Monday, December 27, 2010

Tōji: Winter Solstice

image of full moon seen through pine trees

Clear, cold winter night
Bright lantern hangs from a branch
Full moon through the pines

November and December have been busy months for us. We missed having our monthly demonstrations, but with Holidays, birthdays, teaching and a Chaji it was good that we postponed them until January.

It is so easy to get swept up in life’s busy pace -- holiday parties, wrapping gifts, grocery shopping -- that it is difficult to remember what is important. No matter how busy, this time of year invites reflection as well as celebration, to take a moment to remember the year behind us. For us, this year has been rich and full of experience. In the spring, Harvey-Sensei was able to further his studies with Hirose-Sensei in Tokyo. Horiai Center enjoyed a summertime visit from our friend/teacher/colleague Matsui-Sensei and her good friend Naito-san. We were their tour guides on California’s beautiful North Coast; with us they shared many things, including tea ceremonies, cooking and kimono dressing. In the autumn we began monthly Tea Ceremony demonstrations at the Ink People Center for the Arts.

Now here we are in winter, pausing quietly for just a moment -- feeling Nature pause with us -- as we enter the New Year with anticipation of what can be, with hearts full of gratitude.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shop Local

When we first began to study Chanoyu we had no Japanese utensils to practice with. We weren't going to let our lack of dogu keep us from learning the Tea Ceremony, though. We resolved to practice using household objects to substitute for dogu: a stock pot in place of the kama, a soup ladle for the hishaku, a spoon for chashaku and so forth. We arranged them on our living room floor and practiced until our knees ached. We learned our temae, but perhaps more importantly, we learned that to study Chanoyu we needed only a few simple tools and a willing spirit. It was in this spirit that Harvey-sensei gave us a homework assignment: "Find a Western (non-Japanese) object that will function as dogu for usucha-temae and bring it to practice."

::  ::  ::

Throughout its history, Japan experienced tides of influence, mostly from China and Korea. In between periods of openness and acceptance of foreign culture, Japan would isolate itself and its own culture would develop with minimal outside influence, sometimes for a generation or more. While picking and choosing bits of foreign culture that best suited them, the Japanese became masters of cultural synthesis.

During a period of openness, during China's Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), precious objets d'art were imported in quantity from China and Korea. Shoguns and wealthy collectors amassed these objects, but without discrimination. In the 14th century, during Japan's medieval period, collectors became aware of the need to evaluate their art collections and establish authenticity and provenance. The shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) himself acted as an appraiser. He and later shoguns employed doboshu, culture ministers or "commissioners for Chinese goods," to appraise artwares -- much like on today's TV show, "Antiques Roadshow." Doboshu were often artists in their own right, and they furthered the thriving art market in the trade of Chinese and Korean wares. Tea gatherings during this time were of the aristocratic and formal shoin style, held in reception halls and featured imported wares elaborately displayed in a cabinet or on shelves or a daisu (a large stand).

In the decades that followed, artistic sensibilities turned from shoin style formality toward the informality of the soan or "grass hut" style of Tea. This trend was the foundation of the wabicha (rustic tea) sensibility. Soan chanoyu and wabicha were further developed and promoted by Sen no Rikyu (1512-91), Grand Tea Master to two of Japan's most powerful warlords, Oda Nobunaga (1534-82) and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-98). Rikyu himself was a powerful and influential man, so much so that, it is widely believed, Hideyoshi eventually found disfavor with him and ordered his Tea Master to commit seppuku.

Daisu tea, said Rikyu, was "the basis of the chanoyu," that one must appreciate shoin style tea in order to appreciate wabicha. Regardless of this sentiment, Rikyu favored the use of domestic wares over imported Chinese objects in the soan chanoyu: rustic vases from native kilns, scrolls by Japanese artists, raku bowls inspired by local roof-tile makers. In promoting soan chanoyu he gave voice to Japanese craftsmen and artists, the medieval Japanese version of "shop local."

 ::  ::  ::

Our homework assignment resonates with this development of wabicha. It directs our attention away from imported Japanese wares to examine everyday objects and consider their utility in the chanoyu.

Laura brought an American dish for okashi

Here we use a bowl made by Humboldt County potter Mark Young. Laura also brought an Amish saffron container to use for a chaire and a container purchased at a second-hand store and made by an unknown pottery artist to use as a kensui.

My $1 Dollar Store hanaire with lily chabana looked
quite graceful until the flower opened up.

Further Reading

Chado, The Japanese Way fo Tea. Soshitsu Sen, Weatherhill/Tankosha, 1979.

Japanese Arts and the Tea Ceremony (Heibonsha Survey of Japanese Art, Vol. 15). T. Hayashiya, M. Nakamura and S. Hayashiya, Weatherhill/Heibonsha, New York/Tokyo, 1980.

Wind in the Pines, Classic Writings of the Way of Tea as a Buddhist Path. Dennis Hirota, Asian Humanities Press/Jain Publishing Co., 1995.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

November Chaji

November is a fine month for tea gatherings. It is the month of robiraki, opening the ro or sunken hearth, and of kuchikiri, opening of the new tea. Robiraki marks the beginning of the tea year; November is a solemn month.

November is also, it seems, a fine month for birthdays. So it's even better when we can combine the two. Harvey Sensei's birthday was the perfect opportunity for us to hold a chaji and wish him a wonderful and long life.

This chaji was a challenge -- our Sensei would not be with us, behind the scenes, to coach and direct us. We planned, prepared and performed to the best of our abilities. Our timing was not perfect (a little late here, a little hurried there) and there were a few overlooked details, but the tea was served with the truest of affection.

Game plan

We had a small army -- actually a platoon plus one -- cleaning, cooking, mending, orgainizing, arranging. Perhaps it's because we're inexperienced, but hosting a chaji does not seem like a solo act. We found it difficult with six people -- how is it that only one or two people can host a chaji? With more experience we might be able to answer that question.

:: :: :: 

Candle, kogo and chabana


KakemonoKan za matsu kaze o kiku, “Sit quietly and listen to the pine wind.”
Hanaire (flower container): a gift from Matsui Midori to Harvey on the occasion of our visit to her home
Chabana: early-blooming rhododendrons, chrysanthemum, blueberry foliage
Mizusahshi: porcelain with bamboo designs
Chashaku: Iori no Tomo, "Friend of the Tea Room"
Chaire: high-shouldered style, not named
Kogo: celadon porcelain with crane designs
Omochawan: black raku, a wedding gift from Hirose Sensei
Chamei: koicha and usucha given to us by Matsui-san
Okashi: "Long Life" yam-and-walnut manju, homemade by Annie
Natsume: red lacquer with origami crane design
Chawan:  porcelain, with "Hercules" constellation design, a birthday gift from Jeff Nelson
Higashi: seasonal, provided by Laura from Asakichi


Harvey, Tony and John


Holly, Laura, Annie, Kristin, Pia, Shana. Kristin made koicha; Laura made usucha.

Tenshin meal 

In the box: Gohan (rice) with sprinkle of red shiso; Asian pear slaw (salad, top left, recipe follows), tobiko (garnish, center), squid salad (bottom right); yakimono of marinated duck breast; konomono of takuan (top), kombu (middle), cucumbers (bottom). 

Misoshiru was served with a piece of butternut squash cut into hexagons (tortoiseshell shapes), garnished with hot Chinese mustard. 

Hassun was ginko nuts skewered on pine needles and locally-smoked albacore. 

Hashiarai was hot water with umeboshi. 

:: :: ::

Asian Pear Slaw

The salads in the tenshin were a huge hit. The squid salad came from our local Co-op, sold pre-packaged in the freezer section. I think we can come close to recreating it with a little experimentation (squid, ginger, sesame, broccoli rabe, green onion, seaweed of some variety, a pinch of red pepper, vinegar and sugar).

The Asian Pear Slaw recipe is from Gourmet magazine, Dec. 2000 edition. Gourmet is no longer in print, but recipes are still online. 

Gourmet | December 2000
Active time: 40 min Start to finish: 1 hr
Yield: Makes 6 servings
2 celery ribs
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
2 firm Asian pears, cut into 1/4-inch-thick matchsticks
2 scallions, thinly sliced diagonally
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh hot red chile, or to taste

Peel strings from celery with a Y-shaped vegetable peeler and cut celery into 1/4-inch-thick matchsticks.
Whisk together juice, vinegar, and ginger and stir in celery and remaining ingredients with salt and pepper to taste. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Gamelan Sekar Sequoia Performs in Arcata

Did you miss Gamelan Sekar Sequoia at November's Arts Alive! in Eureka? Fear not! Fill your ears with Gamelan goodness at Global Village, 973 H St., Arcata (one block off the Plaza), Friday, Dec. 17 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. FREE!