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.