Mar 24, 2009

Reduce, reuse, recyle and repair

“There was a Chajin of Sakai who had a tea caddy called Sessan and he used it when Rikyu came. But Rikyu thought nothing of it so its owner smashed it against the trivet on the hearth. Another guest took away the pieces and put them together again and gave a chaji to which he invited Rikyu. This time the master praised the caddy, so the host returned it to its former owner and told him to take great care of it. Later on someone bought it for a thousand pieces of gold, and noticing that the joins were very rough proposed to have it mended again more neatly and submitted it to Kobori Enshu for his opinion. “If you do that you will spoil it altogether,” was his decision, “for that was just why Rikyu liked it.” ~from Cha-no-yu, by A.L. Sadler

Today in our disposable society, when something is broken, we toss it out without even thinking about it. Technology and planned obsolescence makes it cheaper and more convenient to throw things out and buy new ones, especially with more features, bells and whistles on it. I had a VCR and it stopped working one day. I took it to a repair shop and the guy told me that it wasn’t worth fixing because it would cost me $150, when I could go a buy a new one with a more sophisticated remote control gizmos for $49.00. I was told my old sewing machine (1940s model) was worth less than $15, and yet it costs $85 for a cleaning and adjustment. The technician told me to junk it because he’d likely spend at least a month trying to track down a similar model so he could cannibalize parts for it as it is no longer manufactured and I would end up paying him for his time as well. I have two or three old cell phones that worked fine until the cell phone company no longer supported them and I had to upgrade to a new one.

But, going green, there is a consciousness of not just recycling, but repair and reusing things that were broken, discarded or no longer usable. Just like the depression of my parent’s era, in this economic climate, there are more people who see repairing things as a way to save money, and get more use out of what you already have. It may be even cool again to be known as the guy who can repair anything. There is even a site that seeks to make repair the fourth ‘R’: reduce, reuse, recycle, and repair. The repair manifesto.

In my classes we are learning chabako (traveling tea set). I have a set with matching ceramics with a bamboo desgin, but the chakin tsutsu (wiping cloth tube) met the floor rather violently last week and was shattered into many pieces. In the spirit of Rikyu’s guest, I gathered as many pieces as I could find and repaired with a little gold powder in the joints. Now I have a chakin tsutsu that no longer matches the set, but has an interesting story.

Mar 23, 2009

Kimono and Obi Sale

Saturday, April 4 and Sunday, April 5, 2009
10:00AM - 5:00PM

We’ve received new shipment of many Kimono, Obi, and Kimono Tansu,
And are having a party to celebrate. Refreshments will be served in a
Traditional tea ceremony room

Nishiura Ryokusuido
Japanese Arts & Antiques
3826 N.E. Glisan St. (near NE 39th Ave.)
Portland, OR. 97232
(503) 236-8005

Mar 18, 2009

Playing with scents, more on Kodo, the Way of Incense

On Monday, Mr. Nishiura, incense master, came from Tokyo (via San Francisco) for a chakai at Ryokusuido. The students and I were able to serve him tea and after that he presented us with a game of incense.

As the night fell, the room was lit by candle light. It bathed us all in a flattering glow and Mr. Nishiura began the incense ceremony. Like tea, there are specialized dogu (utensils). Like tea, he brought everything into the room and prepared the things for us to smell the incense. While he was doing that, the guests were passed our own brush, calligraphy set, and answer sheet. We made ink with ink stick and stone. Then we were to write our name on the outside of our answer sheet.

The game we were to play would be to compare two different incenses. He shuffled the incense packets and chose six. There would be three rounds of comparison and we were to mark on our answer sheets with a dash – if they were the same or two dots ●● if they were different. We were to write them from the bottom to the top. The resulting symbol, three lines of dashes and dots referred to a phenomenon of nature, such as fire, thunder earth etc. With this combination, there were 8 possibilities for the answer. Mr. Nishura told us that as we listen to the music of the incense and come upon our answers, the symbols will tell us something about our own nature.

We started to listen to the first incense. It was a heady fragrance and I could barely tell if there was anything at all on the burner. I inhaled with all my lungs as we only had one chance to listen before we passed on to the next one. Mr. Nishura told us not to just smell the incense. That happens with just your nose. But to inhale and listen with our whole body, not just the surface or top notes, but also to the under notes and the whole of the music. We could write down our answers after each set, or wait until the end. And we could change our answers at any time.

I must say that there was a lot going on in that first inhalation. But I really don’t have the words to describe what was going on for me. The second round we had to judge if it was the same or different than the previous round. Not only did we listen to the incense, we had to remember how the first one was and distinguish if it was different from the second one. Being a novice, I didn’t know how subtle the differences could be. I could not distinguish between the first two, nor the second set of two, nor the third set.

When all the sets were done, we passed the answers to Mr. Nishura on a tray, and he scored and recorded the answers on a beautiful sheet of calligraphy (see photo). The correct answer was that the first two sets were alike, the third set different. Mr. Nishura said that to get a high score is not the point. If you have a high score that means you are very sensitive and that you are healthy. To get a low score means that you are happy.

To be an incense master, you must also have beautiful handwriting, too.