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.