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).

May 19, 2009


May is when we change to the summer season in tea. The fire is moved from the sunken hearth to the furo or brazier, to the left side of the temaeza away from the guests. It makes sense in the winter we want the fire closer to the guests to warm them, and in the summer we want the fire away from the guests. The first time we prepare tea this way is called shoburo.

It is amazing how we are creatures of habit. The change from ro or winter season to the furo or summer season can be very disconcerting for students. Suddenly the way you have been making tea is backwards because the fire and the cold water are now switched from right to left. Handling the hishaku or water scoop is different. I always feel like a beginner again after the change of seasons. After many years, I look forward to the change.

When I was in Kyoto, one sensei said that in Rikyu’s time, “When the yamabuki flower blooms it was time to close the ro and move to the furo. When the yuzu turns yellow it time open up the ro in the autumn.” Rather than go by the calendar, tea people would go by the seasonal changes. I looked up what the yamabuki looks like and here is a picture of the yamabuki in bloom.

The scientific name for yamabuki is Kerria Japonica. It literally means "mountain breath". These bright yellow flowering bushes grow wild all over Japan, especially favoring riversides and gorges. Other translations are "Mountain rose, wild rose, Easter rose". The flowers have five petals, while the doublel-flowering looks like a pompom with many petals. They paint whole mountain ranges in bright yellow in late spring. Since olden times, these flowers have been a part of Japanese poetry, especially the Manyo'shu and the Tale of Genji. The bright yellow has been used to describe the yellow color of gold, especially the gold plates of Japanese money during the Edo period.

May 11, 2009

Mmmm, Matcha!

With this post, I'd like to introduce you to a new guest blogger, Jenni. She has agreed to post this on the blog, and we hope to see more posts from her in the future. ~ Margie

It has been said that if green were a flavor, matcha would be that flavor. There is a distinctive freshness about it that cannot be duplicated. The taste is slightly sweet, somewhat grassy, and pleasantly addictive. Much has been said about the health benefits of green tea. Matcha is green tea in its purest form. The advantages of powdered matcha are multiplied many times over what can be obtained from an ordinary tea bag.

In addition to being exceptionally good for the body, matcha is good for the soul. The simple act of sipping a bowl of tea nourishes the spirit and provides respite from the mundane world. Matcha is the centerpiece of the Japanese tea ceremony. Full of ritual, prescribed movements and interaction between host and guest, the tea ceremony sets a beautiful scene to celebrate the most important element: Tea.

In a bowl of matcha, the properties of the entire high quality tea leaf are present. The tea bushes are covered weeks before harvesting which preserves the brilliant green color and allows for a high concentration of amino acids in the leaves. The hand-picked leaves are stone ground into a fine powder and whisked with hot water to produce a beverage which, in addition to tasting great, provides these benefits:

- Very high in antioxidants
- Gives a pleasant burst of energy
- Lowers blood pressure
- Fights cancer
- Boosts metabolism & the immune system
- Contributes to mental clarity and overall well-being

Even your dentist would approve - matcha has also been shown to reduce cavities!

Enjoying matcha is a simple and delicious experience. Although nothing can compare to the harmony and tranquility of the Japanese tea ceremony, matcha can easily be prepared at home to satisfy a craving for health, vitality, and the unmistakable flavor of green.

Premium matcha and other fine teas can be purchased at

May 8, 2009

A Tea Ceremony for Today

I found an article that was recently published in the Wall Street Journal on Tea Ceremony. Sen So-Oku, heir to the Mushakojisenke school of tea was introduced to the U.S. and will be teaching at Columbia University for a year.

He has designed a tea room at the Koichi Yanagi Oriental Fine Arts Gallery on Manhattan's Upper East Side, with a sunken foot well similar to the foot wells in American Japanese tatami restaurants. They refer to it as a “tea bleacher,” though that sounds so much like tea as a spectator sport. Please go read the article.

The point Mr. Sen wants to make is one that I have been teaching my students, that tea is a living tradition. Things change in tea not only to accommodate foreign influences, but also to the ages in which it is practiced. In Urasenke, we have table style tea ceremonies, new configurations of tea rooms, and modern tea utensils using 21st century materials.

And yet at its essence is the human relationship of host and guest. The sharing of food and drink and harmony among the participants as well as the awareness of the seasons that make us part of the whole universe. Simple, and yet at the same time very much needed in our modern world.

May 2, 2009

Acquiring tea utensils part 2

Many of my students are at a point of acquiring tea utensils. With ebay and the internet it is relatively easy to get tea stuff from Japan. A tea bowl for $10, a chabako set for $25 including shipping from Japan, a natsume for $5. They can all be had on ebay or online if you look hard are patient and bid at the right time. One might justify buying things because they are cheap and just for study.

But getting the best bargain isn’t the point of owning tea utensils. Sure, you can get a lot of stuff right now, but Rikyu says “Tea should not be an exhibition of what the tea man owns. Instead the sincerity of his heart should be expressed.” (from Rikyu’s 100 poems). Every tea utensil you acquire is a reflection of your heart. It is a big public statement and responsibility when you hold your chakai or chaji. Before purchasing, consider what statement about yourself your guests will take away when they view your piece. Rikyu also said, “Having one kettle you can make tea; it is foolish to possess many utensils.”

Buying utensils from ebay leaves much to be desired, such as the relationship you might have with the person who made it or owned it previously. Often the stories we can tell about a utensil are lost, and it seems to be so awkward during haiken when the guests ask about it to say, “I know nothing about this, I bought it on ebay.”

It was perhaps 3 years into my study of tea before I purchased my first teabowl. It was not easy to find one and I looked for a long time. I consulted with my sensei before I purchased it at an antique store. I knew nothing about its maker or history, but it was a very nice bowl. It was a little more than I could afford, and I gave a chakai for my sensei as a thank you for helping me. We used the bowl at the chakai and sensei really liked it. She said that it had presence and taste.

After the chakai, I carefully wrapped the bowl in a furoshiki because it did not have a box. When I got home, I dropped the chawan in the driveway and it shattered into dust. I only got to use the bowl one time. Ichigo, ichie (one lifetime, one meeting). So don’t get too attached to tea utensils, they are just things.

May 1, 2009

The Honest Scrap Award

Jordan at Succession of Insights blog has tagged me with The Honest Scrap award. I didn’t know that someone thought so highly of this blog to give me an award. It is rather humbling and makes me want to do much better at it.

These are the rules for acceptance :

  1. List 10 honest things about yourself, hopefully interesting.
  2. Pass the award on to 7 bloggers.
So here is my list of 10 honest things about myself, you may find interesting.
  1. I am not Japanese, though I find the culture fascinating. I lived in Japan for a year and teach traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
  2. I find national politics entertaining and follow it quite closely
  3. We decided to stop taking the local newspaper when it was consolidated from 4 sections into two.Though I do miss having the newspaper to wrap things up or put down before a messy job like repotting plants or painting.
  4. I kill plants. I used to take my sick plants to my mom to rescue. She would trade me with her blooming healthy plants and make my plants well again. Since she passed away, I cannot keep plants alive.
  5. Though I worked in the technology field for more than 30 years, I am a technology laggard. I have not ever texted, nor am I on twitter. I have a mobile phone, but often leave it at home and rarely check it, so don’t leave a message, call the home phone.
  6. I don’t miss my high paying corporate job, but sometimes it would be nice just to buy something without having to check the balance in my checking account to see if I can afford it.
  7. I love my students. I love every single one of them. They are all different, they all have talents, they are all so dedicated. Thank you for choosing me.
  8. I have a drawer full of blank journals. Nothing written in them yet, but I keep collecting them.
  9. I have a closet full of art supplies that I have accumulated over many unfinished projects. I am great at starting, but lousy at finishing. Oh yes, I also have knitting stuff, crochet stuff, hand spinning stuff, paper stuff and other miscellaneous craft stuff that I have never finished.
  10. I know how to cook, I just don’t like it that much. I started cooking for my family when I was nine years old and continued until I graduated from high school. My husband is a great cook. He finds it a creative outlook, and I am trying to see it that way, too.
And now for 7 bloggers, check ‘em out:
  1. Fashion Incubator
  2. First Draft
  3. Nuido
  4. You Sew Girl
  5. Talk Left
  6. Firedoglake
  7. Emptywheel