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:

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