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 SweetPersimmon.com

I have some new products up at the SweetPersimmon.com 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 SweetPersimmon.com.

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.