May 26, 2011

It's the water -- and a lot more

My apologies to Olympia Beer, that was their slogan for many years.   I just returned from a trip to the Southwest, Arizona, Utah and Nevada.  It made me appreciate the good fortune that I live in a place with really good tasting water right out of the tap.  I tried to make tea with the water from the tap and my tea really tasted yucky.   Sometimes it tasted soapy, sometimes salty, depending if it had gone through water softeners.    

This reminds me that good tasting tea starts with the water.   Even though I live in a place with good tasting water, I use purified water because the pipes that the water runs in also make a difference in the taste. I am reminded again that my sensei told me not to use distilled water for tea, because it was too flat.   The best water comes from spring or well water.  We are fortunate here in the Pacific Northwest to have an abundance of springs, wells and very good tasting water, even out of the tap.

There are some famous wells in Kyoto for good tasting water. The well at Urasenke is called Ume no I, the plum well. Other places famous for good tasting water are the Ocha no I (tea well)  located in the garden of the Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion once was a source for water for the Ashikaga Youshimasa;  the Kikusui no I (chrysanthemum well) located at the Kongo family of Noh masters and used by Takeno Joo.  Also Nashinoka shrine is supposed to have very good tasting water.  And there is a spot on the Uji bridge called the Uji Bashi San no Ma where there is a special platform that extends out from the third piling from the Western end.  The water that flows from beneath this platform is said to  to originate from an underwater palace beneath the Karahashi bridge which spans the river in nearby Otsu City, or from an spring at Benziten Shrine in Chikubu Island in Lake Biwa.  Hideyoshi used this water for tea when he resided in his castle in Fushimi.

When I did my chaji in Kyoto, we used the water from the well at Kitano Temangu shrine. The best time to get water is between 4 and 6 am.  So we got up early and went to the shrine to fill our plastic containers for the chaji and hauled them up to Toinseki for the chaji.  This makes you very careful with water as there was no running water in the mizuya so what you brought from the well was all you had to use.

There is even a procedure called Meisuidate for the preparation of tea with famous water that uses an unfinished well bucket made of hinoki cypress with special paper decorations.  Before koicha is made, the guests get to taste the water from the well bucket.

May 21, 2011

Empty kama

How to empty a kama.  Make sure the lid is closed completely.  Carefully put the kan in the lugs.  Lift the kama straight up and be careful you don't bump any part of the furo or ro with it.   Hold the kettle close to your body, but not so close that you will be burned.

Carefiully stand up and carry the kama to the kitchen. There should be a wooden stand in the sink to place the kama on.  Removel the lid and blot it with a clean towel.  Put it on a futaoki to cool.

Carefully ladle hot water from the kama all over the outside with a hishaku.  Take a few ladles of hot water and put them in another container (the chankin darai is a convenient place)  Then take towels and pick up the kama to turn it over to empty it.  (Be careful not to burn yourself).  Place the kettle upside down on the wooden stand and ladle hot water over the bottom.  Take the kama brush and swirl over the bottom of the kama in a circular motion.  (Don't take too long or the brush will burn).  Ladle water and brush a couple of times.  Turn the kettle over again and blot the inside with a clean towel.  (be careful reaching inside).

Put the kan in the lugs and lift the kettle onto a dry towel to blot the bottom.  The heat from the kettle will begin to dry it.  Remove the kettle to the burner where the residual heat will dry the inside as well.  Make sure the burner is unplugged and won't over heat the kettle. Let the kama cool before putting it away in its box.

May 18, 2011

More kama

Interestingly,  I talked about preaparing a new kama, but the last post didn't talk about caring for your kama when you use it.  So here are the notes:

Never touch the surface of the kama with your bare hands.  The oils from your hands and fingers could make permanent marks.  Use the kan (rings) to carry and move the kama.  Some people have a habit of carrying an empty kama with their hands on the inside of the mouth.  It is just a bad habit and don't do it.

For a chaji we fill the kama with cold water and place it on the coals just before the guests enter the room.   For class time we pre-heat the water and fill the kama.  The procedure for doing this is to rinse the kama with cold water.  You can use towels to turn the kama over to empty it (never use the kan to turn the kama over, you might break the lugs).  Put some cold water in the kama, about one fourth full.  Then, put a hishaku in the mouth of the kama and pour the hot water into the hishaku before it spills into the interior of the kama.   Fill the kama near the brim.  Use the hishaku to ladle hot water over the outside of the kama, wetting the whole surface of the outside.   The proper level of the water should be one cup below the rim.  Take a hishaku full of hot water and put the lid on.   Rinse the top of the lid with the water from the ladle.

Now you are ready to put the kan in and lift it from the sink. I should say here that the kan always travel together.  Hold them with the openings at the bottom, and your fingers and thumb side-to-side.  Separate them in each hand and twist them into the lugs of the kettle.  They twist in opposite directions, and it takes some getting used to.  Lift the kama and briefly blot it on a towel to get most of the water off the bottom.  When you carry the kama, hold it close to your body but not so close that you can get burned and put it on the burner in the tea room.  When you hear  "kama tori masu" get out of the way because someone is carrying a heavy kettle full of hot water.

Next, how to empty the kama

May 14, 2011

Care of your kama

I've had a request to talk about what to do with a new kama. So I dug through my notes from years past and here are some brief things to note.   Even if you have a used one, it is a good procedure to use.  Most of the teachings I've had in the mizuya about care of utensils have been from my sempai, so I'd like to acknowledge them for the information that follows.

Once a kettle or tetsubin is cast, it is coated on the outside with a patina called ohaguro, "tooth-black" and the inside is coated with lacquer or some synthetic. To "cure" a new iron kettle or tetsubin, fill it close to the brim with fresh, filtered water, especially if the water in your area is high in minerals. You'll have to have a source of such water anyway, since minerals change the taste of the tea. To this water you may add Japanese sake and/or green leaf tea, old matcha, even black tea as a last resort, and boil for several days or until the funny smell and taste goes away. You must boil the kettle for several hours at a time, replenishing it with pure water to keep the level topped up. After this treatment be sure to do one treratment of just pure water lest you find a soup when you go to make koicha.

Do not boil directly on a gas burner. Rust is the oxidation of iron. Oxygen in the water vapor in the gas fire will rust the bottom of kettle just as fast, maybe faster than leaving it out in the rain. Best case is boiling over sumi, charcoal. So if all you have is gas, put an iron plate or something in between so that the gas does not get near the kettle.

Some new kettles have a glass-like inner coating on them which is supposed to prevent rust. Nevertheless it is only a good cautionary practice to rinse and boil even these kettles once or twice before making tea in them.

May 11, 2011

Introducing kagetsu

In 1747, shichijishiki or seven training exercises were created through the joint efforts of Joshinsai (seventh iemoto of the Omotesenke school),  Itto (eighth iemoto of the Urasenke school) and the abbot Mugaku Soen of  Daitokuji temple. It is said that it took ten years to develop the shichijishiki.

In these exercises, participants choose lots to determine their roles to complete the exercices.   The most simple is hira kagetsu where 5 participants draw lots from the moon, flower and ichi (one), ni (two), san (three) tiles to determine their place in the room.

During the course of the exercise, 5 bowls of usucha are made and partipants choose the tiles from the orisue (pouch) to determine who makes tea and who drinks tea.

The exercise requires participants to pay attention and be prepared to make or drink tea.   It requires team work, timing and emphasizes walking and moving around in the tea room.

I love kagetsu and there are many forms of kagetsu, just like there are forms of temae. For example:  koicha tsuki kagestsu (one bowl of koicha everyone drinks and 4 bowls of usucha),  sumi tsuki kagetsu (charcoal is layed and 4 bowls of usucha are made) and so on.

It is fun and I hope to be bringing this form of training to our classes soon.

May 8, 2011

Japanese motifs -- tomoe

I had always thought of this motif as whirling commas and in fact, it represents a whirlpool in water.   My dictionary defines tomoe as a whirl  or eddy.

This symbol is used as protection from fire.  You can see it on roof tiles and other places for fire protection.

In Heian times, the Saionji family used it on thier carriage.

During the Kamakura period, it became a popular design motif for garments, household objects, and military items. 

Later, it was made into the mon or crest of the Hachiman shrine and represented thad God of War.