Jul 18, 2015

SweetPersimmon Blog has moved

The SweetPersimmon blog will no longer be published here.  Please go to the SweePersimmon blog at Issoantea.com website.  Please update your bookmarks as I will continue to write the blog as long as I can.  You can also explore seasonal notes, a recommended reading list, articles and links to other chado related sites.

This blog will remain here as an archive, but all new posts will appear at the other site. So head on over there and I will be seeing you there in the future.


Jul 12, 2015

Ieyasu words of wisdom

"Life is like walking along a long road shouldering a heavy load; there is no need to hurry.

One who treats difficulties as the normal state of affairs will never be discontented.

Patience is the source of eternal peace; treat anger as an enemy.

Harm will befall one who knows only success and has never experienced failure.

Blame yourself rather than others.

It is better not to reach than to go too far."

-~Precepts on the secret of success in life drafted by Tokugawa Ieayasu 1604 from the collection of en:Nikkō Tōshō-gū.

Jul 2, 2015

Time stands still

I have been reviewing the early entries of this blog, some were written more than eight years ago. I am surprised at how they have held up and the entries are as relevant today as they were when they were written years ago. 

I  have also been looking at the blog statistics.  Some of these posts have not gotten a lot of traffic, and I'd like to highlight them for readers who have not read them before.  If you have been reading from the start, here they are again, like old friends. 

Please try to stay cool this summer enjoy your holidays and enjoy this cooling image of the tsukubai in the summer

Shoshin, the beginner's heart

How can I cherish this moment?

Appreciation, the forgotten art

No trivial acts


In search of authenticity

Living with ambiguity and no right answers

Jun 12, 2015

Do your best

I was recently talking with a friend who was working on a project for work.  Her heart was not in it and she was just putting in the minimal effort, which made the project drag out.  Every day she would go to work and there would be the project waiting for her.  I asked her how much time it would take if she really put her best into it.  "Oh probably a day and a half" she said.  I thought, why not put your best into it, get it done and then you wouldn't have to dread going to work for next two to three weeks.

It doesn't matter what the task is, do your best.  I recommend this article written years ago "Focus on the Journey," by Tom Peters, author of "In Search of Excellence."  Satisfaction can be found even on the most mundane tasks if your mind set is making everyday an adventure in pursuing excellence in everything you do.

From SweetPersimmon
It makes this scroll "nichi nichi kore kojitsu" even more profound and uplifting.  Every day is a good day. Every day is a good day to do your best, to improve your life, to live an adventure, to pursue excellence. 

What is the best way to have a happy fulfilling life?  Do your best, everyday.

May 17, 2015

10 things I learned at Midorikai

I look back on my time at Midorikai and I thought about what I had learned there. Some of the lessons I learned there have nothing to do with tea and yet they have everything to with tea and life.I am still striving to put these into practice every single day.
  1. Be open to the experience that life presents to you. Say yes more often than no. Opportunities may not look like what you expected or wished for.
  2. Be thankful everyday for the life you have. Gratitude, even for your troubles because they help you grow.
  3. Be kind to other people. It doesn't take anything away from you to encourage, listen closely, say something nice or do something for someone.
  4. Do your best, all the time. You cannot live life at half-speed, there simply is not enough time.
  5. Leave something for people who follow you. If you develop knowledge or expertise, pass it on. It does no good if it dies with you.
  6. The people you don't get along with are your teachers. At the minimum, it is good training for you to learn how to handle people and situations you don't like.
  7. Excuses are a waste of time.
  8. Be generous. You will be amazed at how much comes back to you.
  9. Be careful about acquiring things. The more you own the less space you have. What you buy or accumulate says a lot about you.
  10. Learn to let go. Of grudges, of mistakes, of behaviors that don't serve you, of people who are no longer good for you.

May 15, 2015

Return to Kyoto

I recently returned from a visit to Kyoto.  It has been many, many years since I last visited there.  My husband went with me, and together we explored the city.  I wondered how much it had changed, he discovered this charming city for the first time.

We ate very well including this cheap Japanese breakfast

The city has changed so much.  For one thing there are a lot more English signs, and now Korean as well.  The old Kyoto station with its wooden walkways and stairs have been replaced with a super modern and huge station and now the subway goes East and West as well as North and South.

And yet much of the city has remained the same.  There are the small narrow alleyways and courtyards of the Pontocho and Gion and much of the charming architecture of the city still remains.


The Teramachi shopping arcade is still there,

the department stores along Shijo and the Nishiki food market. Oike senbei, favorite senbei shop, Tsurugaya, Oimatsu and many of the the sweet shops are still there. As are Ippodo, Tsujirien, and Fukujuen tea stores.
I also had the opportunity to sit in with Midorikai for a few days.  I was lucky that the first day we practiced Shaza, my favorite shichijishiki.  It is an ensemble exercise with 5 people.  The second guest arranges flowers, the third guest lays the charcoal, the first guest does incense, the teishu makes koicha, and the hanto brings in and takes out all the equipment and makes usucha for the teishu. So much fun. The second day, I got to see the temae, gozumi shomo, or second laying of the fire by request.  The teishu cleans out the ro from the first laying of the fire and invites a guest to arrange the charcoal for the second time.  I had never seen this procedure and I was asked to lay the fire.  It was an honor and not so hard because all the previous fire had been cleaned out and made very neat.  And it boiled the water very well!.'

The third day I got to attend the student chakai.  I had forgotten that all morning we cleaned the tea rooms, machiai, garden, tsukubai while the teishu and hanto prepared the mizuya.  Since the sakura petals had recently fallen, we ended picking up individual petals out of the gravel walkway in the path leading up to the tea room. The chakai was lovely, with the uguisu serenading us at the break. How magical it is to attend a chakai in Japan!

Apr 13, 2015

My first chawan, ichigo ichie

I think I had been studying for about 3 years when I thought I would like to acquire my first teabowl.  In those days there was not the internet nor eBay to purchase utensils.  So we had to ask someone to buy it for us in Japan or find some other way of acquiring utensils.  I used to haunt antique shops and estate sales because living on the Pacific rim there were many people who have traveled to and from Japan.

Not the original bowl but similar
In an antique shop one day I found a modest brown and white chawan.  Though I went to look at it several times, I didn't want to buy it yet because I didn't know if it was a good one or how much I should pay for it.  In those days, I wasn't making much money and the $40 price tag was rather a large commitment for me.  I asked my sensei to look at it and give me her opinion.  So she went to the shop and talked with the owner and came back and told me it was a good bowl for me to get and that she had negotiated the price to $30 because I was her student.  Yay!

I went the the shop and purchased the bowl (it had no protective box) and brought it home. I was so happy.  To thank my teacher, I gave a chakai and invited her to tea at the tea house at the Japanese garden.  It was a lovely chakai, and sensei said that the bowl had presence and she was glad to drink from it.

At home, after the chakai, I was unpacking the car.  The tea bowl slipped out of the protective wrapping and dropped to the driveway, shattering into dust. There were so many small pieces, I could not even pick them up.  I had to sweep them into a dust pan. There was nothing left to save.  Truly ichigo ichie.  But at least sensei got to drink from it one time.

Mar 30, 2015

5 ways to make your temae go better

  1. Before you enter the tea room, take 5 slow deep breaths.
  2. Trust your body, don't try to out think it.
  3. Look at mistakes as opportunities to  learn.
  4. Don't forget to breathe during your temae.
  5. Remember that making a good bowl of tea is the most important thing.

Mar 25, 2015

Sensei says. . .

Wa, kei, sei, jaku: harmony, respect, purity
and tranquility
Many of these sayings have appeared in the blog before, and students will recognize many of them from my own teachings. I have gathered them together to best of my recollection.  I hope you can add your own "sensei says" in the comments.

The term “sensei” has been translated as “teacher.” Quite literally from the kanji, the term “sensei” means “one who was born before.”  If there is great wisdom, it is gained through life experience and wisdom imparted by their “sensei” born before them, going back through 400 years of Tea tradition.

My apologies to sensei for any mistakes due to the differences in Japanese and American culture and language. I am glad that someone was born before me to point the way. These words of wisdom, were spoken to me in class rooms and tea practice rooms by sensei who cared enough to help me develop in Tea and in life.

On life and Tea:

Wa, kei, sei, and jaku are easy in the tea room.  The hard part is making it essential in the rest of your life.
Tea becomes much more than a hobby or social event.  It becomes a lifestyle.
Tea becomes the yardstick with which you measure your life.
The attitude of gratitude is essential.
Don’t get ahead of yourself. Complete this moment before going on to the next.
Don’t expect, just adjust.
Tea is where you realize your own religious beliefs.
What makes us uncomfortable makes us stronger.
People who endure hardship in life become tougher, like misshapen charcoal, they last longer than those with an easy life who burn out quickly.
Tea is movement.  It gets us out of our heads, into our bodies, so we can touch our souls.

On learning:

You can not learn Tea by reading a book. You learn Tea by training your body and to do it well, you must do it at least a thousand times.
Every time you do Tea, you learn something about yourself, even though you may have done it many, many times before.
Tea is not a thing to learn from teachers. The things you seek are already within you.
The existence of the teacher is more important than what he/she says, does or writes.
Learn with more than your brain. Observe, train your body, ask your spirit and relate to your guest.
Before you ask your teacher a question, look and observe.  Try to figure it out on your own. You learn so much more that way.

On making mistakes:

You can do nothing right in class, but in chaji (formal tea gathering)you can do nothing wrong.
If you are going to make a mistake, make it beautifully.
There is no going back, just move forward.
There is no such thing as the perfect temae (procedure for making tea). Doing it perfectly is not the heart of Tea. Doing it as if it was the first time, finding interest and excitement like finding interst in your life, to avoid being jaded, that is the true heart of Tea.
The Tea room is a place where we abandon shame. Do not be afraid to make mistakes if you want to learn.

On form:

When you have mastered the forms, then you become free from the forms.
Learn the kata (form).  When you know it thoroughly it becomes your katachi (style).
The body learns the form: it learns the discipline until it goes beyond the rules and becomes natural.
First master the form. The form is a vessel for the content.  You need a strong vessel to hold what goes inside or it leaks away.

On training:

Awareness is not concentration.  Tea is training in awareness
Tea training also teaches us how to receive.
Every time you make a bowl of Tea, it is not practice Tea it is the real Tea.
In training for Tea heart and spirit, as you gain maturity, learning and knowledge, the rules and guidelines change into a total experience of life.
The most difficult training is not temae, but to watch your mind and your behavior when you encounter nasty tasks and people.
Every difficulty you encounter is good training for you.

On doing the work:

Do the work. Tea is not for the lazy.
There are no trivial tasks in Tea.
There are no shortcuts in Tea.
Cleaning is 80% of Tea.
No matter how accomplished you get to be in Tea, cleaning the toilet is always the host’s job.
The mizuya (preparation room)should be clean enough to eat off the floor.
The mizuya (preparation) work should be done as if it is temae (tea making procedure).
It is your own responsibility to get to the heart of Tea.
With Tea, we are sitting on a mountain of jewels, but you must do the work and dig them out yourself.
You should do everything right because it is the right thing to do.

Mar 22, 2015

Tsurigama - the hanging kettle

I have the privilege of belonging to  Kashintei Kai a tea group that holds a once a month chakai at the tea house in the Portland Japanese Garden. It was my turn to host in March and I decided to use the tsurigama, or hanging kettle.  This is a very special kettle because it belonged to my sensei, Minako, along with the special chain, large kan (kettle loops) and bridge.

We are fortunate to have had a wonderful spring in Portland and now there is an abundance of flowers.  So the theme for this chakai is flowers. 

The shikishi reads "hana zoku zoku, nishiki zoku zoku"  flowers everywhere, brocade everywhere by Harada Shodo Roshi.

The bronze vase with an exquisite single red camellia bud in the tokonoma.

Natsume is sakura and momiji with a moon -- Yamanaka lacquer.

The chashaku is made by Zuiho of sesame bamboo with black lacquer sakura. Gomei: hana goromo, robe of flowers.

The main bowl is a Genji guruma (cart) filled with flowers both inside and out.

While making tea the kettle sways slightly as if in a spring breeze.

Mar 11, 2015

Incense and Poetry

One of the most popular units in the Introduction to Chado class is the Incense and Poetry night. Even the more experienced students come back to participate with the new students. It is a fabulous and emotional night of listening to the incense, composing and sharing poetry and of course sweets and tea.

We prepare the wood incense (jinko) by burying a live coal in ash, and put the mica plate on top.  It is a personal way to enjoy listening to the incense.  As the wood is heated, the volatile oils are released and we can smell the wonderful fragrance.  It changes over time, with the first notes giving way to middle and finally deeper notes.
Because the sense of smell is one of the more primitive senses, it does not have a direct path to the verbal part of the brain, so it is difficult for people to describe or talk about what they are smelling.   When we express ourselves in poetry, it involves other parts of our brain.
We had three different wood incense chips, and after each participant had a chance to listen 3 times, they could begin to compose their poem inspired by the incense.  After everyone is finished composing, we share the poems. 
With permission, I am publishing the poems composed that night.

red poplar melting
sweet ash asunder, hold me
in your nighted gaze

Delicate splinter
Decomposition's glory
3 breaths, one long sigh

Aged wooden footsteps
Still but felt across the rush
Warm embers, cool snow

High in the mountain
Smelling the wind in pines
I float with the birds
And feel the sun warm me

Spicy, a market
forgotten, lands far away,
bells ring in the breeze

Ambient temple floors
echoing the footsteps of
all who once tread there

Smoke swirling in air
children laughter
Christmas is a delight

Sweet breeze
on top of the hot desert rocks
I'm a firefly resting

opal sand filling
air with time and time again
is the dust of you

Bright yellow stillness of galleries
Salty splintered wood
odd early season twilight

Elusive tendrils
Journey amongst my senses
Evoke memories
And bring presence

Fruit and flower buds
Delicate scents fill my mind
Sweet and intricate

Grandmother's cupboard
collected years of bits and bobs
missing Montana

Apricot blossoms
wind kicks up a flurry
first spring berry crisp

In a cave the water rushes
all the muddy prints dry
in the hot bonfire
under the foggy moon

Listening to the incense, with just a few minutes, a conducive atmosphere, appreciative guests, it is a great inspiration for poetry.

Feb 25, 2015

More sweets

Here are few photos of sweets made by students.  I am especially charmed by the little green frog.

From SweetPersimmon

Feb 14, 2015

Anagama Kiln Firing

We are fortunate to have a generous and creative community of potters in Portland.  In March, a friend of mine, Richard Brandt, has invited us to see the loading, firing, and unloading of an Anagama wood fire kiln of the class he is teaching at Mt. Hood Community College. It is a marvelous opportunity to witness an actual firing to get a sense of the hard work, materials and the community of people that it takes to fire a kiln such as this. Then we also have an opportunity to come back to experience the excitement, surprises and raw beauty of the opening of the kiln.

It takes 3 days to load the kiln, seeing the way each piece looks before the firing and to get a sense of the transformation that each piece goes through. You'll also see the delicate considered placement of each object as they are fit closely together to direct the flame tumbling through the stacks of ware. There will be 100s of pieces of all shapes and sizes waiting to be loaded for their chance with the wood and flame.

The firing will take place over 5 days, 24 hours a day and night. Monitoring the fire and temperature dictates the amount of wood and timing of feeding the fire. When the kiln is fired all of the senses and communication between the firing crew members are very important.

The kiln is then allowed to cool down for about 6 days and then the seal will be cracked. It takes about an hour to take down the door and clean out the ashes before the first pieces can be taken out. Everyone lines up to pass each piece from hand to hand to reveal the magic of the fire. It is awesome to experience the excitement, surprises and raw beauty of the opening of the kiln.

If you would like to participate in this experience, please contact me for dates, times and address.  Don't miss this experience.

Thank you again to Richard for this wonderful opportunity to see a wood fire kiln in action.

Feb 2, 2015

Devils out, Good luck in!

"Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi"

Tomorrow is Setsubun, when you throw out the beans and yell "Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi!"  Devils out, Good luck in!  And it is the first day of spring in the lunar calendar.

More here

After you throw the beans, you are supposed to eat the number of beans equal to your age.

Jan 28, 2015

Letting go

"Some people think that holding on is what makes them strong. Sometimes it is letting go."

Last year my father passed away and last weekend his longtime companion passed also. I am still at a loss after caring for my father for 10 years, and getting to know his companion in that time.  They were a quite a couple and now they are gone. I  keep asking myself what more I could have done, but letting go of that, I can return to happier memories.

I recently had to end a relationship. I had not known this person for very long and I thought that she shared my enthusiasms, but I had come to find out that we disagreed quite radically.  I was willing to agree to disagree, but she wanted to convince me that she was right. The language that she used to convince me was quite disrespectful. I stewed for quite a while before confronting this person and she did not take it well. I am sad about letting it go, but in a way I feel unburdened about not having to defend myself every time we communicated.

I am comforted by this Zen scroll:
hanatsu no shizen  "Release this and everything will be of itself so"

This letting go is one of the hardest lessons for me. A lot of the time when we talk about not having desires, it relates to material things: bigger house, nicer car, the newest gadget.  But letting go of desires also means letting go of expectations, of the way things "should" be. 

"Everything will be of itself so"  or What is, is. Looking and accepting what is, rather than being disappointed for what isn't, or what I want it to be.

Let it go, let it go
Can't hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn my back and slam the door
And here I stand, and here I'll stay
Let it go, let it go
The cold never bothered me anyway

Jan 19, 2015

Seeing with the mind's eye

I went to a play the other night and the person next to me was recording it with their phone. Besides being annoying because the light from the phone was very bright in the darkened theater, the person recording it didn't really get to enjoy the play.  At the intermission, I asked this person why they were recording it, and they said that they wanted to share it with friends.

So rather than friends going to a live performance, one person records it so they can view it on a tiny screen as a virtual experience. Have we come to this, that the virtual experience trumps the actual experience?

Last week, we used the elevated tatami tables that Mr. SweetPersimmon made for us.  Because of where we set up the table, the sunlight came through the windows and illuminated the temaeza as the teishu was making koicha.  It was like a bright spotlight on the teabowl.  Imagine this: as the teishu scooped the tea and turned it out of the chaire, little poofs of the powdered tea arose from the center of the teabowl.  The chaire itself revealed a rainbow of colors in the glaze.  And even as the hishaku was steaming from the kettle, when the hot water was poured into the teabowl, it sparkled.  Inside the teabowl, you could see the intense green of the matcha as it was kneaded into an incredibly smooth and shiny thick tea.

Do you need a video to share this experience? I can replay this whenever I like, without a device. It is all in the mind's eye.

Jan 9, 2015

The art of the thank you note

As a child, my mother sat me down when I received any gift or attended any event to write a thank you note.  It was drilled into me that I MUST acknowledge what someone else had done for me by a hand-written thank you note.  That training has stood me in good stead.   It is very seldom these days that we receive a thank you note from anyone.  It is so unusual that I have received thank you notes for sending a thank you note.

As part of the etiquette of attending a chakai, the thank you note from the guest to the host after the event is essential.  I have written and received many, many thank you notes and there is an art to writing a thank you note.

As you can see from the example above, the thank you note doesn't have to be very long.  This example is very sophisticated and perfect for the occasion.

After the greeting, there is an acknowledgement of what the person is thanking you for.  The next sentence is making a specific comment about what the person enjoyed, and how they enjoyed it. The next comment is something that they learned that they didn't know before, and finally how the event affected them.  Closing we have another expression of thank you (in Japanese!) and a simple sincere closing with signature.

As  you can see, it is a handmade card. If you have an appropriate card, please use it.  A handmade card will do just fine.  A blank paper will do as well.  You just need to take the time, and address it, put a stamp on it and send it off.

Here is another example of a thank you note I received for Hatsugama:

Dear Margie
It was such a wonderful Hatsugama chakai this afternoon., and I feel calmness settling in my heart as I reflect on the gathering.  I'm fortunate to be surrounded by treasures of tea friends and wonderful tea utensils.  The Spring Bulb bears much energy to grow, I look forward to pursuing Chado together and growing further.  Thank you for setting a springboard, gracefully prepared, for me take the great first step of the new year.
Best regards,

The author of this thank you note incorporated the theme and names of the utensils into the thank you note.  Spring bulb was the shape of the chaire, and "first step" was the gomei of the chashaku. It shows that the guest was paying attention and how it affected them.

Please do not waste time in sending your thank you note.  Sit right down after the event (as the author above did right after the event. I received this in the mail the very next day).   If you have procrastinated more than a week in writing your thank you note, do not just forget about it. Sit down and write it now.

Finally, for those who struggle for words on paper,  it is the thought that counts. Write what is in your heart. A sincere thank you is the most appreciated.

Jan 7, 2015

Hatsugama 2015

Hatsugama at Issoan Tea room started on Saturday January 3 with teachers and experienced tea people.  Sunday January 4, there were  three seki for students.