Dec 28, 2012

Winter intensive

The day after Christmas, December 26th we had our first Winter intensive at Issoan Tea School.  For my students it was their first intensive.  We started at 3 pm and ended at 9:30 pm.  In between we sat zazen, practiced warigeiko, reviewed movement in the tearoom,  did five teamae, laid the charcoal shozumi and rebuilt the charcoal fire gozumi.  One student brought a sushi platter and I made ankake udon for everyone.  It was such a success, that we plan to make it an annual event.

Shozumi and Gozumi, laying the initial fire and reubuilding the fire were particular highlights.  We don't often get to do these procedures, and especially gozumi so it was a special treat.  The charcoal is kind of like your timing device to keep your tea gathering on track. The charcoal is made from special wood and cut into specific size and shape to burn for a specified length of time.   It is amazing to hear the singing of the kettle suddenly go silent (and it does seem to be sudden) all at once.  It is also a clue to the guests that it is time to take their leave.

Of the two, gozumi is more difficult because you never know what the fire is going to look like as it burns down.  Many factors contribute to how the fire burns, from the haigata (ash form), to how the initial fire was laid, to shape of the kettle, how big the furo, how deep the ro,  to how long the fire has burned. 

So as a host, the first thing you do when you remove the kettle replenish it is to observe how the fire has burned.  How much charcoal is left?  Did the center collapse?  How much of the dozumi (large front charcoal) has burned?  Then you rearrange the coals to make room for fresh charcoal and lay them in the fire.  You have to use your own judgement whether to use all the charcoal in the basket or only use part of them.

It was a nice fire the students built.  And within 30 seconds of returning the kettle to the fire, we once again heard the matsukaze, the sound of the wind in the pines and the murmuring of the kettle.

Dec 19, 2012

The differences are the same

I had the privilege of attending an Omotesenke chakai this last weekend.  Even though I have participated in chakai in Japan, it was very educational to be able to see it again in a much more intimate setting.  

I get asked all the time about the differences between Omotesenke and Urasenke.  I usually respond that I don't study Omotesenke, so I cannot really compare and contrast the pros and cons of each. But I'd like to offer a few observances from the perspective of being a guest.

Our host is an experienced tea sensei from Japan.  In fact, she is a third generation tea teacher. She prepared the chakai for us, knowing that most if not all the guests were from the Urasenke tradition.

What surprised me, when it really shouldn't have, was how similar the chakai was to Urasenke style.  After all, the history is the same, the aesthetics are the same, it's connection to Zen is the same. the utensils are the same, and the order of the temae is the same. I felt very comfortable attending the chakai because most of it is the same as a typical Urasenke chakai: The tokonoma display is the same, the sweets are the same, nearly all the utensils are the same, and the order of the temae is the same. In fact, if I were just coming to Chanoyu for the first time, I think I would be unable to distinguish a difference in the two schools.

But because I was observing very closely and paying attention there are a few small differences. One is that the sweets were served in a covered dish.  Another difference is  that the inspecting and preparing the whisk is not as vigorous and the whisk was made of smoked bamboo, rather than the white bamboo we use. One other thing that tickled me was the beginning of folding the fukusa.  It was opened with a snap and then folded in a very similar manner that we use. The final thing I noticed was that the tea was not completely foamy on the top, though it was thoroughly mixed and was really delicious. 

Though there have been some misconceptions about the differences in the tea schools, to me, it really doesn't matter what school of tea you study. Some say that one or the other school likes to show off expensive utensils, or that the way they whisk the tea is because they use inexpensive tea.  Some people say that there is a big rivalry between Urasenke and Omotesenke, but I have not had that experience.  In Kyoto they invite each other to chakai. The headquarters for the schools are right next door and they are related.  In our chakai, we all got along very well with not hints whatsoever about rivalry.  It was another experience of sharing a bowl of tea and everyone thinking of each other.

What school of tea should you study? Find a teacher that you can study with for a long time who is willing to teach you and study the school that they teach.

Dec 3, 2012

Another Midorikai blog

I just found another Midorikai blog.  She seems to post quite frequently and has a lot of photos.  It takes me back to the time I was there in Kyoto.

Please check it out and add comments, it helps get through the tough times at Midorikai.  Link below and at the blog roll lower left:

Fail Better

Nov 29, 2012

Remembering winter chakai

I remember one of the most memorable chakai was at the Japanese Garden in Winter.   The snow was softly falling and it was only the host and I.  The scroll hanging in the tokonoma read,  "Everything's important, nothing really matters."

He had opened up all of the windows to the tea house and made tea in the cold. We could see the clouds of our own breath and soon we were breathing in unison.    The world was silent and we could only hear the sound of the kettle -  matsu kaze -- sound of the wind in the pines.  We sat in the tea room, watching the snow fall onto the moss in the garden and holding onto our bowls of tea to warm our hands. Max didn't like to say much, and grumbled when there were too many guests, but it was only me and him that day, sitting in silence, drinking tea, watching the snow fall, listening to the sound of the kettle.

Nov 25, 2012

'Tis the season

Yesterday was Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Today is small business Saturday and Cyber Monday coming up.  It is officially now the shopping, buying and consuming season until the end of the year.

When my husband and I were first married, I asked him not to buy me things for occasions like birthdays and Christmas.  Instead, I asked him to buy me experiences.  He has been forced to be creative and yes, he has delivered in giving me experience gifts, from a home-catered meal to a private concert, to season theater tickets.   He also has arranged for me to dig a ditch with a back hoe and a consultation with a master gardener. I have been taken the Highland games and a trip to the Grand Canyon.  He has bought me sewing classes and a chance to race a car on the track Portland International Raceway. 

 We have agreed this year to give only one gift and shop local, and by the way, extra points for experience over things.

Perhaps for this year, you too can give the gift of experience for Christmas.  There is a new Introduction to Chado class beginning in January.  You can also give the experience of a Japanese Tea Ceremony by Issoan Tea School.  For more information, visit

Oct 30, 2012

Wagashi basics, shiro an

Shiro an is a basic ingredient for making wagashi, or Japanese tea sweets.  This white bean paste can be colored, hand formed, molded and manipulated and used in many. many different ways to make different kinds of wagashi.

When I was learning to make this, Minako sensei said to make a big batch, because it takes too much work to make just a little bit.  You can divide up the bean paste into smaller, usable batches and  freeze them in individual bags, then thaw just a smaller amount for what you need.  It took me all day to make this batch.

Good bean paste starts with good beans.  I use organic lima beans.  You can use any kind of white beans to start.  Sort and discard any broken, misshapen or discolored beans.  Put them in a large pot or bowl and cover with cold water and soak them overnight.

The next day, when the beans have softened, take the skins off.  I also remove the little nub or sprout because it makes for smoother bean paste.  You can certainly compost the bean skins, or put them in the blender and use them for filler for bread, meatloaf etc.

After you have removed all the skins, put them in a pot and cover with cold water and bring to a simmer over medium heat

As the beans come to a boil, skim off the foam that comes to the top.  When the water comes to a simmer (not full boil), change the water by dipping it out with a plastic container and replacing it with fresh cold water.  Do this 3-4 times or until the water is no longer discolored.  Bring to a simmer, dip out the hot water, replace with cold water.

Continue to simmer until the beans fall apart.  This may take longer than you think it will.

I then pour the bean slush into the blender and pulse it a couple of  times to make sure all the beans are broken up and smooth.  You can also use a food mill, sieve or food processor.

Pour the slush back into the pot or a large bowl and let the bean paste settle. 

You will see the two layers begin to separate after about 10 minutes. Pour off the top layer of discolored liquid, and refill the pot with fresh cold water.

Let the mixture settle and pour off the top layer.  Do this many times.  How many?  Until the top layer becomes clear.  Sometimes I have done it as many as 10 times.  The paste settles faster as the toip layer is poured off with lighter material.  When the top layer is clear, put a muslin jelly bag over a strainer in the sink, (or I just use a clean flour sack towel).  Pour the bean mixture into the bag, drain and then squeeze out or wring as much water as you can.  The more water you can squeeze out, the less time the next step will take. The pste should be dry. Good, now you have unsweetened bean paste called nama an and we are half-way done.

Weigh out the bean paste and return to the pot (without the jelly bag or flour sack towel).

I don't like my sweets too sweet, so I use one third of the weight of the bean paste and measure that amount of sugar.  Put all of the sugar and half of the bean paste in the pot and heat over medium-low  heat stirring constantly.  As the sugar melts, the mixture will get very thin.

When the mixture begins to boil, add the rest of the bean paste.  Keep cooking over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent sticking and burning.  It will begin to thicken

Cook over medium heat until the mixture mounds nicely and is not sticky to the touch.  It looks like mashed potatoes. 

The moisture content will var accoring to the ultimate use.  Dryer for molding, stickier for kinton.

Remove from the heat and distribute in small mounds to a well-wrung, damp, lint-free dish towel and cover to cool.

This white bean paste can be frozen for up to 3 months if double wrapped and sealed tightly.

When I thaw the bean paste, I put it in the microwave to thaw and warm it.  To make it pliable and easier to work with, knead in a damp dish towel.  You can then color it, form it, add other ingredients and use with other ingredients to make you favorite wagashi.

Oct 15, 2012

Chado - the way of tea presentation

Chado the way of tea
Presented in the Kashintei Tea House
Portland Japanese Garden

Saturday, October 20
1 p.m. & 2 p.m.|
Included with Garden Admission

Join us in the Tea Garden for a presentation of tea prepared by Kashintei Kai. Chado presentations are offered at the Portland Japanese Garden on the third Saturday of every summer month at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.

Chado 茶道, the Way of Tea, is the practice of preparing, serving, and drinking Tea. Since the 15th century, it has been a study in preparing a bowl of powdered green tea (matcha 抹茶) as well as incorporating many of the arts of Japan. This elegant yet simple practice reflects the philosophy of the four principles of Tea:

Harmony: Wa
Respect: Kei
Purity: Sei
Tranquility: Jaku

Oct 9, 2012

Conference on Chanoyu

お茶三昧 Ocha Zanmai:
 The 2012 San Francisco International Conference on Chanoyu and Tea Cultures
Saturday, November 10, 2012
Co-sponsored by San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco
in partnership with
The Dilena Takeyama Center for the Study of Japan and Japanese Cultures
Open to the Public
 (18 years of age and above)
9:00-17:30  Keynote Lectures, Presentations, and a Korean Tea Ceremony
San Francisco State University
18:15-21:00 Reception and Banquet
University of San Francisco

This academic conference, which will be held under the joint sponsorship of two universities in the city of San Francisco and the Dilena Takeyama Center for the Study of Japan and Japanese Culture, will be the first ever event of its kind on chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony) and tea culture on the West Coast of the United States.  The research presentations and a special Korean tea ceremony will take place during the morning and afternoon of November 10 at San Francisco State University, in the southwestern corner of the city.  Following the conclusion of this program, the University of San Francisco, a private Jesuit university located just north of Golden Gate Park, will host an evening reception and dinner banquet for conference attendees. 

Two renowned specialists have been invited to give keynote lectures: Dr. Asao Kōzu, widely known for his expertise in the history of tea, and Dr. Tamaki Yano, who has gained universal recognition for his research on Kundaikansouchōki, a text dating from the Muromachi period.  Speaking in Japanese, Dr. Kōzu will present a new perspective on the wabi-cha of Sen no Rikyū, while Dr. Yano will deliver his lecture on the records of famous tea objects in English.  Additional presentations by researchers from Japan and the U.S. will treat topics such as calligraphy scrolls, flower arrangement, bamboo baskets, and various aspects of tea ritual. 

The entire program from morning to evening will be open to the general public.  We strongly encourage anyone with an interest in the topic to attend; you need not be affiliated with a tea school or to have ever participated in a tea ceremony.  Please note that we will limit attendees to ages 18 and above.  We have set aside a Q & A session after each presentation, when speakers and experts will entertain questions and comments from the audience.

To encourage the greatest possible number of attendees, we have set the admission fee at very reasonable $10 ($5 for students) for those who pre-register by October 17, and $20 ($10 students) for on-site registrations. We firmly believe that chanoyu’s spirit of sincerity extending between host and guest can transcend borders and contribute to harmony among people all around the world, thereby promoting world peace.  We look forward to seeing you there!

Midori McKeon                                     Stephen John Roddy                     Jon Funabiki                 
Conference Chair and Organizer        Conference Coordinator                Conference Partner
San Francisco State University           University of San Francisco          Dilena Takeyama Center for the
of Japan and Japanese Culture           

For further information, please contact mmckeon@... or 415-338-1346.    

Oct 4, 2012

Sensei Says

The student says, "I am very discouraged about my tea study.  What should I do?"

Sensei says, "Encourage others."

Oct 2, 2012

Introduction to Chado

Don't forget to make your reservations for the Introduction to Chado class, it begins this week.

Call Margie 503-645-7058


Sep 30, 2012

Movement within the tea room

One of the things Machida Gyotei sensei taught us about movement within the tea room is that when you are wearing kimono, only your feet are showing, so you want to make sure that you are walking, turning, sitting and standing in a way that doesn't look awkward and call additional attention to your feet.  Here are some of the points he emphasized:

  1. Walk in the center of the tatami
  2. Don't drag your feet, but lightly skim the tatami to make a slight swish when you walk
  3. You should walk in the tea room as if you were trying not to kick up dust
  4. When sitting down, make sure your toes and heels are together
  5. Likewise when you are standing up, make sure your heels are together so people behind you can't see all the way up your kimono.
  6. Stand up as if a string was pulling on your head straight up
  7. When turning from the temaeza, move your heel back at 45 degrees but don't separate your feet too much
  8. Sit in front of your guest to serve sweets
  9. Move slightly to the side before standing up in front of someone.  Slide straight back with one foot before turning away

One of the reasons we don't step on the black lines separating tatami mats is because in olden times, tatami did not cover the entire floor.  Only nobles sat on tatami.  So there was a change in elevation between the tatami and floor.  If you stepped on the black line, your foot would be partly on tatami and partly on the floor, very awkward.

Most of the movement within the tea room makes sense, and as Machida Gyotei sensei says, "try your best to follow these guidelines, but it won't be the end of the world if you miss something."  

Sep 26, 2012

Claiming the Prize

One of the exercises we did while Machida Gyotei sensei was here was Ko-tauki kagetsu.   I have never had the chance to do this one before, and it was something I was excited to participate in.

In regular kagetsu, there are 5 participants and 4 bowls of usucha are made.   The roles of the players are chosen by lot by picking bamboo cards called fuda from a pouch to determine who makes tea and who drinks tea.

In ko-tsuki kagetsu, the first guest chooses an incense from 3 different ones, and prepares the burner so all of the participants can smell (listen to) the incense.  Each incense packet has the name of that particular incense written on it, and becomes the theme for the kagetsu.  Our chosen incense was named, "16th night moon" or "the day after the full moon."   After everyone has finished listening to the incense, the participants move from the 8 mat room to the four and a half mat room and make 3 bowls of usucha just like basic kagetsu.  At the end, the participants all move back to the 8 mat room and the host brings in a portable desk and brush and ink set and prepares the record of the kagetsu with the participants names, the name of the incense and then everyone composes and writes down their poem based on the theme.

After everyone has written their poem, they are read aloud and commented upon, and lots are drawn for the prize -- the record of participants and poems.  And guess what?  I won the prize as you can see above.  Such a wonderful prize for a chado geek like me.

Sep 24, 2012

Confessions of a Chado geek

It has been more than a week since we had an intensive workshop here in Portland with Machida Gyotei sensei and we are grateful to Urasenke and Oiemoto for sending him to Portland.   I don't remember the last time we had a Gyotei sensei in Portland, but I have studied with them while I was in Kyoto, Japan and Seattle.

It always takes me awhile to process what was presented because it is like drinking from a firehose, there is so much information presented in such a short time.

As always we start the seminar with warigeiko, back to basics of folding the fukusa.  Though each time we do it, I learn something new.  Machida Gyotei sensei teaches in a little different manner than others I have studied with.   He asks questions designed to make you think deeply about what you are doing.  For example, he asked us the first day, "Why to you fold the fukusa in this manner to purify utensils?   Did you know that the fukusa is not exactly square?  Why to you think that is?

We studied from the very basic usucha procedures to the most advanced daisu  procedures in the course of three very full days.   On the third day in the afternoon, we practiced kagetsu, including two that I have not done before ko-tsuki kagetsu, and yojohan kagetsu (kagetsu in the four and a half mat room).

Machida Gyotei-sensei  offered practical advice in his lecture, Movement within the tea room, and got into some very philosophical aspects of Buddhist and Chinese daisu procedures, how to handle precious utensils and things to think about for later.  All with a charming and funny demeanor.

It was overwhelming and inspirational at at the same time.   And yes, I really needed that hot tub after sitting on my knees for three days.

Sep 21, 2012

October Workshops

Please don't forget to make reservations for our October workshops:

Saturday, October 6, 10 am- Kimono alteration class, including taking measurement for proper fit of kimono. Issoan Tea School.
Saturday, October 13, 10 am - Field trip to Bamboo Gardens, North Plains.  Meet at Issoan Tea School at 9:30 for carpooling.  A tour of the garden, cultivation tips, working bamboo for vases and tea scoops are scheduled.
Sunday, October 14th 10 am - Kimono alteration continued.  Meet at Kate's house, bring sewing machine if you have one.
Saturday, October 20 12:30 pm - Public demonstration at the Portland Japanese Garden
Sunday October 28 1:30 pm - Kagetsu at Mieko sensei's house.  Sumi tsuki kagetsu planned..

Call Margie at 503-645-7058 or email to reserve your spot

Sep 17, 2012

Fall Introduction to Chado Class

The Fall Beginners Class: Introduction to Chado, The Japanese Tea Ceremony is now forming.

Students will learn the etiquette of how to be a guest at a tea ceremony, the basic order of the tea ceremony and how to whisk green powdered ceremonial tea. Students will also participate in Japanese tea ceremonies.  An overview of Japanese aesthetics and how tea has influenced Japanese culture will be presented.  Students will also be introduced to tea ceramics, calligraphy, kimono dressing, and incense ceremony. They will also be introduced to zazen meditation and discuss how to put tea practice into every day life.

Meets, Thursdays 6-8:30, for 10 weeks starting October 4, 2012
Fee: $250, includes all equipment, tea, sweets and supplies for all classes including calligraphy, kimono and incense.

We have a new SE Portland venue:

Portland Tea Enthusiasts' Alliance
828 Southeast Ash Street, #204
Portland, OR 97214
To register contact
Marjorie Yap, Instructor
Phone: 503.645.7058,

Alternate contact while I am out of town

(971) 258-2832


Aug 31, 2012

Chado: The Way of Tea in Oregon

Tim McRobert produced a half hour documentary about Chado: The Way of Tea in Oregon. It will be broadcast on Oregon Public Broadcasting cable this Sunday. It was shot at the Portland Japanese Garden and various tea rooms around the Portland area.

Issoan Tea School is one of the groups featured in the film.You will see students making tea, kimono dressing and ceramics discussion on the film. I hope you enjoy it.

It airs Sunday, September 2 at 8:30 on OPB plus.  For those of you on FIOS Frontier it's channel 470 and those on Comcast I think  it is on 310.  Check your local listings. 

Workshops for Tea Ceremony

Thursday, October 4, 2012 - 6:00pm :
Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons - Nature, Literature, and the Arts, (click link for more information)
Portland State University
We plan to dress in kimono, attend the lecture and have a snack afterwards.  Please join us.

Saturday October 6th, 10 am to 2 pm 
Kimono alterations class 
Issoan Tea Room
Kimono too short?  Not wide enough?  Kate has been successful in altering kimono to fit differnt body shapes. Bring your kimono to work on.  She will teach us how to measure for kimono, where to add length, how to widen side seams and much more.   We  will also learn proper fitting and kimono dressing.  Please join us.  Call Margie to register 503-645-7058

Saturday October 13, 10 am - 2 pm 
Field trip to the Bamboo Gardens
North Plains
We will meet at Issoan Tea School and carpool to Bamboo Gardens where we will tour the garden, learn about bamboo cultivation, and how to work the bamboo for crafts.  This will be  good in preparation for chashaku carving and flower vase making workshop later this year..  For reservations and carpool information, call Margie 503-645-7058

Sunday October 14th, 10 am
Completion of Kimono alterations class
Kate 's house 
After homework assignment, we will complete our kimono alterations. (bring sewing machine if you have one).  If there is interest, we may have ongoing sewing workshops including sewing a kimono from scratch, shifuku making workshop and making bags for chabako.  Please call Margie to register.  503-645-7058

More workshops to come

Aug 30, 2012

O-Tsukimi at the Portland Japanese Garden

The Autumn Moonviewing Festival, O-Tsukimi, will be held at the Portland Japanese Garden September 28, 29, 30th from 6- 8:30 pm.

On a quiet autumn evening more than 200 years ago, a retired imperial prince sat patiently on the polished bamboo floor of the veranda waiting for the moon’s reflection to shimmer across the pond of one of the world’s most exquisite gardens at Katsura Imperial Villa in western Kyoto. As it rose in the sky, he lifted his sake cup to catch its reflection and bring him good luck in love—something even emperors need.
Here in Portland, we have a place patterned after just such a garden, where people gather to sit and wait for that very same moon to raise high in the evening sky in autumn.

There is no better place in Portland to share the romance and mystery of the full moon in autumn than from the eastern courtyard of the Portland Japanese Garden Pavilion, with cup of sake in hand, gazing at the harvest moon as it rises above the city.
Moonviewing, or O-Tsukimi, is a traditional Japanese festival which honors the full moon in autumn. On the evenings of September 28, 29, and 30, guests enjoy a quiet evening in the Garden, observe a candle-lit tea ceremony in the Kashintei Tea House and listen to the elegant live music.

Poetry reading and writing have been part of traditional moonviewing events in Japan for centuries. Guests are invited to write their own poetry in honor of the autumn moon and listen to poetry readings in the Garden Pavilion. Sip sake or tea, enjoy a light sampling of seasonal Japanese foods, and experience a rare walk through the lantern-lit Garden during moonlit hours.

Issoan Tea will be presenting Tea Ceremony at Kashintei Tea House on Saturday, September 29.

September 28, 29, and 30, 2012
6:00-8:30 p.m., rain or shine
$25 members / $35 non-members
Reservations required; Space is limited

Reserve online or call (503) 542-0280

Aug 29, 2012

Kobukusa Magic

We had a kobukusa making workshop a couple of weeks ago, and I promised that I'd post pictures from the workshop.  We had 4 participants, and Kate was our teacher.  She supplied silk fabric, silk thread, needles, patterns, instructions and sewing advice and help.

Everyone who had brought their sewing kits, supplies and eagerness to learn.

We started with the fabric, pattern and instructions:

Measured and pinned:



Turned with a little bit of kobukusa magic we had a finished product.

Aug 13, 2012

Working together

I'd like to take this opportunity to acknowledge one of my huge supporters, Barbara Walker.  Barbara and I have shared our love for the way of tea  for more than 30 years. She and I studied with Minako sensei for 20 years, before she passed away. We help each other with Chado presentations, classes and she is my substitute teacher when I am out of town. And she is an excellent Shokyaku. 

Working with Barbara is like having someone who can read my mind.  I'll tell you a story:   We put on a chakai for Minako-sensei's seven year memorial.   The first seki was supposed to be at 10:00. We were going to meet at 8:00 am to prepare the tea house.  Barbara was bringing most of the special utensils we had picked for the occasion.  She also was bringing the sweets.

I arrived at the Japanese Garden tea house a little after 8:00 am and started cleaning.  I put on the hot water, swept, mopped and wiped down the mats. 8:30 no Barbara.   I hung the scroll and arranged the flowers.  I put out the tsukubai and watered the garden.  9:00, still no Barbara.  I unpacked the furo, and filled the kettle with hot water, 9:15 and no Barbara.  I wiped down the koshikake machiai.  Guests were due to arrive in 20 minutes.

Finally at 9:30 Barbara arrived with the utensils and the sweets.  The two of us got to work unpacking, arranging, filling,  preparing and had everything else ready for the chakai in time to greet our first guests.  Not a word was spoken  between the time she arrived and the final "Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu"  before she opened the door to the tea house and stepped into the garden.

This wonderful lady with a true tea heart, donated to Issoan Tea School kaiseki dogu that had previously  belonged to Minako-sensei.   She wanted my students to be able to use these things and pass on to them some part of Minako-sensei.   Thank you Barbara, we all appreciate everything you do.  We will use these things and think of both you and Minako-sensei.  She would be proud to know how well we work together and support each other.

Yuto and ladle for the burnt rice course

Two black lacquer serving trays

Cedar hassun tray for serving food from the mountain and food from the sea.

Unlacquered hana ita, flower board for unglazed vases in the tokonoma.

Aug 11, 2012

The ash is important to the charcoal

This summer we have been fortunate to be able to burn charcoal and do sumidemae.  We can't make tea if the charcoal doesn't boil the water.  For some reason, the water boiled with charcoal tastes better, sounds better and the steam is more consistently fluffy and pretty.

Of course, it all begins with the haigata or ash form. The first time I saw the ash form, I thought it was some kind of cardboard, and I stuck my finger in the front of it and spoiled the look of it. Making the haigata takes patience and practice. 

When I was at Midorikai we got to burn sumi everyday, and that means one of the chores after dinner was to do the haigata for the next day.  Fortunately for me, I like to do it, and my fellow students didn't, so I did many ash forms during the furo season as I could.  When we switched to the ro season, I bought a furo, ash, gotoku and practiced  in my room just about every night.

I think we got one lesson on ash forms and the rest of the year we were left to discover for ourselves how to do it by practice and experience. Sometimes one of the teachers would come up to the mizuya after dinner and drop the haisaji (ash spooon) in the middle of the haigata.   If the spoon stood upright in the ash, it was too hard packed and the fire couldn't breathe.  If the spoon fell over in the ash, it was soft enough for the fire to burn.  Of course, either way, you had to do it over again.

A few things I learned about doing haigata: 
  1. Don't spend more than 45 minutes playing with the ash.  The more you work it, the more it gets packed down.  Torigai-sensei used to say, "Better an ugly haigata that breathes, than a beautiful one that is too packed down."
  2. There are three main tools to form the ash. The wide flat tool, the curved tool and the spear point tool. I use the wide flat tool for maybe 75-80%  of the time.
  3. Let the ash tool do most of the work.  You really are not pushing down on the ash spoon to smooth it out.  Just lay the tool down gently on the ash and drag it across the surface of the ash.  You will get a beautiful smooth surface without it getting too packed down.
  4. I usually start smoothing the front, then the back then the U shaped valley in the center.  Make sure the valley is deep enough to accommodate the height of the charcoal, plus the width of the kudazumi and edazumi so it won't get crushed when you put the kettle on the gotoku.
  5. Sometimes the angle of what you want to do is very awkward.  Learn to use your left hand to work the right side of the form.   You may have to re-grip the tool in  a different place to get the angle you want.
  6. The only place that is okay to pack down the ash is right behind the maegawara (front tile).  This helps hold the mae gawara in place.
  7. Pay special attention to the corners and the points of the mountains.   It takes practice to make these smooth and sharp.
  8. Smoothing and cutting around the gotoku and maegawara are the trickiest.  The mountain in the front should look like there is no interruption in the line and it looks like it goes right through the gotoku.

If you get a chance to work the ash, it becomes very meditative and sometimes addicting.  Relax and it will show in the final product.  Good luck.

Aug 9, 2012

Cicada's Cry

We have been talking about poetic names and the sounds of the Japanese summer.  The Japanese cicada or semi are a ubiquitous part of the soundscape in summer.  Different species, I guess hatch at different times so there are different songs throughout the summer. 

I remember trying to fall asleep in Kyoto and the semi being so loud that one night I opened my window and shouted "SHUT UP" at the semi and it got quiet for about ten or 15 seconds, then quietly, "meep, meep, meep, Meep,.Meep, MEEP, MEEP" louder and louder again.

There are some that sound like rain showers:  Semi shigure

But sometimes they just sing in the evening with an evocative song:

And this one sounds very sad or plaintive

Aug 6, 2012

Kobukusa making workshop at Issoan Tea

Date: Sunday, August 12, 1-3 pm
Where: Issoan Tea School 17761 NW Marylhurst Ct. Portland, OR 97229
Make reservations by Friday August 10, 5 pm. 503-645-7058
Fee: $10

We are lucky to have talented students at Issoan.   This Sunday August 12 there will be a kobukusa making workshop from 1-3pm at Issoan Tea. That little square of brocade cloth is used in many instances such as serving tea from the kitchen, haiken, displaying utensils and intermediate and upper temae.

Kate has generously agreed to teach the workshop and will be providing practice fabric, patterns and teaching the workshop.  Bring  a sewing kit if you have one.  If you do not, we will supply everything.   Please call to make your reservations for this workshop by Friday evening, August 10, 503-645-7058.

Stay tuned we have other workshops planned for this fall.

Aug 3, 2012

Kagetsu Koshukai, Beginner's Perspective

Hello fellow Tea Lovers! It's Karla and I apologize for my long absence from the blog. I recently completed my Masters in Teaching and have been busy, busy, busy with school, student teaching and a continuing job search. Here is a lovely picture of what Oregon looks like when the sun is coming through the doug firs near my home. Lovely, no?

I wanted to post today about an experience I had last weekend at a beginning koshukai regarding kagetsu study. Christy Sensai from San Francisco was the Sensai there and gave all of us some great things to think about during the beginning usucha hirodemae temae. (Note: Please forgive me my beginner Japanese spelling. If you see errors, don't hesitate to let me know.) Christy Sensai said that one thing you should always strive for in kagetsu, and for any time you are in the tea room, is matching your timing to the other people in the room. I'm not talking about the host's timing in making tea, but the guest's timing. To put it another way, timing that guests may need to worry about would be bowing together, folding fukusa together, and standing and sitting together. These things should happen at the same time and it looks beautiful and effortless when executed that way. This timing shouldn't be found by craning your necks to the left and right. Just watch the movement from the corner of your eyes. This is something, Christy Sensai said, that a person who studies tea needs to apply to any part of the study of tea. It need not only apply to kagetsu. It means matching the height of your bows appropriately to the people around you. It means being conscious of when people's feet may be asleep so you don't try to stand up too quickly in courtesy to the people around you. It means that tea isn't just about yourself but it's about everyone in the room with you. You are all there to enjoy the experience the host is presenting you. No one should feel ashamed that they can not rise as quickly as the others. Tea is about acceptance and humility. About slowing down where needed and always showing respect to those around you. I was honored to be reminded of such an integral part of the way of tea.