Jun 30, 2010

Hotarubi no chakai

One of the most memorable chakai that I attended when I lived in Kyoto was the Hotarubi no chakai at Shimogamo shrine. The tea gathering that is held in June amidst the glow of live fireflies at Kyoto’s Shimogamo Shrine (also known as Kamomiya Shrine). “Hotaru” means “firefly”; “bi” means “fire “or “glow”. One of its aims is the preservation of Tadasu no Mori, “The Forest of Justice,” which surrounds Shimogamo Shrine. About 600 fireflies are released over a stream called Mitarashigawa as invitees to the tea ceremony enjoy their tea.

Shimogamo is one of the oldest shrines in Japan, and is located just to the north of the confluence of the Kamo and Takase Rivers in north-central Kyoto. The history of this shrine dates back to prehistoric periods. The earliest reference to the shrine is a repair of the fence in 2 BC, suggesting that the shrine had existed even before that time. Since then, the shrine has played a central role in the religious lives of the people of Kyoto, and has served as a guardian of Japan and Kyoto. The importance of the shrine was especially significant in the Heian period, since prayers for the success of the capital were held there. This shrine has often been described in literature, including an appearance in the Tale of Genji. Today, Shimgamo Shrine has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The shrine contains 53 buildings that are all recognized as Important Cultural Properties.

Hotarubi no chakai is usually held in the beginning of June. The connection between the shrine and tea began in the Kansho period (1441-1446) and tea ceremonies with fireflies were common until the Meiji period (1868 - 1912). In later days, however, those events ceased as the shrine was nationalized, and the fireflies became extinct in the surrounding forest because of pollution in the 1940s. But people recently started to clean up the area and release firefly larvae. Consequently, the number of fireflies began to increase in the forest, and so the tea ceremony was revived in 1991, after about 100 years of absence.

The fireflies are released over the Mitarashigawa. A cage holding fireflies was placed on a small pier at around 8pm (the big cage and some other smaller ones were on display in other places on the shrine grounds until the awaited time). We attended the festivities starting at about 5 pm. Then we went to the chakai and after we had tea and sweets, it was dark and they released the fireflies. As they flew out of the boxes, it looked almost like fireworks, yet they still glowed afterwards in the bushes and grasses around the river.

Jun 28, 2010

The Five Senses and Tea

All five senses are stimulated in the tea room. Please add descriptions in the comment section of how your senses come alive in the tea room during your own practice. Here are some of the ways tea comes alive for me:

Sense #1: Sight

  • Watching the host prepare tea
  • Admiring the appearance of the tea room
  • Reading the scroll and admiring the flowers
Sense #2: Hearing

  • The whistling kettle making the sound of the wind in the pines
  • The cascading water falling into the bowl
  • The rustle of the host's kimono as he / she prepares the tea
Sense #3: Taste

  • The pleasure of eating and tasting the sweet
  • Enjoying that first sip of the tea
  • Eating the kaiseki meal
Sense #4: Smell

  • The aroma of the tea as I lift the bowl to drink
  • The smell of the incense, if using
Sense #5: Touch
  • The feel of the tea bowl in my hands while drinking
  • The feel of the dogu during haiken
  • The difference between hot and cold: the steam from the warm water and the refreshing touch of the wet cloth as you purify the chawan

Jun 24, 2010

From the archives

I have been blogging Chado for more than three years.  There are more than 280 posts on the blog. I thought it might be fun to review some of the posts in the archive:

One year ago:  Mizuya work,   Ichigo ichie revisited

Two years ago: Leaving no trace,  Who is the best teacherThe art of tea 
Three years ago: The haiku recordings

We will be coming up on 300 posts sometime in the next week.  I plan to offer another contest with prizes for this milestone.  Please stay tuned.

Jun 23, 2010

Your relationship with your fukusa part 3

I've had a request in the comments about how to tame your fukusa. So here is part 3 on your fukusa.

Historical Note: The size of the fukusa was decided by So-on, the wife of Rikyu. Until that time, a small cloth like the kobukusa was used. The story goes that when Rikyu traveled to the battlefield at Odawara his medicine was in a natsume wrapped in a larger cloth by So-on and he felt that this size might be better for tea and he began to use it from that time.

Taming the fukusa is letting the fukusa know what its job is.  When it is brand new, it still thinks that it is a doubled piece of cloth. When you first get a fukusa it is folded in fourths and often comes in a box and/or cellophane envelope.  This is how you want to store your fukusa after class, not folded in eighths or jammed into your fukusa basami.  Clean your fukusa of tea powder before you put it away.  You need to have a good relationship with your fukusa, so treat it gently.

To tame your fukusa you need to fold it and put it in your obi properly, take it out of your obi and fold it to purify the natsume, fold it to purify the chashaku, fold it to put it back in your obi and fold it to put in your kaichu (front of kimono) enough times that it won't spring open on you at inappropriate moments. Please ask your teacher to show you how to do this properly.  For experienced students, it is always good to review this periodically during warigeiko to correct your form and to review the proper way to do it.  At workshops for advanced students and teachers, this is one of the things everybody is required to review no matter how advanced.

I have some students who have trained their fukusa improperly and get confused when folding it because the fukusa is telling them to fold in a certain way that is not right.  In that case, you have to re-fold it enough times properly until it (you) understand(s) the correct way to do it.

How many times?  That depends on your fukusa and your relationship. For me, it is at least 30 times and I try to do it in front of a mirror so I can see my form as I am doing it. I was at an intensive workshop once and the visiting sensei told me that I had too much of a results oriented relationship with my fukusa.  In other words, I was concentrating too hard on getting to the end of the folding procedures and not taking enough time for each step of folding it.  My assignment from that workshop was to enjoy the feel of the silk, be present for each step in folding my fukusa and not let my mind and heart skip to the end result of purifying the utensil.

Inner and outer aspects of the fukusa

I wrote earlier about the care and feeding of your fukusa,  and as part two, I'd like to talk more about your fukusa.

During the preparation of tea, the fukusa is folded in various ways to purify utensils in front of the guests.  I know of about 20 different ways to fold it.  What you are doing is exposing different surfaces of the cloth to purify the different utensils.  There  are three categories of folds:  shin (formal) gyo (semi-formal) and so (informal).

In the formal tea ceremony, koicha, one of the first movements is the formal inspection of the fukusa (yoho sabaki) before purifying the chaire.  It is the clockwise movement used to examine the four sides of the fukusa.  As with all parts of the temae there is additional meanings to the movements.

Inner aspects of the fukusa:  Unlike usucha, koicha requires four meditative breathing pauses when folding the fukusa.  This emphasizes the formality of koicha and the host and guest begin to breathe in unison.  This is not to be hurried through.  With each part of this movement there is a pause -- a breath and then movement, pause -- breath, movement until all four sides have been completed.  The traditional meaning behind this action is the inner reflections that strengthen our character and is a directive for our lives.  With daily examination of these inner aspects it will bring growth.

When the fukusa is open and in position centered over our left knee the first reflection is
Thoughtfulness "zin"  Note here there is a pause but no breath
Then Righteousness "gi"
Thankfulness "rei"
Wisdom "chi"
Truth "shin"

Outer aspects of the fukusa: With the influx of modern life into the world of Chado, scholars have attempted to broaden the philosophy and understanding of Chado.  Now reflections that are taught for this movement not only involve the inner aspects mentioned above, but also intertwine with more tangible ideas:

The first reflection is:
Heaven (above)  note there is a pause but no breath
Parents (East)
Teachers (South)
Family (West)
Tea community (North)

The final movement is returning the fukusa to the center and forming a triangle with the thought of Earth (below).  These concepts may be easier for the modern mind to accept because they are ideas we live with daily.  These interpretations deal with the sharing aspect of tea rather than emphasis on inner progression.  It is the blending of these two aspects the inner understanding and outward sharing that koicha is prepared and received.

Jun 22, 2010

Care and feeding of your fukusa

The fukusa is a silk cloth used for purification in chanoyu.  The fukusa is a symbol of the host.  Typically men's fukusa is a deep purple and women's are red or orange, though you will occasionally see colors other than these.  For example, those who have studied in Kyoto at Urasenke Midorikai have been given persmission to use the green fukusa for both men and women. It is recommended that for okeiko that the number 7 weight should be used so that it is not too bulky for folding properly nor too flimsy to hold its shape.

If you examine the fukusa closely, it is about 30 cm on each side.  You will see that it is not perfectly square -- this is by design. It will have seams on 3 sides and a fold on the fourth side.  Use this folded side to orient your fukusa. 

One of the first things we learn as tea students is how to fold the fukusa to put in the obi, and to put it away and the basic folding of the fukusa to purify the utensils.  When you have a new fukusa, it must be taught what to do.  This is sometimes referred to as taming the fukusa.  A  new fukusa seems to have mind of its own, but it doesn't have any stains, and it has a good energy, and a wonderful feel of the new silk. 

As the symbol of the host, it is essential that the you treat your fukusa with respect.  This symbolizes self-respect.  Always sit down to fold your fukusa.   After your temae,  in the mizuya, sit down, fold your fukusa properly and put away before you come back into the tea room to thank the sensei for your lesson.  Sensei can tell if you just throw down your fukusa without folding it. If you have trained your fukusa, it will tell you when you are folding it properly when you put it away.  The folds will lie flat and not spring open.

When purifying the chashaku, you will get tea on the fukusa.  During the temae, don't worry about getting tea on it.   It is more important at the time to make sure the chashaku does not have tea clinging to it when you put it out for your guests.   Later in the mizuya you can dust off the tea more thoroughly than when you held it over the kensui.   My sempai said that you could use one of those "magic brush"  lint brushes to remove tea from your fukusa.  As long as the tea does not get damp or wet, most of it should come off. 

I always get a new fukusa for Hatsugama to start out the new year clean and fresh.  Before a big event I will also get a new fukusa.  What do you do with old fukusa?  I use them for okeiko, or you can use them to display utensils.   If they are very stained or unusable, I sometimes use them to wrap up utensils for storage in their boxes.

Jun 21, 2010

Wagashi For Foodies

As part of my tea study, we delve into the realm of Japanese sweets making, or learning how to make wagashi. As a self-defined foodie, I am fascinated with wagashi. The taste, appearance, subtle flavor and poetic name all combine to provide the taster with a unique and truly one-of-a-kind experience. One of the most enchanting ways to enjoy wagashi is with a bowl of tea. The sweet, eaten before your tea, cleanses your pallet and then brings out the flavor of the tea. No need to add sugar to your tea now!

Making your own wagashi is a challenge if you are currently not studying with a teacher. A teacher shows you the correct method you will need to make authentic Japanese sweets – it's not something you can learn from a book. I have made only a handful of wagashi: steamed & bean-filled sweets, sesame flat cookies and lima bean wet sweets. When making your own, it’s important to weigh everything out in grams –There is no such thing as “eye-balling it” when creating wagashi. By taking the time to weigh each ingredient, you are ensuring consistency between each sweet. Since the main ingredients are very static with a recipe, what vary are the appearance, texture and flavor. Every sweet is hand-formed and therefore each sweet is unique. A true artisan will take the same 5 – 10 ingredients and create something that is a mini, delicious work of art. Part of what is so lovely about creating your own wagashi is deciding what they should look like. Use food coloring, sweets molds, spices, sake, fruit and (most importantly) seasonal inspirations to make phenomenal wagashi.

It seems that anyone who is interested in wagashi has a difficult time finding new sweets recipes available in English. Even if you find a recipe, you may not be able to make it since many of the ingredients and materials are difficult to find outside of Japan. It doesn’t seem like there are any sweets recipe specialty books available in English. (Please, prove me wrong!) One thing you can do is eat many sweets and take note of what is being created in Japan. Ask questions about the sweets. Save your favorite images in a recipe book so when you do have that one coveted recipe (hey, there are a few available on this blog) you can make dozens of unique tasting and beautifully-shaped sweets. Bon Appétit!

Recipe Resources
Midorikai Sweets Recipes – This website is staffed and funded by Midorikai Alumni volunteers, so please consider a donation of any amount for its continuance and development if you decide to use this resource.
About.com – I haven’t tested any of these recipes, but feel free to browse. There might be a jem here. Word of the wise: Don’t experiment with a recipe the day you plan to serve it to guests.
Flickr – If you immediately want to start looking at images of wagashi, check out the great albums available for free on Flickr. Search for the keyword “wagashi” to get started.

Jun 16, 2010

How I Came to Tea

I am very pleased to have been asked to be a guest contributor on this blog. Let’s start at the very beginning, because as Julie Andrews said in “The Sound of Music,” it’s a very good place to start.

I came to the world of the Japanese Tea Ceremony through my affection for loose leaf teas. I was living in the Seattle-area at the time and was looking to purchase some open-top tea bags from Teavana at the Bellevue mall. In the store, they were promoting matcha and green teas and I noticed a display with a unique looking wooden whisk. They had an iron kettle, a can of matcha and a book with the title “Japanese Tea Ceremony.” I took the book down to flip through it and admire the pretty pictures. I didn’t really understand what I was looking at but I thought to myself: “Wow that looks cool!”

A few years passed and I didn’t give studying tea much thought. I had moved to Portland and was visiting the serene Portland Japanese Garden for the first time. By fate, I happened to be there during a Tea Ceremony Demonstration. In that particular demonstration, the presenter requested a few guests to join her for a bowl of tea in the tea house. I was lucky enough to be selected.

I sat cross-legged and awkward in the tea room for the first time, and I knew I was in a special place. I’m not a particularly religious person (I consider myself to be a spiritual person) and that day I was surprised that being in a tea room gave me a spiritual experience. It made me feel small and insignificant. I know that’s a hackneyed expression, but it was a deep pulling in my gut that I couldn’t ignore. It was the same feeling I get when I look up into a starry, cloudless sky. I was feeling this spiritual tug and I just tried to pay attention to my host, listen to the presenter’s speech and soak up this rich and special opportunity I was given.

When it came time to have my first drink of tea, I was surprised by how GOOD it was! The foam just slid right down and the sweet – it brought out all the unique flavors of the tea. I knew tea could be good but MAN. This was like nothing I had ever tasted before. I knew right then I wanted to see what this Chanoyu was all about. And that, my friends, is what brought me to this cultural treasure.

Jun 15, 2010

Guest Contributor to the SweetPersimmon Blog

I am very excited to introduce to you a new contributor to the SweetPersimmon Blog.  Her name is Karla and she has been studying Chado for nearly a year and a half.   She tweets under the name ChadoEnthusiast and I have included her twitter account in the left hand column of the blog.  Please click on over there, join the list of her fans. and welcome Karla.

Noh Drama Seattle


Witness the cultural legacy of traditional Noh Drama, and experience the
Japanese aesthetic of “yuugen:” profundity, subtlety, and mystery.

In a first-time visit to Seattle, Chuuden Yuugakukai of Nagoya, Japan will give a special demonstration of the centuries-old Japanese traditional art form of Noh Drama at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience on Saturday, June 19th.

Based in Nagoya, this group has been perfrming regionally in central Japan's Aichi and Gifu Prefectures for 30 years. Chuuden Yuugakukai is part of the Kanze School of Noh drama, which has a lineage dating back to the 14th Century. With patronage from the Ashikaga clan of samurai warlords; the school flourished under the founder, Kan'ami, and his son, Zeami, to become one of the largest and most prestigious schools of Noh. It continues today to be known for its emphasis on graceful movements and beautiful costumes.

In this first-time appearance in Seattle, 10 members of the group will perform vignettes from classic Noh theater; including Chikubushima, Semimaru, Hagoromo, and Funa Benkei. Traditional flute and hand drums will accompany the singing. A special bonus will be a mask carving demonstration, and the display of a collection of hand-carved wooden masks used by actors in the NohTheater.

This will also be a FREE ADMISSION DAY at the Museum. See the excellent standing exhibit of Asian Pacific American History, current special exhibits “Cultural Transcendence” and “A Refugee’s Journey of Hope and Survival,” as well as the wonderful architecture and ambience of this Seattle jewel.

DATE: Saturday, June 19, 2010.
TIME: Mask Carving Demonstration begins around 11:00am.
Noh Performance begins at 1:00pm, performance length approximately 1 hour.
LOCATION: Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience
719 S. King Street, Seattle, WA 98104.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact the Wing Luke Museum at 206-623-5124, www.wingluke.org, or Tatsuo Tomeoka; Charaku Fine Japanese Tea / WaSabiDou Antiques & Folk Crafts 206-660-4189, info@charaku-tea.com

Jun 11, 2010

The Way of Tea

Today, I found an article online that was of great interest to me.

The Way of Tea: A Symbolic Analysis
Dorinne Kondo
Harvard University

However, when I accessed the abstract I couldn't understand it.  I admit, I am not from an academic background, but I re-read the abstract several times.  I still cannot make heads or tails of the meaning of the words.  I am rather disappointed that I cannot understand what it says.  It reminds me that I cannot read the Japanese articles about the Way of Tea and now apparently, I cannot read English either.

"The Japanese tea ceremony can be understood as a precisely structured sequence in which formal features are constitutive of meaning. Though culturally constructed meaning must inform any understanding of the rite, this alone cannot account for the tea ceremony's symbolic power. This internal reading focuses on key formal features: sequencing; the role of multiple media; and patterning or redundancy. Analysis reveals that sequencing is symbolised through: 1) a constant contrast between the ritual and the mundane; 2) the use of boundaries to mark these differences; 3) the sensible qualities of objects and substances used in the ceremony, and their transposition into various sensory media; 4) the occurrence of homologous structures and sequences. The interaction of the sensory media effects a homology of code, constituting one source of redundancy. Together with the repetition of sequences, this redundancy intensifies meaning and acts as contrastive background for minute but significant changes that may occur. Through its orchestration of sequence and pattern, the tea ceremony articulates feeling and thought and creates a distilled form of experience."

Jun 7, 2010

SweetPersimmon Specials

And now a word from our sponsors:

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Jun 2, 2010

Guest Etiquette for Chanoyu, the Japanese Tea Ceremony

Guest Etiquette for Chanoyu, the Japanese Tea Ceremony

Have you ever attended a Japanese Tea Ceremony? If you know the proper things to do you won’t be nervous and you can enjoy it.  The guest in this ceremony has an important role to play to create each unique experience.

Learn the proper etiquette for a guest, what to bring to a tea ceremony, how to thank the host and interact with other guests.  Students will participate in two tea ceremonies, enjoy a Japanese tea sweet and drink ceremonial matcha tea.

Tuesdays, June 15 and 22, 7:00-8:30 pm, Issoan Tea Room, 17761 NW Marylhurst Ct.,  Portland, OR
Wednesdays June 16 and 23, 7:00-8:30 pm Ryokusuido Tea Room, 3826 NE Glisan St., Portland, OR
Fee $25 for two weeks
Limited enrollment, please register early
call 503-645-7058 or email margie@issoantea.com

Patience, patience

I had a student ask me the other day, "Everyone is making mistakes and you correct everyone over and over again.  How can you be so patient?"  What is patience?  I mean, I was taking time and paying attention, is that what patience is?

How many times  have we told ourselves, "I need to be more patient"  Lots and lots of things require patience every day. With our jobs, our activities, our kids activities, friends, family, and daily living chores like laundry and grocery shopping, everything competes for our time and attention.  Some days it seems like we have barely time enough to breathe. Yet patience takes time, and in our lives we have precious little of that commodity.

In spite of all of our busy lives, we live a life of convenience.  My parents had only one car and my dad drove to work.  My mom took the bus to work. My grandparents had no car. Necessity makes one patient.  When you have little, it just takes more time to do things and so you must plan accordingly.  The expectation that things will happen in a certain time frame makes you impatient.  

With convenience comes the expectation that things will be easy.  When they are not, it makes you impatient.  When things don't go as you planned, it makes you impatient.  When people don't do as you want, it makes you impatient. When you are not as fast or as good as you thought you were, it makes you impatient. When you are not doing the things we want to do, it makes you impatient.

Clearly, there is a tide of things that contribute to our impatience, but not so much that pulls us to be more patient.  Patience is a virtue and we have to work very hard at it.  In the tea room is a place to put aside some of the expectations.  If we expect nothing, there is nothing to pull us to impatience.

Last week, I was listening to my granddaughter tell me about her day.  She was going on and on telling me every little detail --  "First I opened my eyes, then I got up and went downstairs in my jammies.  I decided to have cereal for breakfast so I got a bowl and then the Honey Nut cheerios, and a spoon.  I opened the refrigerator and got out the milk. Then I opened the milk...."  It went on and one like this for about 20 minutes.  But you know, I wasn't impatient.  I listened to her with love.  When I have loving thoughts about that little girl, I have all the patience I need.