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.


  1. Margie-sensei, The chakai was delightful. What a wonderful teacher you are to have inspired your students to create something so detailed and so beautiful. I look forward to seeing the new teahouse tomorrow.

  2. Jenni,
    Thank you for coming to the chakai, you were a wonderful guest. See you at Ryokusuido tea house tomorrow for tea and sweets.