Apr 28, 2009

Return to the original one again

keiko to wa ichi yori narai ju wo shiri ju yori keru moto no sono ichi

In training for chanoyu, you go from one to ten and return to the original one again.

This is from one of Rikyu’s 100 poems. Next week we will close the ro and begin the summer season for chanoyu. Before we begin the furo season, all the classes will review the basics again. We will learn how to walk in the tea room, how and when to bow. We will review folding the fukusa and purify the tea utensils and correct bad habits that we have acquired along the way.

When I went to Japan to study tea, even though I had 15 years of tea training, they began teaching us how to walk and bow. The sensei assumed you knew nothing and started everyone at the beginning, no matter how long you had studied. One sensei said that I had accumulated many bad habits and I needed to go back to the beginning. At first I was rather put out by what I thought was wasting time, until I found out that at every koshukai (intensive training workshop), they taught the basics to everyone, even teachers of more than 20 years’ experience. They call this warigeiko.

Even though we go back to the beginning, it really is not the beginning because we have some experience of what it is like to study. I like to think of it as a spiral. Each time you come back to the beginning, you go deeper and learn more about yourself, your temae and your relationships. Just like the seasons come around again, it is different every year. This spring is not like last spring, nor the spring before that.

So next week, bring your fukusa basami, chakin, chasen, chashaku. Be prepared for warigeiko, back to the orginial one again.

Apr 24, 2009

Sakura Festival Saturday

Please join us at Uwajimaya in Beaverton for the Sakura festival. Issoan tea school will be demonstrating tea ceremony on stage in the parking lot (early in the morning). Right after that, Aikido Yoshokai will take the stage for a demonstration of Aikido. See you there.

When: Saturday, April 25th 9:00 am tea ceremony, 10:00 am Aikido
Where: Sakura Festival, Uwajimaya
10500 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy. Beaverton, OR 97005
Phone: (503)643-4512

Apr 21, 2009

Hisashi Yamada

Hisashi Yamada, a loving and devoted tea ceremony teacher at Urasenke Chanoyu Center of
New York, passed away on April 18, 2009 at the age of 81. He will be greatly missed by
all his family, friends and students.

Please share this information with anyone who was acquainted with Mr. Yamada.

Funeral Service: Tuesday, April 21, 2009, 2:30PM

The service will take place at Riverside Memorial Chapel
180 West 76th Street *entrance on Amsterdam Avenue- NYC 10023
http://www.riversidememorialchapel.com, tel. 212 362 6600

Apr 19, 2009

Under the cherry trees

Thank you to Ikuko and her husband Mike for coming out to view the sakura and share their tasty lunch with us. And thank you Ronda for wearing your kimono. It was a lovely day, although we missed the blossoms by a few days, we served several adventurous souls tea and sweets.

Apr 18, 2009

I dreamed a dream

The phenomenon of Susan Boyle on You tube this week made me think about dreaming dreams. If you are not one of the 26 million people who have watched it, click the link and go there now. She’s 47 and dreams of a singing career, though she’s never had the opportunity until now.

The story seems to resonate in these tough times of an unlikely star with hidden talent. Yet she pursued her dream of singing in front of a large audience and a career like Elaine Page. It’s never too late to pursue your dreams.

I went to Japan to pursue my teaching license when I was 40 years old. Most of the other students in my class were 19-21 years old. I didn’t start teaching tea until I was 45 years old. My husband went back to school to become an artist when he was 48 years old. There is no law that says dreams are only for the young.

A piece of advice I got from an old man who told me when you dream, don’t dream little dreams. Dream big dreams. Dream unreasonable dreams. And go after them. Do one thing every day that moves you a little closer to your dream. And do one thing every day that nurtures yourself so you have the reserve to pursue your dream

Apr 17, 2009

One-of-a-kind Handbags and Purses

Now a word from our sponsors. SweetPesimmon.com is the retail site that supports this blog, so please check it out and buy something to support this blog. You may or may not know that I have been making one-of-a-kind handbags and purses and now they are for sale on my retail website. Handbag link. I also have meditation seats for those of you who have trouble with dead feet while sitting seiza, as well as tea, teaware, incense, photos, books. Also I have started a sewing blog. (link to the left). Thank you we will now return to our regularly scheduled blog.

Apr 16, 2009

Hanami: flower viewing

Looks like we will have good weather this weekend. We're planning an outdoor tea event with chabako under the cherry blossoms. Please join us:

When: This Saturday, April 18, after 1:00 pm

Where: Japanese American Historical Plaza,
Old Town
2 NW Naito Pkwy
Portland, OR 97209

Portland waterfront near the steel bridge, under the cherry trees.

Come share the fine weather, flowers and a bowl of tea.

Apr 15, 2009

It’s not my fault

I’ve been having car troubles lately. I have a 1989 Toyota Supra. I love this car. It is 20 years old. Some of the original parts are finally wearing out. Because this car has been so maintenance free, I don’t really have a regular mechanic. When we picked it up, the steering made funny noises that it didn’t before. It began to leak the power steering fluid and had to be replaced again. Then we noticed that there was anti freeze all over the driveway. So we had to take it back to the radiator place who replaced a hose. We got it home and the next day there was anti freeze all over the driveway again. Back the mechanic, the radiator place. We got it back and my husband opened up the hood and anti freeze shot up out of a hose with a hole in it. He spent the day replacing leaking hoses that should have been found by the mechanic or the radiator place. The car is now in the shop for the 6th time in two weeks. It’s still leaking anti freeze all over my driveway.

Each time we took the car back to mechanic or to the radiator place, we got the same plaintive cry, “It’s not my fault!” As a customer, I don’t really care whose fault it is, I just want my car fixed so I don’t have to keep bringing in my car and cleaning up my driveway. I am sure that both places would rather not see me again with the same problems.

How does this relate to tea ceremony? It may or may not, but I want service providers who want to help solve my problem rather than tell me it’s not their fault. I know it is an old car, but it’s been pretty reliable up to this point and I love it. I would feel much better about the inconvenience of taking the car into the shop numerous times if the mechanic just told me, “I am sorry for your inconvenience. Sometimes these old cars have lots of parts that wear out all at once. I’ll get right to work on it and do my best for you.”

I don’t think I have gotten the best from either the mechanic or the radiator place and that makes me want to take a look at the things that I do for other people. Whether it is a small thing or a large thing, am I giving them the best I can do, or am I just doing what I can to get by? How many times am I doing the same job over again that I could have done right the first time? How much inconvenience do I put others through? Do I shift blame to others?

Just like my sensei in Japan were not interested in my excuses for being late, I just wanted an apology and a promise not to inconvenience me in the future. That is accepting responsibility for their actions and being accountable for the results.

Apr 11, 2009

Chabako and flower viewing

The students are currently studying chabako (traveling tea box) in preparation for Hanami,or flower viewing. This month the Sakura or cherry blossoms will be blooming and for the Japanese people, this is one of the events of the year. We will take our chabako and thermos and venture outside to prepare tea under the cherry blossoms. Portland has a fine waterfront park dedicated to the Japanese interment and it is lined with Sakura that are just in bloom now. We can do it at the peak, or we can do it when the petals start coming down like pink snow all around us.

I remember the first week I was in Kyoto my sempai invited us new students to a chakai at the Kyoto botanical gardens. They packed up the chabako, thermos and bento and we walked from our dormitory to the gardens. It was a beautiful sunny spring day. Under the cherry blossoms, they prepared tea for us and told us how it was to be students and the headquarters under the grand tea master. They were so helpful and took great care of us those first six months when everything was brand new. Thank you, Herman, Kirsten, Scott, Maya, Jani, Robert, and Nastya. It was a wonderful year thanks to you.

Apr 7, 2009

Slow Down

Another lesson I took from the koshukai is that I need to slow down. My mind is always full of thngs, and as Christy sensei told me that an active mind manifests as an active body. I sometimes do things so fast that the guests don’t have time to catch their breath or visually rest when they watch me make tea. Especially with koicha, the pace is slower than with usucha to give the ceremony more weight.

This is not a new problem for me. I know that my mind moves very fast, and I talk very fast. When I get nervous, I move and talk even faster. I am getting better though, Christy sensei did find a few places while I was making tea that were restful, but I really need to slow down.

One way I do this is to pay attention to my breathing. Whenever I am nervous or excited, I tend to hold my breath or breathe very shallowly. Taking one or two deep breaths helps to restore oxygen to my system and my brain seems to function better. Continuing to breathe while my body is moving tends to focus my mind, slow down my nervous tics and allows me to be more present.

From the beginning of entering the tea room until the last act of closing the door, your breathing should be even and controlled. This breathing helps to control the pace of the procedure. As you begin the procedure, folding your fukusa, your guests will begin to breathe in unison with you. It is amazing what happens to the harmony in the room when everyone is breathing in unison.

If you have the opposite problem that I do, of being too slow and too deliberate, increasing the pace of your breathing very slightly will help the pace of your tea procedure. Holding your breath while you make tea does not do you any good at all. You must breathe.

Apr 4, 2009

Oh this blogging business, I can't figure out how to link this video. It's about kimono dressing for men.

So here's my attempt.
Thanks for your patience.

Video: Kimono dressing for men.

Breaking bad habits

During the course of making tea for Christy sensei, she pointed out a bad habit I have when I fold my fukusa. I didn't even realize that I was doing it. She stopped me in the middle of folding it and asked me if I knew why she stopped me. I had no idea and she said that it must be a habit if I am unaware of it. She then proceeded to demonstrate what I do and I was appalled at how sloppy it looked. From then on, I was conscious of making sure I did NOT do it when I fold the fukusa.

The first step in breaking a bad habit is becoming aware it is a habit. We cannot see ourselves so it is a good thing to have someone point these bad habits out. The problem is that honest feedback seems so impolite in the tea room. To overcome this, the intention of giving the feedback has to be clean and it must be pointed out in a loving way. I am grateful to sensei that she is paying attention to what I do and is honest with me to help me improve.

We train our bodies so that we can do the movements of temae with an empty mind. And if we train our bodies to do something, it will faithfully reproduce what we have trained it to do; it becomes a habit. Somewhere along the way, I had trained my body into a bad habit and I did it without realizing that I was doing it. They say that it takes a minimum of doing something 32 times before it becomes a habit. So the second step once we become aware is to consciously do it correctly for a minimum of 32 times.

Christy also suggested that I examine what it was that made me initiate the bad habit in the first place. For something as basic as folding the fukusa, I know the correct way to fold it, but something triggered a change and I kept repeating it until I became unaware of it. By examining the trigger, it will help me break the bad habit as I re-train my body to do it again correctly.

Apr 2, 2009

Pay attention to what you are doing

No matter how many times we have done temae, it is always good to pay attention to what we are doing. One of the things Christy sensei emphasized in koshukai is the precision with which we do temae. First of all make sure that the orientation of your body is correct. Especially in the winter season, there is a difference in centering your body with the outside corner of the hearth frame and the inside corner. There may be less than an inch in difference, but it changes the position of all the utensils as you use them. Your left knee should also come up to be even with the corner of the hearth frame, and the space of 16 tatami weaves should be in front of you. Also make sure that your body is centered with the outside line of the hearth frame when speaking with guests and putting out the haiken utensils.

One thing many students become sloppy with is picking up and moving utensils. When the left hand or the right hand picks up or puts down the bowl make sure it is precisely at 9 o’clock or three o’clock on the bowl. There are certain times to pick up the bowl or set it down at 5 o’clock or 7 o’clock. Know when to use these different handling techniques and why. When transferring the bowl or the hishaku (water scoop) make sure that changing hands occurs in the center of the body. A lot of students tend to transfer the utensils from one hand to another on the way to where ever it is traveling.

After purifying natsume or chaire, the fukusa is squeezed in the right hand, but then it comes just over the right knee. If you pull your hand up your leg near your body, you get this chicken wing effect as you put down the tea container that looks awkward and funny.

Finally, make sure you have good posture. Not only do you look better in kimono if you have good posture, but also when making tea, sit with a straight back and not too close to the bowl. Bow with a straight back and do not put your weight on your hands while you are doing it.

We all learned these things as basics, but it is always a good reminder to pay attention to what we are doing in temae, even if we have done them a hundred times before.

Apr 1, 2009

Back to Basics

Christy Bartlett sensei was just in town for koshukai, an intensive teaching workshop for the way of tea. These workshops are always an inspiring and humbling experience. Usually they last two or three days and are divided into sections for advanced intermediate and beginner students. The students prepare and make tea for other student guests much like regular keiko, but as I said before it is intensive. Christy sensei’s experience, knowledge and teaching deepen our understanding of the way of tea, of the historical precedents of tea, of the exact order and questions about temae and most important, something about ourselves. One thing I so appreciate about Christy sensei is that she gives the most honest feedback and corrects even the smallest points to pay attention to. The effects of these workshops stays with me for many days and weeks.

These koshukai are also a gathering time to be with people who we do not ordinarily see, fellow students and teachers of the way of tea. While the format of the classes are strict, there is a fellowship of feeling as we are all there to study hard and learn more. There is something to be said about the closeness one feels for other students who have suffered along with you sitting seiza for 8 hours a day for three days.

It was interesting to me that this time, what struck me the most was not so much the teaching of the upper temae, but comments and teaching from sensei about the basics. How to fold the fukusa, working on footwork, conversation about utensils, picking up and putting things down, the speed (or slowness) of the pace of temae. How we do all of these things tell us about ourselves. It is a way of looking at ourselves as we are in the world. What can we learn by looking at ourselves as we behave in the tea room?