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?

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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 for details and reservations.

Reservation Form (42KB PDF)

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.

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.

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.


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?

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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).

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.

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

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).

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Jul 12, 2008

What's new at

I have some new products up at the 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

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

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.

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.

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."

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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.