a good one or how much I should pay for it.  In those days, I wasn't making much money and the $40 price tag was rather a large commitment for me.  I asked my sensei to look at it and give me her opinion.  So she went to the shop and talked with the owner and came back and told me it was a good bowl for me to get and that she had negotiated the price to $30 because I was her student.  Yay!

I went the the shop and purchased the bowl (it had no protective box) and brought it home. I was so happy.  To thank my teacher, I gave a chakai and invited her to tea at the tea house at the Japanese garden.  It was a lovely chakai, and sensei said that the bowl had presence and she was glad to drink from it.

At home, after the chakai, I was unpacking the car.  The tea bowl slipped out of the protective wrapping and dropped to the driveway, shattering into dust. There were so many small pieces, I could not even pick them up.  I had to sweep them into a dust pan. There was nothing left to save.  Truly ichigo ichie.  But at least sensei got to drink from it one time.

Mar 30, 2015

5 ways to make your temae go better


  1. Before you enter the tea room, take 5 slow deep breaths.
  2. Trust your body, don't try to out think it.
  3. Look at mistakes as opportunities to  learn.
  4. Don't forget to breathe during your temae.
  5. Remember that making a good bowl of tea is the most important thing.

Mar 25, 2015

Sensei says. . .

Wa, kei, sei, jaku: harmony, respect, purity
and tranquility
Many of these sayings have appeared in the blog before, and students will recognize many of them from my own teachings. I have gathered them together to best of my recollection.  I hope you can add your own "sensei says" in the comments.

The term “sensei” has been translated as “teacher.” Quite literally from the kanji, the term “sensei” means “one who was born before.”  If there is great wisdom, it is gained through life experience and wisdom imparted by their “sensei” born before them, going back through 400 years of Tea tradition.

My apologies to sensei for any mistakes due to the differences in Japanese and American culture and language. I am glad that someone was born before me to point the way. These words of wisdom, were spoken to me in class rooms and tea practice rooms by sensei who cared enough to help me develop in Tea and in life.

On life and Tea:

Wa, kei, sei, and jaku are easy in the tea room.  The hard part is making it essential in the rest of your life.
Tea becomes much more than a hobby or social event.  It becomes a lifestyle.
Tea becomes the yardstick with which you measure your life.
The attitude of gratitude is essential.
Don’t get ahead of yourself. Complete this moment before going on to the next.
Don’t expect, just adjust.
Tea is where you realize your own religious beliefs.
What makes us uncomfortable makes us stronger.
People who endure hardship in life become tougher, like misshapen charcoal, they last longer than those with an easy life who burn out quickly.
Tea is movement.  It gets us out of our heads, into our bodies, so we can touch our souls.

On learning:

You can not learn Tea by reading a book. You learn Tea by training your body and to do it well, you must do it at least a thousand times.
Every time you do Tea, you learn something about yourself, even though you may have done it many, many times before.
Tea is not a thing to learn from teachers. The things you seek are already within you.
The existence of the teacher is more important than what he/she says, does or writes.
Learn with more than your brain. Observe, train your body, ask your spirit and relate to your guest.
Before you ask your teacher a question, look and observe.  Try to figure it out on your own. You learn so much more that way.

On making mistakes:

You can do nothing right in class, but in chaji (formal tea gathering)you can do nothing wrong.
If you are going to make a mistake, make it beautifully.
There is no going back, just move forward.
There is no such thing as the perfect temae (procedure for making tea). Doing it perfectly is not the heart of Tea. Doing it as if it was the first time, finding interest and excitement like finding interst in your life, to avoid being jaded, that is the true heart of Tea.
The Tea room is a place where we abandon shame. Do not be afraid to make mistakes if you want to learn.

On form:

When you have mastered the forms, then you become free from the forms.
Learn the kata (form).  When you know it thoroughly it becomes your katachi (style).
The body learns the form: it learns the discipline until it goes beyond the rules and becomes natural.
First master the form. The form is a vessel for the content.  You need a strong vessel to hold what goes inside or it leaks away.

On training:

Awareness is not concentration.  Tea is training in awareness
Tea training also teaches us how to receive.
Every time you make a bowl of Tea, it is not practice Tea it is the real Tea.
In training for Tea heart and spirit, as you gain maturity, learning and knowledge, the rules and guidelines change into a total experience of life.
The most difficult training is not temae, but to watch your mind and your behavior when you encounter nasty tasks and people.
Every difficulty you encounter is good training for you.

On doing the work:

Do the work. Tea is not for the lazy.
There are no trivial tasks in Tea.
There are no shortcuts in Tea.
Cleaning is 80% of Tea.
No matter how accomplished you get to be in Tea, cleaning the toilet is always the host’s job.
The mizuya (preparation room)should be clean enough to eat off the floor.
The mizuya (preparation) work should be done as if it is temae (tea making procedure).
It is your own responsibility to get to the heart of Tea.
With Tea, we are sitting on a mountain of jewels, but you must do the work and dig them out yourself.
You should do everything right because it is the right thing to do.

Mar 22, 2015

Tsurigama - the hanging kettle

I have the privilege of belonging to  Kashintei Kai a tea group that holds a once a month chakai at the tea house in the Portland Japanese Garden. It was my turn to host in March and I decided to use the tsurigama, or hanging kettle.  This is a very special kettle because it belonged to my sensei, Minako, along with the special chain, large kan (kettle loops) and bridge.

We are fortunate to have had a wonderful spring in Portland and now there is an abundance of flowers.  So the theme for this chakai is flowers. 

The shikishi reads "hana zoku zoku, nishiki zoku zoku"  flowers everywhere, brocade everywhere by Harada Shodo Roshi.

The bronze vase with an exquisite single red camellia bud in the tokonoma.

Natsume is sakura and momiji with a moon -- Yamanaka lacquer.

The chashaku is made by Zuiho of sesame bamboo with black lacquer sakura. Gomei: hana goromo, robe of flowers.

The main bowl is a Genji guruma (cart) filled with flowers both inside and out.

While making tea the kettle sways slightly as if in a spring breeze.

Mar 11, 2015

Incense and Poetry

One of the most popular units in the Introduction to Chado class is the Incense and Poetry night. Even the more experienced students come back to participate with the new students. It is a fabulous and emotional night of listening to the incense, composing and sharing poetry and of course sweets and tea.

We prepare the wood incense (jinko) by burying a live coal in ash, and put the mica plate on top.  It is a personal way to enjoy listening to the incense.  As the wood is heated, the volatile oils are released and we can smell the wonderful fragrance.  It changes over time, with the first notes giving way to middle and finally deeper notes.
Because the sense of smell is one of the more primitive senses, it does not have a direct path to the verbal part of the brain, so it is difficult for people to describe or talk about what they are smelling.   When we express ourselves in poetry, it involves other parts of our brain.
We had three different wood incense chips, and after each participant had a chance to listen 3 times, they could begin to compose their poem inspired by the incense.  After everyone is finished composing, we share the poems. 
With permission, I am publishing the poems composed that night.

red poplar melting
sweet ash asunder, hold me
in your nighted gaze

Delicate splinter
Decomposition's glory
3 breaths, one long sigh

Aged wooden footsteps
Still but felt across the rush
Warm embers, cool snow

High in the mountain
Smelling the wind in pines
I float with the birds
And feel the sun warm me

Spicy, a market
forgotten, lands far away,
bells ring in the breeze

Ambient temple floors
echoing the footsteps of
all who once tread there

Smoke swirling in air
children laughter
Christmas is a delight

Sweet breeze
on top of the hot desert rocks
I'm a firefly resting

opal sand filling
air with time and time again
is the dust of you

Bright yellow stillness of galleries
Salty splintered wood
odd early season twilight

Elusive tendrils
Journey amongst my senses
Evoke memories
And bring presence

Fruit and flower buds
Delicate scents fill my mind
Sweet and intricate

Grandmother's cupboard
collected years of bits and bobs
missing Montana

Apricot blossoms
wind kicks up a flurry
first spring berry crisp

In a cave the water rushes
all the muddy prints dry
in the hot bonfire
under the foggy moon

Listening to the incense, with just a few minutes, a conducive atmosphere, appreciative guests, it is a great inspiration for poetry.