Dec 30, 2009

Invitation to a tea gathering

Like any formal invitation,  an invitation to a tea gathering will have a time, date and place.   But look closer at the invitation.  The host of the tea gathering has included a seasonal poem, reference, greeting or saying that tells you about the occasion for  the gathering.  It may even hint at the theme for the gathering.

In a cold, cold dawn
the golden fragment of a
waning moon -- how bright!

The wording of the invitation will be humble, something like --  "The end of the year approaches and the remaining days are getting shorter.  Let's not put off meeting again so please come to share a simple meal and a bowl of tea."

You will also notice that the invitation is hand written.  In Japan, these invitations were callgraphied in your best brush writing on beautiful paper and hand delivered.  Today in America, hand written invitations with appropriate illustrations sent through the mail is appropriate. No flyers, cutesy printed invitations or emails for tea gatherings.

Then the time, the date and the place.  An RSVP such as "Please let me know by Dec. 31 if you will attend"

Sometimes there will be a list of the other guests, especially the Shokyaku or first guest.

When you receive an invitation to a tea gathering, etiquette demands that you RSVP as soon as you can. Do not wait until the deadline or make the host call you and ask if you are attending or not.

If you are the shokyaku, the host will provide you with a list of the other guests who have confirmed attending.  It is the shokayku's responsibility to call each of the other guests and tell them the order of seating, what to bring to the gathering, the format of the gathering and answer any questions they may have. Also the shokyaku will either call or visit the host (zenrei) to bring a gift and ask the host if there is anything that they can do before the gathering.  A polite guest other than the shokayku should call or write a note to the host a couple of days before to express thank you for the invitation. (This is in ADDITION to the RSVP).

As a guest, you are expected to bring your fukusa basami with fan, fukusa, kaishi, sweets pick, plastic bag and handkerchief.  As shokyaku, I always bring an extra set of fukusa, fan, papers, plastic bags and handkerchief just in case anyone forgets to bring them.

As a guest, please arrive 10-15 minutes before the start of the gathering to take care of hanging up your coat, putting on your tabi (or removing tabi covers), and stowing your belongings.  Sometimes the host will make a changing room available for those wearing or putting on kimono.  Please arrive in time to be dressed and ready 10-15 minutes ahead of time, and try not to disturb your host with requests such as helping you put on your kimono or tie your obi.

Next:  Anatomy of a tea gathering

Dec 16, 2009

New Introduction to Chanoyu Class

Well gee, I just learned how to put some things into the left hand column.   You will see two new things today: an announcement of the new introduction class, and an Issoan tea school calendar. On the calendar, all classes will be listed as well as events, workshops, cultural activities in Portland and other things as I think of them.  Any suggestions for the calendar welcome.

Issoan will be starting 2 new Introduction to Chanoyu classes in January 2010. The classes are filling up fast, so if you'd like to take the class, please contact me soon.  As soon as the class fills up, I will close the registration and put people on a waiting list.

Tuesday evenings 7:00 - 8:30 pm for 10 weeks starting January 12
Issoan Tea School:
17761 NW Marylhurst Ct.
Portland, OR 97229.  
Two places left.

Friday evenings 6:00 - 7:30 pm for 10 weeks, starting January 15
Ryokusuido Tea Room:
3826 NE Glisan St.,
Portland, OR 97232.  
One place left.

Dec 14, 2009

Before Rikyu

Before Sen Rikyu there was tea and before Bach there was music.
~Hisashi Yamada

Dec 9, 2009

Anagama kiln and preivew of the Holiday Sale

Despite bitter cold and a horrendous East wind blowing last Sunday, my husband and I were invited to the opening of the anagama firing by Richard Brandt and crew.  I have attended a firing before, but I had to leave before the kiln was opened.  This time though, the previous week the kiln was fired for 5 days -- that is they fed it more than four cords of wood, then sealed it up to cool and Sunday was the opening.  This was very exciting as the fire is unpredictable and what went into the kiln may or may not resemble what comes out, depending on the fire, the flames and the placement in the kiln.  That is the magic of an anagama firing.

 Last Sunday we unloaded the anagama kiln and I must say that it's the best firing I've ever taken part in. The frozen wind and numb hands were not even a bother because the work was so fantastic. The colors are outstanding. The carnage low. Plenty of startling surprises. Everything seemed to fall into place. A labor of love it remains. I am very excited to share this work with you.  ~ Richard Brandt

We got there as they were taking the bricks down from the front of the kiln.  I was surprised at how orderly it was and the crew was very careful to stack each brick as it came from the door in order for the next people to seal up the front more easily.  Then the ash was swept away from the firebox and everything cleaned out before any pieces were taken out.    One of the first pieces to be taken out was a little figurine.It was found standing among the ashes in the firebox. It was on the lower front shelf and it had fallen off but remained standing as if it had jumped into the fire.

Here are a couple of photos as the first pieces were unloaded from the kiln:

While everything looks monochrome in these photos, there was plenty of drama and color when the pieces were unloaded.  There were so many spectacular vases, bowls, tea pots and sculptures:

I just wanted to preview a few pieces that Richard will be showing at the sale and (modestly) show some of the handbags I made from kimono material that will also be featured at the show.

Nishiura Ryokusuido
3826 NE Glisan St.
Portland Oregon 97229
Friday evening opening reception 7-9 pm

Saturday and Sunday 12-5 pm

I hope you will come out to see Richard's work.  Here's a few handbags made from kimono and obi that will be featured.


Dec 4, 2009

First Annual Ryokusuido
Holiday Show and Sale 2009

Please come to our Holiday Show of Japanese
Antiques, Kimono, and Obi, featuring wood fired
tea utensils by Richard Brandt, and Handbags and
Fashions by SweetPersimmon at

Nishiura Ryokusuido
Japanese Arts and Antiques
3826 NE Glisan, Portland, OR 97232

(503) 236-8005 or (503) 262-8369

Friday Dec. 11 7-9 pm
Saturday and Sunday
Dec. 12-13   12-5 pm

Please join us Friday evening for drink and refreshment
Tea will be served in a traditional tea ceremony room
on Saturday and Sunday

Dec 1, 2009

Senke Jusshoku, ten craft families

For generations, the Urasenke, Omotesenke and Mushakojisenke schools have been supported by ten craft families who have supplied them with tea utensils.  Each family has its own specialties that are passed down to the next generation just as the grand tea mastership is passed down in the Senke families.

The ten craft families number of generations serving and their specialties are:

  1. Raku Kichizaemon 15th generation -  chawan shi, teabowls, mizusashi, flower vases, incense containers
  2. Eiraku Zengoro 16th generation  - doburo yakimono shi, ceramics, including mizusashi, futaoki, ceramic furo, flower containers, tea bowls, incense containers, and futaoki
  3. Onishi Seimon 16th generation- kamashi, kettles, gotoku (iron trivet), kensui, and other cast iron works
  4. Nakagawa Joeki 11th generation - kanmono shi, bronze vases, kettles, ash spoons, trays, kensui, kan and hibashi
  5. Nakamura Sotetsu 12th generation- nu shi, lacquer, especially gold painted design, natsume, trays, incense containers, bowls and sake cups
  6. Hiki Ikkan 15th generation - ikkanbarisaiku shi, paper mache and lacquer over paper, for example inside of charcoal baskets, sweets trays, also feather work for haboki
  7.  Kuroda Shogen 13th generation - takezaiku hishaku shi, bamboo anything, including hishaku, chashaku blanks, tana made of bamboo
  8. Tsuchida Yuko 12th generation - fukuro shi, fabric for fukusa, kobukusa, and shifuku pouches
  9. Komazawa Risai 15th generation -sashimono shi, wood worker for tana (display shelves), bentwood containers, hearth frames, screens, tabakobon
  10. Okumura Kichibei 12th generation - hyogu shi, scroll mounting, fusuma (paper doors), furosaki byobu (screens), paper goods such as kettle hotpads, paper tobacco pouches
As we get further along in haiken, it is good to know these families and their specialties, in case your teacher in class or shokyaku should ask "who made it?" 

Nov 22, 2009

New Japanese Tea Garden

We have permission and will soon be kicking off an ambitious project.  The students and I will be building a new Japanese Tea Garden in the backyard of Ryokusuido.  We are excited that Marc Peter Kean's new book has come out just as we are beginning planning for the garden.  We also have secured Virginia Harmon, director of grounds maintenance at the Portland Japanese Garden as our advisor.  One of the things we need to do is raise funds and donations to get started.  If anyone has suggestions for fundraising or plant, tools or materials donations to our efforts, please let me know.

We will be documenting our progress at a new blog Ryokusuido Tea Garden.  Please join us on our journey to complete this project.  I'll add a link to the new blog.  (Blog now closed).

Nov 20, 2009

Sweet Zenzai

The sweet we had at Robiraki was a sweet bean soup, called zenzai. It is especially welcome at Robiraki when the weather has turned cold and rainy and the guests leave the tea room for a short break outside. I have a request for the recipe as follows:


1 lb adzuki red beans (454 grams)
10.5 oz. white granulated sugar (300 grams)
10.5 oz dard brown sugar (300 grams)
1 Tbls. usukuchi (thin) soy sauce
mochi (sweet rice cakes) or boiled dango
roasted chestnuts (optional)

Check the beans carefully and discard any broken or off color or misshapen beans. Rinse the beans in cold water several times then soak overnight in plenty of cold water to soften. Drain and discard soaking water. Rinse beans and cover with fresh cold water. Gently bring beans to the boil and skim off the foam that comes to the top of the pot. Boil gently until the beans are soft and cooked through. (about an hour).

When beans are done, pour off the water until the beans are just barely covered. Add both the sugars and soy sauce. Bring back to boil, stirring in the sugar. Turn down the heat and simmer for another 15 minutes. Taste for sweetness. You can add sugar if not enough. Simmer until all sugar is completely dissolved. The zenzai can be served now, but tastes much better if it is allowed to cool and sit overnight in the refrigerator.

When ready to serve, cut round or square mochi pieces and lightly grill until golden brown under the broiler. (Or from round balls of dango and boil until it floats). Heat the zenzai until very hot.
Place a few pieces of grilled mochi or dango in serving bowls and ladle the hot zenzai on top.

Optional you can roast and peel chestnuts and cut in half and put in the bowl with mochi and put hot zenzai on top.

This recipe makes about 20 small servings. I cut this recipe in half and reduced some of the sugar (for my taste) and had enough for 7 people for Robiraki. (5 guests, two mizuya helpers).

This also can be served over ice cream for a tasty dessert.

Go ahead make some zenzai this fall.

Nov 17, 2009

Chakai went well

I am happy to report that the chakai went very well. I know that the meal is not the high point of the chakai, but cooking is not my most strong point, so I am a little extra careful when I am preparing a meal for others. Here is a photo of the tray before it went out to the first guest. I forgot my camera, so this is a rather rough photo from the camera phone.

I think the guests all had a good time, but I want to remind all of you who are thinking of putting on a chakai, to think of the comfort of your guests. I had planned for this chakai to last about 2 hours with a 10 minute break in between the meal and the koicha. For most of my students, this is a long time to be sitting seiza in the tea room. At the end of the first hour, most of the guests were suffering and needed the break. For some it was torture to return to the tea room and sit through the koicha procedure (about 25 minutes for 5 guests). After koicha, I brought in zabuton and seiza stools to help the guests and alleviate their pain. There was a heartfelt sigh of relief when I brought these in and proceeded to make usucha.

Nov 16, 2009

Pre-chakai jitters

Tonight, I will be putting on a chakai for Robiraki. My students will be attending their first tea event and I want to make it special. I will be doing a tenshin meal, koicha and usucha.

We will have tea by candlelight. For the meal, pressed rice garnished with furikake, grilled fish, sliced tuna in a citrus soy sauce, marinated oyster mushrooms, sweet potato cooked in dashi, and daikon radish cut in the shape of a chrysanthemum. The nimono or boiled soup dish will have taro root, carrot, mitsuba and hinoki mushrooms. I prepared zenzai (sweet bean soup) for sweets. I also made some pressed sweets in the shape of mushrooms and gourds.

Mr. Nishiura will be the honored guest and I am a little apprehensive because he is so accomplished in Japanese arts. I hope it will go well.

Nov 6, 2009

Back to the beginning

I have already written posts about going back to basics and back to one again, but for this week's lessons we are changing to the ro season and we are reviewing the very first things we learned in the tea room again. Every change of season we go back to the beginning in how to bow, how to enter the tea room, how to walk, turn, sit and stand and move about the tea room. We also review warigeiko: folding fukusa, purifying utensils, handling hishaku and most importantly the roles of the guest and host. This is a good time to correct bad habits that we have accumulated over the past season and straighten up sloppy handling of utensils.

Funny thing is that my students have taught me more about basics than I think I am teaching them. I have found quite often in teaching the way of tea that the lessons I am teaching are really not what the students are learning. Yes, this week's classes are about the technical aspects of learning tea, but what one of my students told me after class was that we should go back to basics in other parts of our life as well. We talked about being grateful and how it is very rare these days to receive a hand written thank you note, especially that people don't write in cursive handwriting anymore.

One of the things that another student talked about was that tea forces her to slow down. At first she was rather resentful in having to go back and re-do something she thought she already mastered. This led to a discussion of what mastery really means. Does folding your fukusa every week during your temae mean you have mastered it?

Even high ranking teachers with many years of experience, when they go to an intensive seminar, they start with the beginning of tea training: how to bow, how to walk, how to fold the fukusa and every time I have attended a tea training seminar, I realize just how sloppy I have become and how many bad habits that I have accumulated.

Also for me, going back to the beginning is really not back to the beginning but going back and learning the basics at a deeper level. It also connects me back to when I began as a tea student and was so very excited about learning the way of tea. I have at times become quite nonchalant about my tea studies, and it helps to recapture "the humble, but eager heart of the beginner" again.

Nov 3, 2009

Robiraki, Opening the Winter Hearth

The new year for tea is upon us. Frost is forming and the mountain passes are filling with snow. The landscape and people are preparing for winter cold. Once again the fire moves to the sunken hearth and laying charcoal for the first time is celebrated at Robiraki. The chatsubo, the tea container that has held the tea leaves since the harvest in May, is brought out and opened in a ceremony called Kuchikiri. The sealed jar is displayed in the tea room as the guests enter. The host takes the jar from the mesh bag, allows the guests to see the seal before he/she opens the seal and takes out the tea leaves to be ground for tea that day. Then the jar is sealed up again.

There are two ways to display the chatsubo: in the mesh bag as noted above and with the three decorative knots, formal in front, semiformal to the right, and informal to the left. This is a beautiful way to display the chatsubo if you are not going to take the tea out of the jar in front of the guests.

The laying of the charcoal is always a feature of Robiraki, emphasizing the warmth of the winter hearth. Laying the sumi (charcoal) for the ro season is larger than for the furo (summer) season. It is usually laid at the beginning of the chaji (tea gathering) and all through the meal, the charcoal is heating the water in the kettle. Ro sized kettles are larger and it takes more time and charcoal to heat them up.

Another seasonal treat is the sweets for Robiraki. That is zenzai. It is kind of a sweet bean soup served hot in lacquer bowls. Sometimes there is bit of mochi or chestnuts in the soup.

Timing for Robiraki is sometimes a mystery. There are various ways to think about it: approximately 88 days from the time of the tea harvest is the time to open up the chatsubo, so timing robiraki for this allows for a kuchi kiri as well as robiraki. I think it was Rikyu who said that "when the yuzu (citron) turns yellow it is the time to open the ro.

Nov 2, 2009

The Japanese Tea Garden

Portland Japanese Garden Presents:
The Bontei Tray Gardens of Marc Peter Keane
November 7–22
Free with Garden Admission

The 2009 Art in the Garden series continues at the Portland Japanese with a special exhibition of The Bontei Tray Gardens of Marc Peter Keane, featuring exquisitely designed, handcrafted wood and stone tray gardens by one of the world's leading experts on Japanese gardens. Keane is the author of Japanese Garden Design, one of the most popular books on this topic in the English language. He will be in Portland for the opening weekend of the exhibition on November 7 and 8, during which time he will give talks about his Bontei as well as a presentation on Japanese tea gardens in conjunction with the debut of his soon-to-be-released book on this subject.

Marc Peter Keane's release of his latest book, The Japanese Tea Garden, will be available. This new book, in which he describes the history, design, and aesthetics of tea gardens from T'ang China to the present day will be featured with a lecture and book signing. With over 100 stunning photographs, floor plans, and illustrations, this is the most extensive book on this genre ever published in English. The Japanese Tea Garden is a rich resource for garden lovers, landscape designers, and architects—and anyone who admires the striking aesthetic of the Japanese garden.
Lecture and Book Signing: The Japanese Tea Garden
Sunday, November 8, 4:30pm
$30 Members/$40 Non-Members
Place reservations online or call the events hotline at (503) 542-0280

Oct 31, 2009

Tea Ceremony Haiku

I am happy to say that This Moment: Tea Ceremony Haiku by Margaret Chula is back in print. It is priced at $10.00 and is available from Katsura Press as is her wonderful new book What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps

Katsura Press
P.O. Box 10584
Portland OR 97296

This Moment: Tea Ceremony Haiku by Margaret Chula
ISBN: 0963855174 Paperback
Always Filling, Always Full by Margaret Chula
ISBN: 1893996115 Paperback
Haiku especially for Tea, written by award winning haiku poet Maggie Chula. This title is now back in print, and I recommend any of her books: Grinding My Ink, Shadow Lines or Always Filling, Always Full. “Visual imagery, which predominates in most English as well as Japanese haiku, is sometimes astonishing in Chula's. She has the uncommonly keen perception and compositional skills of a painter or fine photographer, while at the same time working with the music and implications of language.” Morgan Gibson, Kyoto Journal.

Oct 27, 2009

Blogging about Chado

Hello blog readers,

When I started this blog two and a half years ago, I had one or two students and I began to write about Chado for them. I had no idea that other people would be interested in or follow this blog. I know that there are some who have followed what I write here for a very long time, and thank you so much for reading. And to new readers, thank you for visiting.

Although I have a long list of blog topics to write about, I have from time to time taken inspiration from current events, tea class discussions, or happenings in my own life, I'd like to throw it open to the community... what would you like to read about? Please let me know, by posting in the comments, what you may be interested in. I may not know anything about it, but together perhaps we can explore the possibilities and continue the conversation.

Here is a partial list of topics either by student request or I have in my notes to write about:

Sweets recipes
More samurai stories
List of the 100 poems of Rikyu (in English)
Advanced temae
Flowers and flower arranging
History of tea masters
The roji (tea garden)
Rikyu and Hideyoshi stories
More stories of my time in Kyoto

What would you like to read more about? Vote on these in the comments or propose your own topics. And a sincere thank you to all readers, even if I don't know about you.

Oct 19, 2009

The microcosm of the tea room

Sensei says: How you are in the tea room is how you are in the world.

Haji o sute hito ni mono toi naraubeshi kore zojozu no motoi narikeru
A person must discard all embarrassment when training in tea, this is the foundation of mastery.
~ from Rikyu's 100 poems

Every time we step into the tea room, it is a microcosm of how we are in the world.

As I observe myself in the tea room, am I impatient, bored, eager, timid, attentive? Am I selfish, critical, generous? Do I treat others with respect? Do I show off? Try to compete? Question others? How do I treat correction and criticism? How do I handle mistakes?

"In a certain place for practice of the way of tea,
there hangs a plaque the reads:
'A Place Making a Shameful Show of Oneself.'
Once you pass through the entrance way,
you will experience no shame,
no matter how shameful a show you may make of yourself.
The practice room is where you are trained as a human,
even as you are sharply scolded
and hesitate to humiliate yourself in the process.
The principal aim of your training is to enable you,
when the time comes,
to perform tea splendidly and without shame.
This is the reason why all those who pass through the entrance way
of this place are prepared to endure severe discipline.
For it is in this way that
they gradually develop fine characters as people.
They cannot achieve this simply by reading books
and listening to others.
They must experience it with their own bodies."

~ Sen Soshitsu XV, The Spirit of Tea

Oct 12, 2009

Aki Matsuri

Please join us this weekend October 17th and 18th

Aki Matsuri 2009
Kibou (Hope)

October 17th and 18th
Saturday and Sunday 10 am - 5 pm

You are invited to Ikebana show by Saga Goryu Hokubei Shisho
Demonstrations of Chado (Way of Tea)
Kou Asobi (Playing with incense)

Featuring Potters Motoko Hori, Ken Pincus and Anne Iverson
With Japanese Antiques form Nishiura Ryokusuido
And Local Farm Vegetables

Location: Buddhist Daihonzan Henjyoji Temple
2624 SE 12th Ave
Portland, Oregon
Donation: $5.00

Oct 7, 2009


PSU Center for Japanese Studies presents
Backstage to Hanamichi: the Color, Magic and Drama of Kabuki Lecture & Performance

Wednesday, October 21st, Time: 7:30 p.m.
$22.00 Tickets: 503.248.4335
The PCPA box office

The Japan Foundation, Shochiku Co., Ltd and The Japanese American Cultural and Community Center are pleased to present Backstage to Hanamichi - A Behind the Scenes Look at the Color, Magic and Drama of Kabuki with lead actors Nakamura Kyozo and Nakamura Matanosuke of the world-renowned Shochiku Company.

Kabuki with its magnificent beauty and highly refined artistry has made it a rare jewel among the great theater traditions of the world. Its actors must undergo years of rigorous training in order to master its three artistic components of music (ka), dance (bu) and drama (ki) before being allowed to perform before an audience. In order to create the magic that is seen on stage, the kabuki actor is supported backstage by a team of unseen artisans and craftsman including costumer stylists, wig masters, musicians and prop masters.

Backstage to Hanamichi provides the audience with a rare glimpse into the traditional world of this centuries-old theater and the painstaking preparations that leads up to an actor's grand entrance onto the hanamichi stage.

The lecture/performance includes performances of two kabuki dance classics: Sagi Musume (The Heron Maiden) and Shakkyo (Lion Dance), contrasting the lyrical style of the onnagata (actor specializing in female roles) with dynamic, acrobatic style in the heroic Lion Dance.

This program is presented in conjunction with the 100th Anniversary Celebration of The Japan America Society of Southern California.

Sep 28, 2009

What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps

My friend Margaret Chula, poet, has a new book out. What Remains: Japanese Americans in Internment Camps, Poems by Margaret Chula, Art Quilts by Cathy Erickson.

This collaboration of artists is very moving. Each art quilt has an accompanying poem written in a different voice from the camps. A young boy who had a pet rabbit, a young woman longing to dance the jitterbug, a husband/father fashioning furniture from scraps of wood.

"This is truly a beautiful, remarkable achievement -- two artists bringing history to life through visionary quilts and insightful writings." ~ Lawson Fusao Inada, Poet Laureate of Oregon

"Cathy Erickson's quilts, combined with Magaret Chula's luminous poems, evoke emotions of rage, regret, confusion, sadness, resignation and ultimately, hope." ~ Colleen Wise, Casting Shadows: Creating Visual Depth in Your Quilts.

"The dynamic interplay of Magaret Chula's poetry and Cathy Erickson's quilts is collaborative art at its best. Chula's poems weave a memorable story and voice into each visually stunning quilt -- together a powerfully beautiful interpretation of the Japanese American interment camp Experience." ~ Amy Uyematsu, 30 Miles from J-Town.

This is a subject that is close to my heart. One of my mother's best friends was interned at Minidoka, and college friend's parents met at Manzanar, and another a high school friend's father caught scarlet fever at Tule Lake.

In 1990, Portland, Oregon dedicated a park on the waterfront to the people who were rounded up and sent to the camps. It was part of an event that brought back -- some for the first time since being interned -- people who had lived and worked together in Portland. And I was on the publicity committee at that time.

I took some oral histories from returnees. What had happened to them after they had to leave their homes and businesses, during their internment and after their release. As part of my duties, I tried to place articles about the reunion and the internment in national magazines and newspapers. I remember one young assistant editor I contacted in New York. She told me that they did not publish fiction. I told her that it was the truth, and she said that the United States would never do that to U.S. citizens and I must be mistaken they must have been Japanese nationals and spies. She further told me that she had asked other people in her office in New York about the internment and nobody else had heard about it either.

You can see the park along the waterfront in Northwest Portland. The cherry trees bloom there every spring, and you can stroll along the path of stones carved with haiku about having your freedom taken away.

You can order your own copy of this wonderful book from:

Full Color, 108 pages, 8.5 x11, $24.95 + $3 S/H

Edited to add that the Address and ISBN for this book is wrong. Please order your book from:

Katsura Press
P.O. Box 10584
Portland OR 97296
ISBN: 978-0-9638551-1-4

Sep 25, 2009

Thoughts on gomei, or poetic names

Students who practice Chanoyu are asked by their teachers to think of gomei or poetic names for tea utensils. Many students think it is a chore or silly to come up with names for your chashaku every week. But during the haiken, or the appreciation part of the ceremony, the gomei can heighten the drama, tell the story of the utensil or enhance the theme of the tea gathering.

Gomei, literally, most honoured name, are given to utensils, sweets, and other things related to Tea. Originally, names were given to various objects by great connoisseurs and Tea masters in the late Higashiyama period. Kobori Enshu gave many famous tea utensils gomei taken from poetry and literature.

Tea utensils may reflect nature by echoing particular seasons both in form and with their poetic names. In observing the seasons, there are many more than the basic 4: spring, summer, fall, and winter. For example, early spring is more like winter and late spring is more like summer. Flowers are a great indication of the season as they don't appear at once, but can evoke the time of year that they bloom. So noticing what particular flowers are in bloom are a good source of gomei. Also instead of just naming a flower, a good gomei may offer a description of the flower. For example, Kiku or chrysanthemum is a good autumn flower, but to use kiku as a gomei is a little general and not very poetic. If it is late November, the chrysanthemums are getting a little tired as their blooming season is coming to an end. So "rangiku" or ragged chrysanthemum might be a gomei for that season.

Gomei can also come from place names that evoke different feelings, seasons or memories. For example, the gomei "Tatsuta" refers to the Tatsuta river in Nara prefecture. In the fall this river fills with fallen red maple leaves and thus alludes to the momiji or red maple leaves of autmn. Likewise, Yoshino is a place where the hill sides bloom with cherry blossoms in the spring. With these place names, one can allude to the seasons without directly saying "cherry blossoms." It gives a little more sophisticaton, depth and feeling to the name.

For usucha and okashi (sweets) gomei can be very seasonal and light; sometimes they can be humorous, or emotional such as "chajo chashin" tea feeling, tea heart. When we get to koicha, however, the gomei are a little more serious. Many Zen words and phrases are used as gomei. For example, I have a scroll with a Zen phrase that says: White clouds come and go as they please. I might pair this scroll with a tea scoop name "Ao yama" or green mountain because the companion phrase to this is: Green mountain is unmovable.

Japanese literature is also a rich source of gomei. An example of this might be "Murasame" literally it means autumn rain. Murasame was also one of two sisters in the in the Noh play Matsukaze. The two main characters are the sisters Matsukaze and Murasame who once lived on the Bay of Suma in Settsu Province where they ladled brine in order to make salt. A Middle Counsellor named Yukihira dallied with them while staying at Suma for three years. Shortly after his departure, word of his death came and they died of grief. They linger on as spirits or ghosts, attached to the mortal world by their sinful emotional attachment to mortal desires. The name of the chief character, and title of the play, Matsukaze, bears a poetic double meaning. Though Matsu can mean "pine tree" (松), it can also mean "to wait" or "to pine" (待つ). Autumn Rain is strong and gentle intermittently, while the Wind in the Pines is soft and constant. Though the characters in the play actually represent the opposite traits - Matsukaze alternating between strong emotional outburts and gentle quietness while her sister remains largely in the background, and acts as a mediating influence upon Matsukaze. Many layers of meaning here: Autumn, love, tears, grief, desire, strong, gentle depending on how it is used.

So please think about your gomei for keiko next week and use your imagination and some of these suggestions. It will make your temae more interesting to both your teacher and your guests.

Sep 12, 2009

Introduce Chado to people you love

Introduce Chado to people you love. Take them to a tea ceremony demonstration; or invite them to your class as a guest. They just may be captivated like you.

Issoan Tea School will be doing tea demonstrations at the Portland Japanese Garden:

When: Saturday, September 19, at 1 pm and 2 pm.
Where: Portland Japanese Garden, Kashineti Tea House
Free with admission to the Japanese Garden.

When: Sunday, October 4, Otsukimi, Moonviewing from 5:30-8:00 pm
Where: Portland Japanese Garden Kashintei Tea House
Reservations required. $25 for members, $35 for non-members

Sep 8, 2009

Twenty not Nineteen

Someone has brought to my attention that there are only 19 rules for lifelong learning. I forgot to type number 8. Do not burden others with your own troubles.

It has been corrected in the original post and now there are 20. I aplogize and thank you to Cordelia for calling it to my attention.

Sep 7, 2009

Shin, Gyo, So

In chado, there are usually three levels of formality designated as shin, gyo and so. These are formal, semi-formal, and informal. This permeates everything from the types of bows to utensils, fabrics, ceramics, and many other aspects of tea.

Often the differences between these types of formality is subtle and you must pay attention to details. For example, with the bamboo tea scoop, where the node, or fushi, is placed on the handle of designates how formal it is. The tea scoop with the node (joint) in the middle is an informal tea scoop. The fushi at the end is a gyo or semi-formal scoop and one with no fushi is shin or the most formal of bamboo tea scoops.

When bowing in the tea room, there is no difference in the length or time it takes to bow, but there is a very slight difference in how the hands are placed on the tatami. In the formal shin bow, the whole hand is placed on the tatami mat and the head aligned with the back (about a 45 degree angle). For the gyo, semi-formal bow, only the fingers are placed on the mat, and for the so, informal bow, only the fingertips touch the mat. Be sure that you are not placing the weight of your body on your hands.

I think part of this classification of shin, gyo and so is teaching us about etiquette and appropriateness. It makes us pay attention to what is going on and gives us guidelines to help determine behaviors and choices. Just as you wouldn't go in beach wear to a reception at the White house and belch at the hostess, or you wouldn't wear a tuxedo to family picnic and eat with your gloves on, there are appropriate dress codes and behavior in tea.

Even when preparing for a tea gathering, while paying attention to the seasonality of the utensils, don't forget to also pay attention to the formality of the occasion. Big events such as New Year's celebration, or Robiraki - the change to winter time hearth, are more formal occasions than a spontaneous gathering.

Sep 4, 2009

New Introduction to Chado, the 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: Wednesdays, 7:00-8:30 Starting September 9, 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

Sep 2, 2009

Twenty rules for lifelong training

Training for Chado is very similar to training in martial arts. Even though it is not as actively physical, Chado trains the body and strengthens character just like martial arts. It is a lifelong pursuit and if you do not train constantly, you lose your edge.

Early in their formal education, young samurai were instructed to brush a copy of the following rules and then sign and date the document as a lifelong pledge. I think it also applies to tea training.

  1. Never lie.
  2. Never forget to be grateful to one's Lord.
  3. Never forget to be grateful to one's parents.
  4. Never forget to be grateful to one's teachers.
  5. Never forget to be grateful to one's fellow human beings.
  6. Do nothing to offend gods, buddhas and one's elders.
  7. Do not begrudge small children.
  8. Do not burden others with your own troubles.
  9. There is no place for anger or rage in the Way.
  10. Do not rejoice in the misfortune of others.
  11. Do your best to do what is best.
  12. Do not turn your back on others and only think of yourself.
  13. When you eat, think of the hard work of the farmers who grew the food. Never be wasteful of plants, trees, earth or stones.
  14. Do not dress up in fine clothes, or waste time on superficial appearance.
  15. Always behave properly with good manners.
  16. Always treat everyone like an honored guest.
  17. To overcome ignorance, learn from as many people as possible.
  18. Do not study and practice the arts just to make a name for yourself.
  19. Human beings have good and bad points. Do not dismiss or laugh at anyone.
  20. Strive to behave well but keep good actions hidden and do not seek the praise of others.
From Budo Secrets, Teachings of the Martial Arts Masters by John Stevens.

Sep 1, 2009

The winners

Thank you for everyone who participated in my little contest. I was very happy to see that you took my questions seriously, and provided such thoughtful answers to my questions.

And now....

The winners are:

Nick who won Michael Soei Birch's120 page manuscript, "An Anthology of the Seasonal Feeling in Chanoyu.

And Zlati (temae) who won the CD of Japanese for the tea room.

Congratulations to both of you. Please email me with your shipping address.

I'd like to refer you all to Phillytea blog. It has an excellent post on Tasting Tea. Enjoy.

Aug 21, 2009

Japanese words as prizes

I have finally decided what I will be offering for prizes for the contest in honor of the 250th blog post at SweetPersimmon. Thank you all to the regular readers, all of my sensei and sempai, students of Chado and those who have only a passing interest. You have made this blog experience rewarding.

Prize number 1 will be a CD of Japanese for the tea room. It features an explanation in English the basics of Japanese pronunciation and very basic Japanese grammar. It also has the dialog for usucha, usucha haiken, koicha, and koicha haiken. The dialog includes the English translation and then the Japanese slowly twice, then again at normal speed. The final part is the dialog for aisatsu before and after study.

Prize number 2 will be a copy of Michael Soei Birch's120 page manuscript, "An Anthology of the Seasonal Feeling in Chanoyu. This is a workbook, compiled by Michael Birch and written in English and romanji. It is filled with all kinds of information and it is a good source for seasonal gomei, or poetic names. The manuscript is divided into the four seasons -- Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter with information about each. It is further divided into each month that includes information about the month, perhaps haiku, appropriate scrolls, seasonal words and suggested gomei. It is illustrated throughout with Michael's calligraphy so you can see the kanji for each word, scroll, phrase or haiku.
Here are a few sample pages:The contest eligibility and the rules
Okay, to be eligible for the prizes (there will be two winners, one prize each) there are a few things you have to do. First, if you have a blog, please link it to this blog. I will also link to your blog in return. Second, you need to post a comment to this post. Not just any comment, but you need to answer two questions.

First question: How did you learn about chado and why are you studying? If you are not studying, what do you find interesting about the SweetPersimmmon blog?

Second question: How much of the traditional Japanese teaching methods do you think need to be incorporated in learning Chado outside of Japan? For those not studying, what do you think the best way would be to learn something like the Japanese tea ceremony?

I do ship internationally so everyone can participate. Please leave me a way to contact you to inform you if you have won.

The contest remains open until midnight PDT August 31st 2009. That's 10 days folks, to get your answers together and compose your answers. Winners will be chosen randomly. All decisions final. Prizes will ship by September 2. Good luck!

Aug 11, 2009

What do you love?

It is not often that we give ourselves permission to love, or let alone talk about the things we love. These days it is hip and cool to be cynical and make fun of others who are too emotional. Someone told me once that I needed to take a look at where I was spending my money, because there also was my heart.

These days, I spend my heart on chado, my husband, my grandchildren, my students, and sewing. Besides the essentials of food and shelter, there also I spend my money. Since leaving the corporate world, I have pared down my lifestyle to fit my considerably reduced income and I could not be happier.

Just as wabi used to mean to be disappointed by failing in some enterprise or living a miserable and poverty stricken life, some of my former associates would look at my present life and think that I am miserable. But wabi also means to transform material insufficiency so that one discovers in it a world of spiritual freedom.

Right now, I have never been more joyful in my life. Everyday is a good day. I feel aligned in living my values and in the integrity of what I do. I feel grateful for the opportunity to live this life. I love what I do, I love my life and I love to share with others some of the things I've learned through chado.

What do you love?

Aug 5, 2009

The rules

I have talked with many people who don't like rules. These people think that too many rules in tea restrict them and don't allow them to be free to do as they please. But think if nobody driving on the road ignored the rules and just did as they please. The rules of the road such as staying on the right hand side of the road protect everyone and keep them safe. Or think of the rules of a game, if everybody just did as they pleased, then the game would be no fun.

The rules set boundaries, and in the tea room, everyone knows what to expect. There are appropriate times to talk and listen. There are rules for the role of the host and for that of the guest. The etiquette works if everyone is playing by the same rules. That is why it is so important to learn to be a good guest.

Remember that tea was developed in 16th century Japan, when there was incredible conflict and civil war. It was nearly a relief to be in the tea room, free from the conflict. If everyone observed the rules, people -- for a short time -- could get along, everyone would be safe and they could enjoy themselves.

Once the rules are ingrained into your consciousness, it actually frees your mind to be able to pay attention to other things, like the comfort of your guests, or creating that unique experience together. Communication occurs at a deeper level, and being present and open to profound insights can all happen in the rule restricted environment of the tea room. Amazing!

Coming up soon. In honor of my 250th blog post, I will be having a blog contest giveaway for those of you who are faithful readers. In order to qualify for the giveaway, you will have to leave a comment. More details will be posted shortly.

Jul 22, 2009

C.H.A. Creative Handmade Art

Creative Handmade Art
Year II

This show presents a collection of artists who study the way of tea.
…a way of beauty
…a way of life

Richard Brandt, Sanje Elliott, Jan Waldmann, Barbara Walker, and Margie Yap.

Together, with other special guest artists, we offer objects in clay, wood, painting and calligraphy in the spirit of peace and hospitality.

Come join us in this spirit.

August 7th, Opening Gala: 5:00 pm until 8:00 pm.
8th, Noon until 5:00 pm
9th, Noon until 5:00 pm

8855 SW 36th Ave., Portland, Oregon, 97219

Jul 21, 2009

The false choice

I was looking for something to watch on TV the other day. I have digital cable with more than 168 channels, and there was nothing on. Yet I kept flipping from channel to channel for a couple of hours to see if there was something that looked interesting to me. Yes, I have 168 channels to choose from, but nothing that I wanted. To me there really was nothing to choose from.

On the other hand, I went to the fabric store to get some fabric to make a handbag. There were rows upon rows of beautiful fabric. I spent an hour and a half there and ultimately left with nothing because I was so overwhelmed that I could not choose a fabric.

When I was in Kyoto to pick out fabric for my first kimono and obi, I became so sensory overloaded that I just wanted to pick things out at random. There were other women with me who looked at all of the choices and asked the shop owner to bring even more fabrics and obi from the store room to look at. I had to leave temporarily and take a walk around the block. Fortunately, the kimono shop owner recommended three colors and fabrics with obi to match. I made my choice from the of the three combinations and it is still my favorite kimono and obi.

With all of the abundance of choice in these three instances, I could not make a choice. Why is that? There is almost too much to choose from that often leads to paralysis. Is it the right choice? How do we know what we want? What if we don't know? Can we go back and choose again if it isn't right?

As for choosing, there is so much potential. The point of choosing is a powerful position to be in. All the possibilities open for you. But what if we make the wrong choice? Once the choice is made, we have excluded all the possibilities except the choice we have made. It may lead to buyer's remorse or regretting the choice already made.

We are almost too rich with choice. I tend to get overwhelmed if I have too much to choose from. If I limit my choices, it is much easier for me to make a decision without regrets. And once I make a choice, I try not to think about what could have been had I made another choice. If things don't work out, it helps to look at it as if I had another choice to make rather than go back and make a different choice.

How does this relate to chado? On the surface of tea, it seems like there is very little choice in how to do it or what to do. For some people it looks overly restrictive and very rigid. In fact, as we are learning, there are restrictions. But that is because tea is so wide and so deep, that the beginning student can easily become overwhelmed. As we learn the way of tea, even within the restrictions, there is so much potential for creativity. By limiting and simplifying the choices a student makes and revealing the depth of the few choices he can make, he can see the whole in a different light and the choices become more meaningful. In fact, when it comes to choice less is more.

Jul 16, 2009

Performance Anxiety

Doing temae in class is sometimes intimidating, especially when we are learning a new procedure. We want to get it right from the very beginning. Many students have performance anxiety and can do procedures at home but make mistakes or forget the order in front of sensei.

I used to get very nervous before class and worried if I was going to forget something. But after many years of class, and some very kind (but strict) sensei, I have come to the conclusion that performance anxiety is ultimately a self-centered thing. When I should have thought about making the very best tea for my guests, I worried about how I looked. When I should have concentrated on being as natural and relaxed for so my guests enjoyed the experience, I was tense and worried about doing things in the correct order. When I should have made a mistake beautifully, I became embarrassed and forgot what the next thing to do was.

My sensei told me that the classroom is the place to make your mistakes. (And believe me; I have made some real doozies). If you look at mistakes in your temae as learning opportunities, then the outcome is not whether you did it right or wrong, but what did you learn from it. How do you handle a mistake or lapse of memory? Do you get flustered? Do you lose your place? How do you recover from a mistake?

Sometimes we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. Often the lessons we learn in the tea room have nothing to do with the temae and correct procedures. How you are in the tea room ultimately is how you are in life. If you can detach enough to see how you behave in the tea room, many lessons will open up for the rest of your life.

Torigai-sensei in Kyoto was watching me make tea one day, and afterwards, told me, “Marjorie, you will never have a perfect temae.” I was disappointed that after I worked so hard she thought I would never achieve a perfect temae. “However, you are very interesting to watch. You are able to work yourself out of your mistakes and come out fine in the end.”

Presentation July 18th
Issoan tea will be at the Portland Japanese Garden on Saturday July 18th at 1:00 and 2:00 pm for a demonstration of Chanoyu. Free with admission to the garden. Come down to the tea house for an explanation and to see Japanese Tea Ceremony.

Jul 12, 2009

A Pure Heart Creates Pure Tea

Sei (Purity) is one of the four principles of Chanoyu. Purity is the quality of having an open mind and heart; which is reflected in the care the host puts into the ritual purification of the tea utensils. The purification is done in full view of the guests and is an important part of the Japanese tea ceremony.

Recently, my Sensei gave me the gift of a new Fukusa. This beautiful, square piece of silk is bold red and so far, untamed. Men and women often use different colored Fukusa. Women typically use a color associated with male energy (Yang), while men use a color such as violet, representative of female energy (Yin). As in all things, balance is essential.

The Fukusa is used in the tea ceremony to purify the Natsume (tea container) and Chashaku (tea scoop). During the course of the ceremony, the Fukusa is folded and refolded so that a new surface is used each time. In this way, the cloth is always new, always clean, always pure.

Tea is made by combining two simple ingredients: hot water and matcha. Each element is pure and complete in its own right. When combined, the purest form of tea is produced. Sugar is never added to the tea itself. Instead, guests are invited to eat a sweet before the tea is served.

The pure intentions of the host are reflected in the care for the utensils, the clean water and the minimalistic decor of the tea room itself. Each movement and each item have a clear purpose which create the atmosphere for the simplest of beverages to be sincerely enjoyed and purely appreciated.

Jul 5, 2009

Zen and tea scrolls

I'd like to post a link to Phillytea blog. Morgan took very good notes during Roshi's talk about Zen and tea scrolls. Much better than mine. Please go check it out.

In the meantime for those of you who would like a little more reading on Zen calligraphy scrolls, there is a very good book by Eido Roshi and Tani Roshi who both wrote the scroll we used for the koicha seki where I made tea for Eido Roshi at Dai Bosatsu last month.

Zen Words, Zen Calligraphy
by Eido Tai Shimano, Kogetsu Tani (Illustrator)
ISBN-10: 1570621276
ISBN-13: 978-1570621277
Calligraphy by Tani Roshi, commentary by Eido Roshi. The heart of Zen is expressed here in beautiful Japanese calligraphies, some of them just a word, other a famous Zen phrase from a person from a poem, koan, or anecdote. Shimano, a well-known Japanese-American Zen master, uses Zen stories and teachings to illuminate the inner meanings of each calligraphy.

Jul 4, 2009


I had one day left in New York after the Friends in Tea conference. Roger had given a couple of us a ride as far as a train station near his house and we took the train into Manhattan. We checked into an inexpensive but nice hotel on the upper west side and had a fabulous Indian dinner before retiring.

The next day we went to Minamoto Kitchoan and I bought sweets to take home to my students. A friend was going to meet us for lunch, but on Monday many places are just not open for business. We were hot and tired and I was rather irritated. We wandered around for a time and found a small boutique shop with interesting interior décor. We asked if they knew of a place that sold Japanese antiques, and the sales clerk said that the gallery upstairs had some contemporary ceramics, but didn’t know if they were open.

We took the elevator up to the fourth floor and there it was. The tea room described in the Wall Street Journal Article was right there to the left. We invited ourselves in and Mr. Yoshi Munemura was gracious enough to show us the room, serve us some tea and talk about tea, tea utensils and the Yanagi Gallery

We took the elevator up to the fourth floor and there it was. The tea room described in the Wall Street Journal Article was right there to the left. We invited ourselves in and Mr. Yoshi Munemura was gracious enough to show us the room, serve us some tea and talk about tea, tea utensils and the Yanagi Gallery. The tea room itself was an 8 mat room with a host entrance and tokonoma on two sides for display. There was a temaeza set up with Japanese contemporary ceramics, a furokama, tea bowl, chaire, and mizusashi.

Then along the guest side was a footwell that you could put your feet into, and beyond that was a half tatami mat cut lengthwise so you could sit on it with your feet in the well.

We were lucky to have seen it, according to Mr. Munemura, because the tea room will be taken down for the next exhibition this fall. I love it when things like this happen.

Jun 26, 2009

Did you have enough tea?

Tea in the living room

Tea on the dock

Tea on the Patio

Double Tea

Open Tea

Simultaneous Tea

Photos courtesy of Bettina, Rebecca, and Morgan

Sharing tea together in the lovely and intimate setting of Dai Bosatsu filled me to the brim with happiness. I could talk all day (and many times late into the night) about tea and nobody's eyes glazed over. I could drink my fill of koicha, usucha and work to my heart's content in making a bowl of tea for others. There is nothing like the intimacy of a chakai to get to know one another as fellow guests and observe the host make tea. I learned so much more about gardening, ceramics, shifuku, sweets and flowers.

One of the great things about the Friends in Tea gathering is that I got to meet so many new (to me) tea friends. Some people I have only known through the internet and it was great to meet face-to-face. One person I was anxious to meet was Morgan from Philly Tea. She also has a blog and a post about the Friends in Tea conference. Please visit her site and leave a comment. I know she would appreciate it.

Jun 23, 2009

Mizuya work

At the Friends in Tea conference, the tea space was improvised, so there was no mizuya to prepare for chakai. Thanks to our resourceful mizuya cho, Jan, she set up a temporary space upstairs near the tatami mats to make a working mizuya. I especially appreciated the fact that the mizuya was set up even though there was no running water or drain nearby. She did this by setting up tubs and buckets for clean and dirty water. These buckets and tubs had to be filled and emptied by hand. This was also a good reminder to be careful to conserve the clean water, and efficient in cleaning up so that the dirty tubs didn't fill up quickly and have to be emptied in the middle of a chakai.

With so many great utensils brought by the participants the cho had to double the mizuya space by setting up tables. Even though she did that, it still was tight to work there given that two chakai were scheduled at the same time. Part of tea training is to work efficiently and quietly in the mizuya.

Most mizuya that I have worked in are tiny spaces -- 1 to 3 tatami mats. That is 3 feet by 6 feet up to 6 feet by 9 feet. It begins to get really crowded in there when 3 or 4 people are all working to get things ready, or clean up from a previous chakai or lesson.

This is where training comes in. If you are not working in the mizuya, get out. The mizuya is no place for standing around and chatting. If you are working, do what you need to do quickly and efficiently and get out. Do not dawdle around or stay to look at things. Make sure your things are cleaned up properly and everything is put back in the proper place. If there is a kama with hot water coming, get up and out of the way. Most important, the cho is the head of the mizuya. You must do what the cho says without argument. There may be a meeting later about it, but at the time, the cho is in charge and what he/she says must be done immediately and without complaint. It is a big responsibility.

*Photo courtesy of Morgan Beard

Jun 20, 2009

Ichigo ichie revisited

During Eido Roshi's talk about Zen scrolls he discussed the often used phrase, ichigo ichie. We often translate this phrase as "one lifetime, one meeting." But Eido Roshi likes the translation, unprecedented, unrepteatable as a more clear translation of the meaning.

He said on that day that June 12, 2009 has never come before and will never be repeated. It is the only one of it's kind. This translation only emphasizes the uniqueness of this moment. I live most of my life going from one thing to the next without awareness of the passing of days . Ichigo ichie calls upon me to pay attention to right now before the moment has passed.

I did not bring my camera to the conference for some reason that I think had to do with paying attention. When I take photos, I feel somewhat separated from the "action." As an observer, I try to capture the moment rather than be in the moment. As we well know, the photograph will never capture the moment, but it can bring back the memories of the time that it was taken.

Eventually, if the people who were there at the time pass, even these memories fade. The very language of photography, to capture the moment, to take a photo seems to be an aggressive way of keeping a hold of or stopping time. We can neither stop the flow nor hold onto the moment. The moment is the moment and you can never recapture it.

Ichigo ichie -- unprecedented, unrepeatable.

Jun 19, 2009

Just dye your heart with Chanoyu

During the Friends in Tea conference, there were two formally scheduled chakai, the opening chakai the first day and the closing chakai on the last day. In between, there was what they called open chakai. The tatami mat room upstairs at the guest house at Dai Bosatsu was divided in half and people could sign up to make tea, drink tea or help in the mizuya.

Many participants brought tea utensils to be used at these open chakai, and with the sweet making workshops going on, we always had plenty of sweets. Wild flowers were growing in abundance and thanks to Jan, the mizuya cho, tea and everything was available to put on chakai.

You could also put together impromptu chakai outside, in the meeting room, on the terrace or on the dock over the lake. More than a few people brought chabako, and there was always an early morning chakai in the woodshed.

I would say that there were about 10 scheduled chakai a day in the tatami room and at least 2-3 more chakai that you could attend in other places. And still, I couldn't get enough of making and drinking tea.

"Don't look with your eyes or cock your ears to listen, just dye your heart with Chanoyu . Look with your eyes and listen with your ears, smell incense and grasp their meaning with questions." ~ from Rikyu's 100 poems.

*Photo courtesy of Morgan Beard

Jun 18, 2009

Take a left before you get to the Buddha

Certainly I am not a Zen student, I know very little about Zen. But I was on my way to the yoga class at the Dai Bosatsu Zen monastery, and I didn't know how to get to the library where the class was held. I had already wandered around and run into a room where the monks were chanting and nearly smacked into the Roshi during the services, so I didn't want to disturb them any further.

I asked around and these were the instructions on how to get there: "Go up to the second floor and take a left before you get to the Buddha." It rather struck me as funny that I would have to take a left before I got to the Buddha in a Zen monastery, but I suppose we all take detours in our life. I can also see this as a metaphor in following teachings that tell you to take a left before you get to the Buddha. If you took that left you would end up in the library with lots of words, and words could become confusing (at least to me) about Zen.

On the other hand, the yoga class was just what I needed. I never had yoga before. I am so stiff I cannot sit half lotus when sitting zazen. I have never taken a yoga class, and Jimin our instructor, said that she would not get so hung up on correct positions but make it more of a meditative experience. Through gentle stretches, breathing and the sound of her voice, I opened up my body. In opening my body, I am sure that I opened my mind and my spirit as well, to take in what was going on around me. Not just the things that were planned and happenstance to do with the tea group, but I became aware of the monks as they went about their work and worship in the monastery. Ah, "Zen cha ichi mi" or Zen and tea, one taste.

*Photo courtesy of Morgan Beard

Jun 17, 2009

Chabako, tea anywhere

It was a little early for me to sit zazen at 4:30 am with the monks, but I did get up for the 6:00 Chabako tea that was planned for that morning. We were to have tea on the dock out on the lake, but it was pouring rain. The wood shed was the alternate location and among the resiny smell of the newly cut and stacked wood we had tea. With a thermos and chabako, tea can be anywhere, no need of tatami room.

The sound of the rain on the roof of the woodshed soothed us and as I sat there drinking tea, listening to the host and guest talk about the tea and utensils, I felt a profound sense of belonging, of coming home to be with people of my own family (tribe) where I could talk about tea, drink tea, be immersed in tea and not be thought crazy or obsessed.

I also was reminded again of an essential tea lesson: The best laid plans will somehow be altered and it is best to remain flexible, rely on your training and go with the flow. Oh yes, and it is always good to make alternate plans. As Rikyu said, "Prepare for rain."

Jun 16, 2009

Four days of tea

I just got back from the Friends in Tea conference and I am exhausted, but full to the brim in my heart for tea. The conference was held at Dai Bosatsu Zen Monastery about 3.5 hours drive from New York City in the Catskills. It is so isolated that cell phones and GPS do not work there. When we reached the entrance gate after driving for miles on a one lane road that turned into a dirt road, I thought we had arrived, but we still had to drive 2 more miles to the monastery. Then we crossed a small bridge and there on a beautiful lake in the mountains was Dai Bosatsu. The long journey was like going through the roji before entering the tea house, and helped to shed the dust of the world and clear our minds for what was about to take place.

I will be writing more about my experience there in the coming days, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank all who planned and participated in the conference, and thank the Roshi and residents and helpers at Dai Bosatsu who made our stay there memorable, unprecedented and unrepeatable. Thank you.

Jun 9, 2009

Friends in Tea

I will not be blogging this week as I will be in New York for the Friends in Tea conference. Be back next week. I am sure that there will be plenty to write about.

No class this week. Make ups on Tuesday at 7 pm at Issoan, Wednesday 7 pm at Issoan, Thursday after 5 pm at Ryokusuido, or Friday at Peninsula Odd Fellows at 7:30 pm. Email and let me know if you are coming to a make up class.

Jun 2, 2009

Fushiki, not knowing

Today's characters are sometimes seen on scrolls in the tea room. They read, fushiki, in translation: I know not.

Reaching out into the unknown is a scary thing. I think of explorers, who had to go beyond where anyone else had been. (yes, the final frontier). It drives some people to explore and it terrifies others to go or do or experience something that they had not done before.

For me to try something new and not know the outcome is like exploring, too. Terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. My good friend Larry Toda says, "If your palms are not sweaty occasionally, it means that you are not really living." Really, trying something new is how we stretch and grow.

There was a study done on salespeople and performance. They took high performing salespeople and put them in low yielding territories and took low performing salespeople and put them into high yielding territories. Within a year, the high performing salespeople were back to their income and low performing salespeople were also back to their low sales records. The point of this is that we each have a comfort zone. If we are comfortable with a certain outcome (in this case income level) then we will gradually gravitate to that level. Even when people are miserable, they will only have what they feel comfortable with. It is called the comfort zone.

It seems that high performing people will take risks outside of the comfort zone and low performing people will not. It is not like taking big risks will make you a high performing salesperson, but the attitude of taking small risks helps build confidence in further risk taking. The risk can be as small is finding a new way home from work. The point is to try something that you don't always know what the outcome will be. If one approaches small risks with the attitude, "it will be interesting to see how this turns out," rather than one of success/failure, it takes a lot of the pressure off and one can look at the endeavor as a learning opportunity, no matter what happens.

Risk taking can take many forms, from the physical risks of extreme sports, to being vulnerable enough to love someone. So maybe today you will find a new way home and discover part of your neighborhood you had never seen before. What will the outcome be? Fushiki, I know not.

May 30, 2009

Kimono Dressing For Dummies

Step one: Go to the bathroom.

Step two: Put on tabi.

. . . and then it gets more complicated.

The first time I was dressed in kimono for Japanese tea ceremony, I simply stood still with my arms held outstretched while my Sensei did the work. The process, which feels something like transforming from a caterpillar into a butterfly, involves 15 separate pieces and takes approximately 15 minutes for an experienced person to accomplish. Dressing oneself, especially when just learning, takes a bit longer. It goes something like this:

There are two layers of underwear. First put on the one piece slip and then the two piece juban (underkimono). Don’t forget to insert the collar stiffener. Be sure to cross the left side of the juban over the right and tie snugly. If you do not already possess a “cylindrical” figure, you will have to pad your middle to create a uniform shape. No hourglass figures allowed!

The word Kimono literally translates to “thing to wear.” Traditionally, kimono were made of silk, but today they are also available in a variety of synthetic fabrics and come in many patterns and styles. With the underwear securely in place, it is time to put on the kimono.

Take the kimono and put your arms through the sleeves, tucking the sleeves of the juban into the sleeves of the kimono so that they line up evenly. Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, adjust the fabric of the skirt so that it hangs just above your ankles and fold left side over right. Wrapping a thin tie around your waist, secure the kimono so that it will stay closed, with the skirt hanging evenly. Smooth out the material to eliminate any wrinkles.

The obi is a straight piece of cloth, generally made of silk and sometimes elaborately embroidered. The obi is wrapped around the ribcage, leaving a tail which is then folded and tucked to create the traditional “drum” bow. Insert the obi stiffener to create a nice, smooth shape. The obi-age, a silk cloth, covers the pad that helps to shape the back of the obi and is tied in the front and tucked into the obi. Caution! Do not let too much of the obi-age show. This is considered to be quite flirty! Finally, the obi-jime, a braided cord, is tied in a square knot securing the entire creation.

Next, look in the mirror and behold the work of art that you have created. Wearing kimono is more than a series of folding fabric and tying knots. It creates a certain sense of elegance and a requirement for proper posture and dignified demeanor. Enjoy this other-worldly feeling.

Incidentally, I am not joking about using the bathroom first. If nothing else, heed this advice. You'll thank me later.

May 20, 2009


I was invited to a chakai Monday night. Mr. Nishiura, owner of Ryokusuido was in town from Tokyo. He is a student of Omotesenke tea school, and we made tea for each other. One thing that he told me about Omotesenke is that there is the way that men make tea and it is different than the way that women make tea. The simpler way is the way that men make tea.

It was a wonderfully sunny, warm day for a chakai, and I arrived at the house in the late afteroon. I love the way that the sidewalk out to the street is dampened all the way out to the street in the summer time in welcome. It looks so fresh and cooling.

Inside the house was cool and dark. Mr. Nishura had prepared a cool drink for me and invited me to enter the tea room. He had cleaned the tea room top to bottom as well as washed the window so that it looked like there was no glass in it.

He brought fresh sweets from Japan and I enjoyed watching him make tea in the men’s Omotesenke style. What struck me was that the temae placement and order were exactly the same as Urasenke style that I study. Just a few stylistic differences made the procedure distinctive, but not strange. Many of the movements were familiar because they were movements that Urasenke style uses for koicha but not usucha. I could see, however, that studying one style and switching to another style can get very confusing.

The tea was fresh and green, and I particularly enjoyed the “jade lake” in the center of the teabowl surrounded by foam. I then prepared and made tea for Mr. Nishiura and as we cleaned up, we compared notes on the different styles. He was very appreciative of the tea I made for him and complimented me on how graceful was my temae. (That was a first for me and quite unexpected).