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