Mar 27, 2010

The journey of the kettle

As the days get warmer, the kettle begins to make its journey from the sunken winter hearth back up to the summer brazier.   About mid-March the Tsurigama, or hanging kettle is used.  It is suspended from a chain attached to a hook in the ceiling.  No gotoku or trivet is used.  Extra large rings hold a bridge piece that is attached to the chain.

In placing the hook in the ceiling, it must be located exactly in the center of where the the ro is cut.  It must also be attached to a beam and be strong enough to hold a cast iron kettle full of water.

Because there is no gotoku in the ro for the tsurigama, often a gotoku futaoki is used to remind us of the gotoku.   This a a rather challenging pice to use, as the hishaku cup must fit within the three legs of the gotoku futaoki.  Make sure that the one of the legs is designated as the front and place on the tatami mat accordingly.

As you are using the kettle and placing the hishaku back in the kettle, it swings a little and give the feeling of a spring breeze in the tea room.  Be careful, though, if the kettle starts to twist on you.  You may have to adjust your hishaku.

In April, the sukigama is used. It is a wide flat kettle with a large wing around the middle.  The wing rests on wooden blocks that sit on the inside ledge of ro.  This lifts the kettle further out of the ro and the flange keeps the fire from the guests.

As the season gets warmer, we usually do chabako temae which lifts the kettle completely out of the ro and moves it to the center of the tatami mat that the host sits on.  This is good practice as about this time the cherries are blooming and we can do chabako out under the cherry trees for hanami.

Finally at Shoburo, the furo season begins. We normally close the ro and begin to use the furo in early May.  Here is a post with some thoughts on the timing of Shoboro.  Seasons change.


Mar 19, 2010

Japanese patterns and motifs

Many tea utensils and fabrics have recurring traditional designs and motifs that you can learn to recognize.  You see them also on kimono, shifuku and kobukusa fabrics as well as on lacquer ware and in traditional sachiko stitching. Do you have utensils with these patterns? Can you recognize them?

Shippo (seven jewels)
Shippo is a series of geometric design combining four ellipses in a circle in a way that the lines inside make more circles. The name is originated from Shippo, which means precious stones in Buddhism. Because inside the circles look shiny, people started to call the pattern Shippo. Often you will see this pattern combined with flowers, and sometimes even the seven treasures are depicted.

Also pronounced seikaiha. A wave design made of the arches of concentric circles superimposed upon one another so that only the upper portion of each set of circles is visible. It was used in China to depict the sea on ancient maps. In Japan it appears earliest on the clothing of a haniwa figure of a girl excavated in Gunma prefecture. Beginning in the Heian period it was used on mo, a form of shirt worn with the "twelve-layers" juunihitoe of kimono. It appears on Seto ceramic ware setoyaki and lacquerware inkstone cases of the Kamakura period. In the period Seikai Kanshichi devised a way to paint the design in black lacquer using a brush; some authorities suggest this may have been the origin of the term seigaiha to describe this design.

Asanoha / Hemp Leaf
"Asanoha (hemp leaf)" is one of the most popular Japanese traditional patterns. This pattern was named Asanoha because the shape literally looks like a hemp leaf. In spite of its name, however, the pattern did not borrow motif from a plant. It is a geometric design with six diamond-shaped patterns arranged in a radial manner. Identifying the hemp which grows well with the growth of a baby, the pattern has been often used for swaddling clothes.

Sayagata is a kind of geometric design with a series of fylfot (卍 Manji - key fret - swastika - Buddhist cross) patterns. Because the pattern was similar to silk fabrics brought to Japan from China which was called "Saya" in Edo Era, people started to call it Saya-gata (Saya pattern). The fylfot pattern has taken root as a map symbol which stands for Buddhist temples in Japan. It is a classical pictogram which came from the shape of Hindu God of love Vishnu’s chest hair, and it stands for a good omen and virtue.

Mar 17, 2010

Ikebana blog

I was fortunate enough to host a guest from Oslo, Norway for tea in my tea room in Portland this week.  We had a very nice visit and he bought a seiza seat from me.   He writes a blog about Ikebana, and I have added him to my blogs list at the left.  Please go check it out.

No Time for Tea

I've added an audio broadcast of Public Radio 360's "No Time for Tea," by Jennifer Lawton in the left hand column of this blog.  Click over and listen to the article as she describes her experience with tea ceremony in Kyoto. It's about 10 minutes long.

Mar 15, 2010

Dream Window

For the introduction to chado class, we viewed a video the other night called, "Dream Window, Reflections on the Japanese Garden . If you haven't had a chance to see this, please do so.  It shows a number of famous gardens with commentary by various artists, a composer, stage designer, ikebana master, poet, zen monk about how the Japanese garden has influenced each of their respective arts. It is beautifully filmed and thought provoking. 

And what discussion of Japanese gardens would be complete without talking about the tea garden and Japanese tea ceremony?   In this video, they show  part of a chakai, and one of the guests was one of my sensei when I studied in Japan, Ebina-sensei.   Sadly, she passed away more than 7 years ago, but I still have many of the notes from her teaching and lectures.  She introduced me to Japanese poetry and literature.  She was always elegant and very caring of us.

In the last lecture, Ebina-sensei said to us:

Fundamentally, who you are when you are doing tea is your true self.  Through this, you may begin to understand what is important.

Everyone needs to ask, what does tea mean to me?  If you find some meaning in tea, by all means continue.  If you find it is not for you, why pursue something that is meaningless?

We all have a different relation with tea.  Our lives change with time and tea will change with your life. Doing tea is a philosophy of life.  This study is a study of culture not just tea.  Tea is part of bigger picture of life.

It all depends on the tightness or narrowness of your heart.  The more open you are the more room in your heart.  Grounded with your heart you will see more things, and it will make you more blind to the bad conditions.  Following your heart is a plus factor to be able to see the positive.  And don't forget to listen, listen, listen...

Mar 13, 2010

Flowers for tea

Chabana, literally flowers for tea is a different art of arranging flowers than the better known ikebana (literally living flowers).  The best way to learn chabana is to make many arrangements and have someone more knowlegeable critique them, and look at arrangements others have done (even in books, photos and tea gatherings you attend).

There are lists of flowers with their scientific names and common names that are appropriate for chabana. I'll try to dig one up in my notes. Though there are fewer rules for arranging chabana, I have included some of the things I have learned:

Arrange flowers for tea using your feet -- not literally, but to walk around until you find the right flowers.

Arrange flowers as they appear when growing. (one of the seven rules of Rikyu)

Only use flowers that are seasonally in bloom.

Mountain and field flowers are best.

Choose flowers that are short lived (2 hours are ideal).

Typical chabana flowers are camellia in winter, rose of sharon in summer.

There are no ranks of flowers, but there are ranks of vases. I'll do another post on vases, baskets and flower boards, later.

Try to avoid flowers with a strong smell, too strong colors, flowers whose names mean bad things and thorns, though if you use roses (not the best choice) remove the thorns.

The flowers should be somewhat lonely, it doesn't take a lot of flowers to make chabana.

Choose your flowers and arrange with one breath.

Flowers are the first thing you see when entering the tea room. Utensils = past, Flowers = now.

Hana ji kokoro - flower is the heart

When arranging chabana remember shi sei do (four pure group)
  1. Bamboo
  2. Water
  3. Heart
  4. Flower
Tsuyu, dew is important so we always spray, or wet the flowers just before the guests enter the room. Another way to put dew on the flowers is to take a chasen and flick the flowers with water. Make sure the walls of the tokonoma show the spray to show that the mud or walls of the tokonoma are accepting of the flower.

Listen to the flowers and the right one for today is speaking to you.

    Mar 11, 2010

    Rikyu and the mud puddle

    A chanoyu master named Hechikan living in Yamashina once criticized his contemporary Sen Rikyu as a black hearted flatterer striving to please men of high rank.  Hechikan tried to pretend not to be interested in pleasing such men and had even served cheap barley tea to Hideyoshi at the Grand Open-Air Chanoyu party in Kitano Shrine.  Nevertheless, Hechikan was proud of the fact that Hideyoshi had praised his insolence as a "tasteful idea."

    One summer day Hechikan invited Rikyu to tea in his hermitage at Yamashina.  Rikyu suspected some trick had been planned for he had heard rumors of Hechikan's criticism, but if he refused the invitation it would only add more fuel to the fire.  He decided to go and fall into the trick on purpose to see what fun he could have, so he proceeded to Hechikan's house pretending not to be skeptical of his host's motives.

    As he approached the gate Rikyu spied a big, freshly dug mud puddle hidden on the path.  He deliberately walked into the puddle and let out a shriek.  Hechikan ran out feigning surprise and showed the mud-splattered Rikyu into the bath with profuse apologies.  Rikyu stretched out and relaxed in the bathtub thinking Hechikan probably planned to give him tea afterward.  It was very quiet in Yamashina that midsummer afternoon.  He closed his eyes and listened to the cicadas incessantly chirring in the persimmon tree by the bathroom window.  The bath water was perfect -- neither too hot nor too cold -- and gradually Rikyu began to fee sleepy.  He wanted to take a nap without being interrupted and tea didn't matter to him any more.  Hechikan's foolish trick was forgotten.  In fact, he felt like thanking Hechikan for the trick for he got to enjoy an unexpected respite of comfort and relaxation through it.

    Later one of his disciples asked Rikyu why he had intentionally fallen into the pit and speculated that it had been a kind of obedience to Hechkan's will.  Rikyu answered that it wasn't obedience, but he had not wanted Hechikan's planning and scheming to be fruitless.

    From the book Unpyo Zasshi, by Kien Yanagisawa (1706-1758) and artist and literatus of his time.

    It is sometimes good to drop our adult pretensions and rivalries and enter into a spirit of childhood where feelings are expressed more openly so that we can finally laugh heartily with each other.  Our present affluent society impresses us with the belief that material accumulation s the goal of human life.  We forget to enjoy times of pleasure because of all the pressures on our lives.  We get caught up in our games of competition with other adults.  We neglect other people and their feelings and our only concern is to return insult with insult and unkindness with unkindness.  We can learn much from this sotry of Rikyu and the mud puddle.

    ~Sen Soshitsu XV

    Mar 9, 2010

    Higashi, dry sweets for usucha

    Originally the term kashi meant fruits, berries or nuts. Literally, higashi means dry sweets. These are sweets for usucha or thin tea as opposed to namagashi or wet sweets for koicha, thick tea. In Japan, higashi include the ubiquitous pressed sugar sweets, pulled sugar candy aruheito, gumdrop-like jellies rolled in sugar and senbei crackers.

    Outside of Japan it may be difficult to get these Japanese sweets or even make them yourself.  As alternatives, you can use dried fruit or berries, dates, or combinations with nuts.   Also Aplets and Cotlets, a jelly and nut confection seems to go well with matcha.  In a pinch I have used vanilla wafers.  Some people like those Milano cookies with the chocolate filling.  I don't really like to use chocolate with matcha.  Something about the coating of the chocolate in the mouth afterwards (or maybe it's that I am one of the few people who don't like the taste of chocolate). 

    I have tried to make the pressed sugar sweets (called uchimono) with powdered sugar, but they tasted too sweet and chalky. I think it is because powdered sugar also has cornstarch in it so it won't clump up. I have since learned that the Japanese sugar that they call wasanbon is used to make the pressed sugar sweets. Wasanbon is hard to get, even in Japan.

    I tried to make my own wasanbon using turbinado or raw crystallized sugar by putting it in a blender to make it powdered. This turned out okay except I had to put it through a fine sieve because not all of the crystals were powdered. The other challenge with making pressed sweets is having the right sized mold. You can buy kashigata (sweet molds) on the internet, but most of them are too big for higashi (another post we can talk about using the larger molds). If you do not have a kashigata, you can look for plastic candy molds at craft stores that are nearer the right size. I have also used a melon baller or rounded teaspoon measure to make domed pressed sweets. It is a simple shape, but they work well. Finally, you can make pressed sweets in a square or bar shaped mold and then cut the higashi into blocks.

    The following is a recipe for rakugan from Kimika Soko Takechi and Larry Sokyo Tiscornia at

    kanbaiko (cooked mochi rice flour) 33gm (1.2oz)
    granulated sugar 66gm (2.3oz) (or super fine Bakers Sugar if available)
    shitorimitsu (sugar water) approx. 2tsp
    color (optional)
    flavoring (optional)

    (mizuame [syrup] or Karo light corn syrup) 1 part
    (water) 2 parts

    Note-Kanbaiko from Japan is usually not available in the US. Some large Vietnamese or Chinese markets may carry cooked glutinous rice flour which is similar to kanbaiko. It is usually from Hong Kong and the package may say "fried" rice flour on it which refers to it being cooked. (Note from Margie: Look for the package with a rooster on it.)

    Make the shitorimitsu by bringing the mizuame, or light corn syrup, and water to the boil so that all of the liquids blend together. Let cool.

    Mix the sugar and shitorimitsu in a bowl until it is blended well (use your hands for best results). If using color, it can be added to the shitorimitsu before mixing with the sugar. Gradually mix in the kanbaiko until everything is well blended. Sift into a larger bowl. A Japanese dry sweet mold can be lightly dusted with katakuriko (potato starch) or corn starch. Press the mixture into the mold until the openings are full. Use your thumb to put maximum pressure on each design. Place a piece of waxed paper over the top of the mold and using a flat object press the remaining dry mixture into the mold. Remove the sweets from the mold and let dry a couple of hours before placing in an airtight container. This recipe make approximately 25 sweets.

    If you do not have a sweet mold you can proceed with the preparation of the uchimono mixture and can place a layer in a plastic lined mold. Press the mixture into the mold using a flat wooden board. Japanese yokan, sweet bean jelly, can be sliced and placed on top of the pressed mixture. More mixture can be placed on top of the yokan and pressed again. Let sit a couple of hours before cutting.