Friday, October 29, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ao Arashi

Guests attempt to stay dry before the day's first gathering
There was that unmistakable patter: A moderate, steady rain that showed no inclination to lighten up. It was here for the day, so too bad for you if you weren't prepared. I wasn't entirely unprepared, but didn't have my foul weather gear with me either so I layered up and trundled on to the Daichakai.

This was my first time attending the Hakone Daichakai, a large multi-school tea gathering celebrating its tenth year in 2010. Attendees came from as far away as Washington state and Kyoto, Japan, and hailed from all the major tea schools -- Omotesenke, Urasenke and Mushanokojisenke. A  special treat this year was a delegation from the Yabunouchi school, a small non-Sen familiy tea school claiming to being the oldest of all tea schools, led by the school's future grand tea master. The gathering is held at Hakone Estate and Gardens in Saratoga, a beautiful Japanese strolling garden prominently featuring a koi pond and Moon Bridge. The bridge, as well as the entry gate and several houses are of traditional Japanese construction. Perhaps the crown jewel is Shogetsu, a three-mat tea hut brought piece by piece from Japan, situated at the top of the hill overlooking the garden.


 Tea was served by the various schools at seven venues throughout the garden -- the Cultural Exchange Center (CEC), three venues at the Lower House, the Wisteria Pavilion, the Upper House and Shogetsu. The largest venue, CEC, can accommodate about 80 people; Shogetsu can barely hold five. My seatings were at CEC for a demonstration by the Yabunouchi school, and at the Wisteria Pavilion and the Upper House to share usucha with practitioners of the Urasenke tradition.

The Yabunouchi temae was familiar in most regards, but there were striking differences in chasentoshi (tea whisk inspection) and the folding of the fukusa. Movements by host and guest were grand and exaggerated, perhaps derived from the school's roots in the Shoin style of tea (practiced in large halls by the aristocracy, as compared to the more intimate wabicha style).

Yabunouchi Demonstration
After enjoying the Yabunouchi demonstration I participated in two usucha servings at the Wisteria Pavilion on the pond and at the Upper House overlooking the garden. The pond setting was small and rustic, yet elegant. The pavilion is constructed of unfinished wood and is open to the weather, but tea was made at a beautiful black lacquer tenchaban (table). We enjoyed the sound of rain falling on the pond and the view of the garden up the hill to the Upper House.

Tea at the large Upper House, with an elevated perspective of the pond and garden, was less intimate but equally enjoyable. The room was arranged gyakugatte (reversed) so that guests would get the best view of utensils and procedure. Teishu was nervous, but remained composed and performed the temae with grace. All guests were treated to haiken of a particularly handsome natsume that had been signed by Tantansai (1893-1964), Urasenke's 14th generation Grand Tea Master, and purchased by the sensei at a Bay Area antique store.

Wisteria Pavilion Tenchaban
Teishu readies natsume and chashaku
for haiken at the Upper House
Rain continued all day, but spirits were never dampened. Guests commented that the rain made the garden more beautiful by washing away dust and heightening the color of trees and moss. I was glad to see Hakone Garden in this way -- it reminded me of gardens I had seen in Japan under similar conditions.

I stopped in the gift shop at the end of the day, after absorbing as much rain and garden views as I could, expecting only to purchase a souvenir. While browsing, I overheard a conversation between three other tea guests. Two women asked a man how he came to the tea ceremony; he explained his love of Japanese culture and the tea ceremony. After they parted, I made a point of telling him how much I enjoyed listening to his tea philosophy. We chatted about how much we both enjoyed tea ceremony and the daichakai. He remarked about how a the weather that day had inspired him to reflect on ao arashi (green storm) -- a familiar name for matcha and the best description of the day.

See more photos at my Picasa album and here

Friday, October 22, 2010

More from Tea Practice

 Chabana is marigolds, grasses and cilantro seed pods.

For sweets, we removed sticks from kurumi dango (bite-sized walnut-and-white-bean-paste-filled mochi) and placed them on bamboo leaves. Pia thought they looked like little snails, so we cut the bamboo leaf to make antennae. Very seasonal: Since the rains have begun we have lots of tiny snails in the garden.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October Tea Ceremony Demonstration

Blueberry (foliage), grasses, California poppy, yarrow and acuba
This month's Chado demonstration was Sunday, Oct. 10. We had expectations of low- to no turnout, but we thought that if no one showed up we could make a bowl of tea for ourselves then pack up and go home. To our delight we had six people attend (best attendance yet!), including a friend and two Chinese tourists who were passing by.

Harvey-sensei talked about guest etiquette, and how to receive and appreciate a bowl of tea. Our guests had many questions, which he enjoyed answering.

In order to enjoy the upcoming holiday season we are putting off our our next tea gathering until January. We will post the date and time when confirmed. 

Holly prepping in the mizuya

Ready for guests

Thursday, October 7, 2010

This week's chabana

This week's flower arrangement brought to you by Laura: River lily arranged with grasses and columbine foliage.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Chabana of the week

Kristin arranged this week's chabana: huckleberry, penstemon and Japanese maple with red samara (the winged seeds of the maple tree).

Everything has shomen

At a recent Tea practice, I lent Pia my keiko-gi. I thought it would be good practice for her, but when she had trouble putting her fukusa through the loop at the waistband we discovered she'd put it on inside out and the waistband loops were on the inside. Sensei took that opportunity to point out that everything has shomen -- a front, or face -- including keiko-gi.

Two bowls for usucha (thin tea) with decoration
that makes shomen easy to recognize.

Shomen is not an entirely foreign concept for Westerners but we might not see that everything has shomen. Tea bowls often have a decoration or glaze that makes recognizing shomen easy, however a tea bowl without a conspicuous "front" also has shomen. For example, the glaze and shape of a black raku bowl appear uniform to the untrained eye, and one might think that one side is as good as any other. Even though it appears to be uniform this type of bowl does indeed have shomen. The host will examine a bowl closely to determine shomen, and will present it toward the guest. This is out of respect for both utensil and guest.

A 16th century black Raku-ware chawan
(Tokyo National Museum)

Guests also honor the host and utensil by acknowledging shomen. When drinking tea, a guest will rotate the bowl so shomen faces away, then turn it back to appreciate the bowl and shomen. When returning the bowl to the host, the bowl is turned yet again so that shomen faces the host.

Making tea in a bowl without obvious shomen can be a challenge for the host. Without a mark or decoration, the host must be well-practiced -- and have trust and confidence in her practice, as well -- so that when she presents her guest with their bowl of tea, her guests may appreciate the shomen of the beautiful chawan.