Dec 31, 2013

Happy New Year

The joy of tea

Today I had the lucky opportunity of hosting a chakai for people that I had never met.  However these two people had traveled many thousands of miles from North and East of here to be my guests.   They were graduates of the Midorikai program in Kyoto and attended about 5 years before I had gone myself.

One of  my guests had not done tea for about 20 years and the other one had kept in practice even though there were few tea people to share tea where he lived. 

I started preparations earlier in the week cleaning my house top to bottom.  I cleaned, swept and vacuumed. I dusted, wiped and washed.  This morning in the quiet, I zokined the tatami and put the fresh kettle on.  As it heated, I prepared my utensils:  Unrolled the scroll and hung it carefully.  I sifted the tea and rinsed and dried the teabowl, mizusashi, and kensui. I soaked the new chakin and opened a new chasen. I arranged the utensils just outside the tea room.

Then I went to make the sweets:  White kinton with green interior.  Gomei - yukima no kusa

I cleaned the toilet, put out the tsukubai, picked and arranged the flowers.  Then I filled the natsume, arranged the sweets and went to put on my kimono. As I dressed, I thought how lucky I was to be able to host two experienced tea people who were hungry for the experience!

I went to check the kettle and it was beginning to sing.   My student came to assist, and he once more zokined the tea room,. put on his kimono and went out to wait for the guests.  He greeted them outside and assisted them inside to take off their shoes and hang up their outer garments.

Surprise, one guest wore his kimono!  Up in the tea room, the incense was lit and wafted down to greet the guests. They entered the tea room and we made them comfortable.  What a joy to make tea for these guests who appreciated everything and noticed the smallest details.  The conversation was easy and natural, the tea was made and drank.   They even had two bowls of tea each.

After everyone got feeling back in their feet we sat just outside the tea room and visited, but like very good guests, they didn't stay long because they knew we had things to do.

My student and I had a bowl of tea  and then cleaned up, closed the tea room and said goodbye. It was a very satisfying and fulfilling experience.   This is why we study the way of tea.

Dec 30, 2013

Kumihimo: braid obsessions

Since the kumihimo workshop in November, I have become obsessed with braid and braiding.  Using the kumiloom disk I started and braided several key chains.  Then my good friend Barbara loaned me her Marudai and I began my first project on in.  She also gave me enough silk to complete a flat braid obijime and I finished it.

Santa Claus was good to me and brought me my own marudai and accessories and I began my second obijime project that I finished yesterday. 

It is fun and repetitive, but not mindless, as I still have a couple of mistakes in each of the projects from not paying attention, gettting lost or getting the order wrong  (sound familiar to doing temae?).

Anyway, for my next project I am going to make cords for a chabako shifuku set.  I already know how to make shifuku, but cannot get the cords for them.

Dec 18, 2013

More reading

In these dark days, it is always good to have a few books to curl up with to take us away.   Here are two more books that I have added to my bookshelf:

Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons, Nature, Literature and the Arts, by Haruo Shirane. ISBN: 978-0-231-15281-5
I heard a lecture by Professor Shirane at the Portland Japanese Garden this fall.  Here is the publisher's description:

Elegant representations of nature and the four seasons populate a wide range of Japanese genres and media—from poetry and screen painting to tea ceremonies, flower arrangements, and annual observances. In Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons, Haruo Shirane shows how, when, and why this practice developed and explicates the richly encoded social, religious, and political meanings of this imagery.

Refuting the belief that this tradition reflects Japan’s agrarian origins and supposedly mild climate, Shirane traces the establishment of seasonal topics to the poetry composed by the urban nobility in the eighth century. After becoming highly codified and influencing visual arts in the tenth and eleventh centuries, the seasonal topics and their cultural associations evolved and spread to other genres, eventually settling in the popular culture of the early modern period. Contrasted with the elegant images of nature derived from court poetry was the agrarian view of nature based on rural life. The two landscapes began to intersect in the medieval period, creating a complex, layered web of competing associations. Shirane discusses a wide array of representations of nature and the four seasons in many genres, originating in both the urban and rural perspective: textual (poetry, chronicles, tales), cultivated (gardens, flower arrangement), material (kimonos, screens), performative (noh, festivals), and gastronomic (tea ceremony, food rituals). He reveals how this kind of “secondary nature,” which flourished in Japan's urban architecture and gardens, fostered and idealized a sense of harmony with the natural world just at the moment it was disappearing.

Illuminating the deeper meaning behind Japanese aesthetics and artifacts, Shirane clarifies the use of natural images and seasonal topics and the changes in their cultural associations and function across history, genre, and community over more than a millennium. In this fascinating book, the four seasons are revealed to be as much a cultural construction as a reflection of the physical world.

The other book I am reading is Elements of Japanese Design, by Boye Lafayette De Mente. ISBN:9780804837491
Here is the publisher's description:

 Elements of Japanese Design introduces 80 key concepts in Japanese design in a readable and accessible short-entry format. Including a brief explanation and examples of every aspect of Japanese design-from Wah (Harmony) to Kaizen (Continuous Improvement), from Mushin (the Empty Mind) to Mujo (Incompleteness).

My review:  This is an excellent little book that talks about hard to explain aesthetic concepts.  They all apply to the study of Chado.  What is particularly nice is that each chapter (concept) begins with the kanji, the romanji, and phonetic pronunciation, and then a short description to help you remember the concept.  The further description helps to put these concepts into a western context to help us better understand it.  Easy to read and understand English language helps to bridge the gap in those unexplainable concepts like wabi, sabi, and shibui.

Dec 16, 2013

Our deepest fear

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.' We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we subconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
In tribute to Nelson Mandela, I was going to post this quote, but I found out that these famous words, which have often been attributed to him,  he never actually said them in a speech, nor wrote them.  This oft-reproduced reflection about "our deepest fear" originated with the 1992 work A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles, the best-selling first book by author Marianne Williamson.

And even if Nelson Mandela did not write these words, they are powerful and empowering.  So shine your light on the world!

Dec 10, 2013

One Taste of Truth

I am not a student of Zen, but I am a student of tea, so anything in English that helps me understand the relationship of Zen to tea captures my interest.   One of the overt examples of Zen in the tea room is the scroll displayed in the tokonoma.  It is often a Zen saying. Although it may seem on the surface to be a simple statement "nichi, nichi kore kojitsu"  everyday is a good day, or everyday is a day to be liked,  it can have deeper and more profound meanings.

I recently came across the book, "The One Taste of  Truth, Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea," by William Scott Wilson.
ISBN: 978-1-61180-026-5 paperback.
Here is the publisher's description:  Traditionally in China and Japan, drinking a cup of tea was an opportunity for contemplation, meditation, and an elevation of mind and spirit. Here, renowned translator William Scott Wilson distills what is singular and precious about this traditional tea culture, and he explores the fascinating connection between Zen and tea drinking. He unpacks the most common phrases from Zen and Chinese philosophy—usually found in Asia printed on hanging scrolls in tea rooms, restaurant alcoves, family rooms, and martial arts dojos—that have traditionally served as points of contemplation to encourage the appropriate atmosphere for drinking tea or silent meditation.

Part history, part philosophy, part inspirational guide, The One Taste of Truth will connect you to the distinctive pleasure of sipping tea and allowing it to transport your mind and thoughts. This beautifully written book will appeal to tea lovers and anyone interested in tea culture, Chinese philosophy, and Zen. 

What I especially appreciate about this book is that is shows the phrase in calligraphy so we may begin to learn to recognize it. The book also shows the romanji, so we know how to pronounce it, and the English translation.  The explanation that follows for each phrase is easy to follow, and contains more gems for those of us looking for gomei from these phrases.  Historical and cultural context are also covered.   An overall good addition to your Chado library.

Dec 2, 2013

Seiza seats now on sale at

For the holidays, I have just put the portable mediation seats on sale at The price was $49.99, now on sale for $40.00.

Made from sustainable wood and eco-friendly milk paint, our Portable Meditation Seat weighs just 12 oz. and comes in its own carry bag that doubles as padding.  It's small enough to fit in a purse, briefcase or gym bag.  Great for travel, meditation retreats or even used as a backpacking camp stool where every ounce counts.  The unique design and finish of our Portable Meditation Seat reflect the Japanese wabi aesthetic of rustic, simple beauty.

Size: 8 by 5.5 by 4 inches in carrying case
Dimensions: 7.5" wide by 4" deep by 7.75" tall when assembled
Weight: 1 lb. 4 ounces

Just for you, my readers, here is the coupon code for free shipping:   FREE SHIP

And while you are there, look around at the new handbags I just listed.

"I like my new zazen bench. It's Great!  ...everyone thought it was extremely cool. I could hardly believe it could be small enough to put in your kimono sleeve, but it sure enough is! The design is just so clean and functional, it's so nicely finished and so strong, and I love how the bag converts to upholstery. It really fits a guy my size perfectly." ~ Tim Sowa Olson, Tea Ceremony Sensei, Seattle Urasenke Branch

Nov 26, 2013

Competency in the tea room

Some of my newer students are learning a new temae or procedure for making tea.   One of them said that we haven't spent enough time on it for her to feel competent.  She only did it a few times before we changed to the Ro season and now she feels like she has to start all over again.

Here is the news:  we all feel like we have to start all over again.  In fact, for those of us who have practiced for 25 years and more, we want to get back to the place where we feel like beginners again. Rikyu's poem says, "Learn from one to ten and then return to the original one again."  The change of the seasons reminds us to pay attention to what we are doing. 

Feeling competent in the tea room can lead to feeling complacent -- to phone it in because we know what to do.  My sempai said that as a host, the act of making tea is brand new every single time you do it.  To have the freshness, anticipation and excitement of doing something as if for the very first time, makes it fresh and new for the guests, too.

With the many variations in temae, depending on the guests, the utensils, the seasons, the time, the place, there are literally millions of ways to perform the ceremony.  Who can remember and do each one perfectly?  Does doing the temae perfectly mean you are competent?  Can you do a competent temae without doing it perfectly? 

Can we this apply to real life outside the tea room? There are no instructions for life, so how do you judge how competent you are doing your life?  Do you get to practice life until you feel competent?

Nov 25, 2013

Samurai! at the Portland Art Museum

Samurai armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection will be on display until January 12, 2104

Travel back in time and discover remarkable objects that illuminate the life, culture, and pageantry of the samurai, the revered and feared warriors of Japan—from one of the finest and most comprehensive collections in the world. Samurai! Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection presents a treasure trove of battle gear made for high-ranking warriors and daimyo (provincial governors) of the 14th through 19th centuries. The exhibition illustrates the evolution of the distinctive appearance and function of samurai equipment through the centuries and examines their history.

During the centuries covered by the exhibition, warfare evolved from combat between small bands of equestrian archers to the clash of vast armies of infantry and cavalry equipped with swords, spears, and even matchlock guns. Arms and armor were needed in unprecedented quantities, and craftsmen responded with an astonishingly varied array of armor that was both functional and visually spectacular, a celebration of the warrior’s prowess. Even after 1615, when the stern rule of the Tokugawa military dictatorship brought an end to battle, samurai families continued to commission splendid arms and armor for ceremonial purposes. Because the social rank, income, and prestige of a samurai family were strictly determined by the battlefield valor of their ancestors, armor became ever more sumptuous as the embodiment of an elite warrior family’s heritage.

Drawn from the renowned Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller collection, Samurai! features the full panoply of warrior regalia, with full suits of armor, helmets and face guards, weapons, horse trappings, and other battle gear. Highlights include helmets of lacquered metal adorned with emblems often inspired by nature—which signaled the status of the wearer, differentiated samurai from each other, and also frightened the enemy on the battlefield; armored horses carrying combat-ready samurai; and a full ensemble of armor and ceremonial jackets worn by the high-ranking samurai of the Mōri family. The Mōri, who traced their roots to famous warriors of the13th century, were among the most powerful warrior families in western Japan. Portland will be the only West Coast venue for Samurai!

Nov 24, 2013

Art Over MacLeay Park

For those of you in Portland, I will be showing all new handbags at Art Over Macleay Park, December 7-8th.  please come and look at the wonderful things for sale.  You just might find the right gift for Christmas and indulge  yourself with a SweetPersimmon leather handbag as well.

Nov 23, 2013

Disaster in the tea room

One of my tea students is a high schooler, and she is just great because I get a fresh perspective from her.  There are less filters and inhibitions, so her questions are always what everyone else is thinking, but dare not ask for fear of looking stupid.

She came up with one I had to deal with a couple of months ago that I would like to share with you.

Question:  What happens when there is a disaster in the tea room?

I was thinking and thinking of the last disaster I had in the tea room, and how I handled it.  There was the Seattle earthquake in 2001.  It was a 6.8 magnitude and did considerable damage to buildings and rocked for what seemed like a long time.  But I was at work when it happened, and since we couldn't get cars out of our underground garage, several of my co-workers walked with me to my house, and I made tea for them to calm everyone down.

With all of the other natural and manmade disasters in the world; hurricanes, typhoons, flooding, earthquakes, oil spills, nuclear; it seemed like a reasonable question to me. However, I decided to probe a little for what was on her mind.

Question: What do you mean by disaster?

Question: Well what happens, for example, when someone spills tea on the tatami mats?

Answer: Well then, they would clean it up!

Nov 22, 2013

From the archives

I have been going back through the archives and hope you will want to review some of the articles there; too.  I cannot believe it has been 6 years of blogging, either.

1 year ago
Tis the Season

2 years ago
Month of Teachers Running

3 years ago
The season for Udon

Trust the process

4 years ago
Back to the Beginning

Senke Jusshoku, ten craft families

5 years ago
Do, Gaku, Jistu revisited

Okeiko, considering the past

25 things chado, the way of tea has taught me

6 years ago
The sounds of the tea room

The language of kimono

Japanese for the tea room

The samurai and the tea master

Nov 21, 2013

Catching up

As promised here are some of the other activities from this fall: (warning another image heavy post.

In October I went to the Northwest Tea Festival in Seattle.  There were a lot of tea enthusiasts and presentations and tea tastings.  While in Seattle we visited a few of the tea shops as well.

I was also lucky enough to be invited to a few private tea tastings as well

The annual Aki Masturi was also held at a local Buddhist temple where ikebana was on display, tea was served and sale of local ceramics

Christy sensei came for koshukai (more detail on that in another post).  

I attended another kimono dressing workshop with a teacher that uses only himo, no clips, no elastic.  I felt more secure and everything stayed in place for all day. So now I am getting rid of all of my clips and elastic.

The kumihimo (braided ties for obijime, for example) will be rescheduled to November 30th, but I tried it on my own with my kit for the workshop.  I am getting hooked on it. Can't wait for the workshop.

And last weekend was Robiraki, the opening of the winter hearth. There were 3 seatings in my little 4.5 mat room.  Sweet zenzai for the sweets, koicha and usucha. Now is the time for the warmth of the ro in the tea room.  Thank you to Karla who assisted with the preparations and helped the younger students get dressed in kimono.


Whew! that's a lot of photos. And we are not done yet.  Please look at the left sidebar to see other activities for the rest of the year.

Nov 19, 2013

Activities at Issoan

For my blog readers, I apologize for not posting.  It seems like I do this periodically  - get out of the habit of blogging and then let it go for a while.  I will do better in the future.

Let's see, we have been busy this summer.  To begin with we have had a workshop or special event since August.  (Image heavy post follows)  Here are some photos from the chashaku carving and bamboo hanaire making workshop

Then we had a chabana class

And then in September we had a kaiseki cooking class

Also in September we had Nomura-san from Soujuan kimono who came to exhibit his art kimono and sell kimono and accessories. Kageyama-san came too and she gave kimono dressing lessons as well,

Whew, that's a lot, but we still have more to come....I'll post them tomorrow.