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.