Feb 25, 2011

In memory of Minako sensei

It has been seven years since Minako Somi Frady passed away, and today we remember her with a chakai at the Portland Japanese Garden.  She was my sensei for more than 20 years and we all miss her terribly.   In many ways it doesn't seem like very long, and in other ways it seems like she has been gone forever.   Since I started teaching, I long to have conversations with her regarding students, teaching methods, and just some philosophical discussions regarding real life and tea.

Many of her sayings have been passed down to my students and indeed, they have appeared on the blog.  For example:
"In class, you can do nothing right.  I will correct everything.  In chaji you can do nothing wrong."
"The mizuya should be clean enough to eat off the floor."
“If you are going to make a mistake, make it beautifully.”
"Chado is 80% cleaning."

When I asked a question in class, often her answer would be:
"If I give you the answer, you won't remember it."  And it has been so true. Easy answers are forgotten quickly.  While the hard won answers that took cogitation, endurance, sweat and mistakes are the ones that stick with me.

Thank you Minako sensei for teaching me.  Thank you for putting up with my ignorant, rude behavior as a beginning tea student.  Thank you for being so strict with me and teaching me the traditional way.  Thank you for the love and care you gave me through more than 20 years of tea studies. Thank you for believing in me.  Thank you for letting me go.

And I'll always remember::   "There are no short cuts."

Feb 22, 2011

Koshukai , the crucible for study

Recently, Bruce Hamana sensei in Kyoto asked recently, "Many people will devote themselves to mastering karate, shodo, and other disciplines, working many hours to learn the kata, etc. I wonder why we don't sit and do temae for hours to become competent? One or two temae at keiko once a week seems hardly enough."

Every year Christy Bartlett sensei comes to Portland for an intensive weekend of study.  Usually there is a Friday afternoon study, all day Saturday and all day Sunday.  We are very lucky to have this opportunity to study. As with all koshukai, everyone participates with warigeiko, the basics.   And even though I have been taught the basics every year for many years, I still learn many, many things during this part of the koshukai.  For example, We started this year with posture, sitting,bending, reaching and hand placements.  Then how to sit, stand, walk and turn.  We went on to cover the proper placement of your fukusa, kobukusa and kaishi in your kaichu-- or front of your kimono. 

Paying attention to these details makes me more aware that I don't always pay attention to the details of my own temae. And while doing things properly in warigeiko doesn't always mean that I pay attention to the exact things I learned in temae when so many other things are going on.  The lesson?   Be aware and pay attention to yourself even during the parts of temae  you have done a thousand times before.  After warigeiko usucha and then koicha temae were done, where we could put all we learned into practice.

This year Christy also concentrated teaching shichijishiki, or the group training exercises.  Originally there were seven of them, which I will cover in a post another time.  This koshukai we had enough experienced people to do some of the more advanced exercices.

We began the afternoon with hira kagetsu on Saturday -- where 5 people draw lots to determine placement in the room and of 4 bowls of usucha, who will make tea and who will drink tea.  Next we did koicha tsuki kagetsu, where one person makes koicha, all 5 drink and then 3 bowls of usucha are made and drunk chosen by lot.

On Sunday we started with satsubako tsuki kagetsu  -- two bowls of koicha that everyone drinks and then 3 bowls of usucha chosen by lot who drinks and who makes. The next exercise was gyakygatte hira kagetsu  -- 4 bowls of usucha are made and drunk, but with the additional twist of reversing the room so that the guests are opposite and tea is put out by the left hand. After that we did shaza -- where the 2nd guest arranges flowers, the 3rd guest lays the charcoal, the first guest prepares incense, the host makes koicha and the hanto makes usucha for the host. The final exercise was chakabuki -- the host makes 5 bowls of koicha.  Two of which are known, 3 unknown.  The 4 guests must taste the tea and identify which tea in the order it was made.  All of the answers are recorded and the record of the exercise is given to the person with the most correct answers.

As you can see, by drawing lots, you never know what role you will play until you draw for it, so all participants must be ready to perform whatever task he has drawn.  Because of specific timing, everyone must pay attention and because of the traveling to and from the temaeza, you must concentrate on correct footwork.  There is a lot going on all at once and all 5 participants must work together for the exercise to be successful.

This is also an endurance training, because if you are not participating as a host, guest or participating in the group exercise, you must sit on the sidelines in seiza to observe the proceedings. That's a lot of hours of sitting in the entire weekend. For relief, I recommend Working Class Acupuncture.

Feb 19, 2011

Book Review: Kitcho

I recently hosted a good friend of mine for the weekend and as a thank you he ordered this beautiful book: Kitcho, Japan's Ultimate Dining Experience, by Kunio Tokuoka. Hardbound  ISBN 978-4-7700-3122-8

This is book is the story of Kitcho, a kaiseki restaraunt with a premier reputation in Japan.   Chef Tokuoka relates how is grandfather began serving meals based on historical records of tea ceremonies given by Matsudaira Fumai. Kaiseki was typically not available unless you were invited to a tea ceremony.  Today, thanks to Kitcho's founder, Teiichi Yuki, the principals of seasonality, simple preparation and beautiful presentation of the kaiseki meal is firmly planted in the mainstream of Japanese haute cuisine.

The book is divided into five sections:  Spring Kaiseki, Summer Kaiseki, Fall Kaiseki, Winter Kaiseki and The Kaiseki Kitchen.  The seasonal sections feature exquisite food photography of different seasonal dishes.  The text combines commentary by chef Tokuoka and historical and cultural asides; from Rimpa style painting to court poetry that has inspired the menu. The last section is a look behind the scenes at Kitcho in the kitchen.  This section also includes a recipes for dashi and sauces, food notes to the seasonal dishes presented and a glossary of food terms.

The photographs in the book are outstanding.  Not only are there photos of the kaiseki dishes, but also elements of tea such as chabana, the tokonoma, teabowls, calligraphy, and sweets.  You will enjoy this book as inspiriation for your next chaji, and perhaps learn a little more about the history and culture of Japan.

Feb 15, 2011

New Beginner Class Starting

IntTetsubinroduction to Chanoyu
The Japanese Tea Ceremony
Harmony, purity, respect 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.   
Students will participate in at least six tea ceremonies, an incense ceremony, and kimono dressing.  Japanese architecture, gardening,ceramics, flower arranging and calligraphy will also be covered. The final class will be a formal tea gathering for friends and family at the Portland Japanese Garden authentic tea house.
 New Class: Starts Wednesday, Wednesday March 2  7:00 – 8:30 pm.
3826 NE Glisan St.
Once a week for 10 weeks
Fee: $250, materials will be available for purchase at class.
Space is very limited.  Please call 503-645-7058 or email Margie to register
Marjorie Yap, Instructor, Urasenke Tradition of Tea

Feb 11, 2011

Starting Over

Sometimes we stop going to class for different reasons.  Jobs change, moving, heatlth reasons,  family obligations.  And sometimes we just need a break.  Coming back to class, it seems like we have to start all over agian.   Classmates have progressed while you were away; your body doesn't obey, and you have forgotten even the most basic moves.It can be intimidating and discouraging. 

A friend of mine has recently returned to the Pacific NW after six years on the East Coast. He left to pursue a job, but there was no teacher where he lived.  Returning to tea class was a great joy to him, only there were younger students in his class that had been studying for less time than he had been away and were so far above him doing advanced temae. He felt like he was starting over at a disadvantage.

In times like these, sometimes it helps to change your perspective. The way of tea is not a competition.  Each person has his own path and lessons to learn from tea. Where you are in your studies is where you need to be. Some of the most respected chajin have only the beginning certificates. 
What really matters in Chado is not how many advanced certificates you have or whether  or not you are keeping up with your classmates. It is not how quickly you master the temae, nor how many beautiful utensils you have.collected. It doesn't matter how long you have studied or how much you know about the history of tea.  What really matters is how you conduct yourself, how you are in the world. 

In tea we value the "humble but eager heart of the beginner."  Advanced tea people try to return the state of mind of seeing and learning something for the first time, even though they have done it a thousand tiimes before.

"The practice room is where you are trained as a human, even as you are sharply scolded and hesitate to humiliate yourself in the process.  The principle aim of your training is to enable you, when the time comes, to perform tea splendidly and without shame.  This is the reason why those who pass through the entranceway of this place are prepared to endure severe discipline.  For it is in this way that they gradually develop fine characters as people."  ~ From The Spirit of Tea

Feb 8, 2011

And now a word from our sponsors....

I am going to pause here for word from our sponsors:

The SweetPersimmon site is way of funding this blog.   I have updated the site with a new look and  you can now get 25% off all products in the store until March 31, 2011. Just use this coupon code when checking out.

25% off coupon code:  10203001

Thank you all for your support. You can always donate to keep the blog going, just use the Donate button to the left.

Feb 1, 2011

Social Hour

One of our students planned a lovely New Year's Party at a new local Japanese restaurant in Portland, Shigezo.

We had reservations for one of the tatami rooms and all the students (yes even the men) came in Kimono. It was a lovely party, the food was good -- even the giant sushi roll -- and everyone who attended got a gift.  Thank you Michelle for setting this up.