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
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