Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Three Sounds, Two Inspections

One of our county's favorite holiday events is a large arts and crafts fair, Hum Arts, held at the local Fairgrounds. The fair features live music, good food and four exhibit halls filled with beautiful hand-crafted works, just in time for Christmas. Or Hannukah. Or Saturnalia. The fair has been held for so long (I think we've missed going only once or twice in its twenty-plus year tenure) and, as a shopper, I know just where to find particular artists: The garlic braid wreath people are in the small hall next to the grandstand. The sweet, elderly couple selling roasted nuts are at the back of another smallish building on the other side of the grandstand. Several friends and acquaintances have booths in the big hall, selling paintings, prints, tile work, painted silks and pottery. Over the years, we have collected work from several local pottery artists who set up their booths in this particular hall.

I have to admit to a certain acquisitiveness when it comes to vases and bowls, perhaps because they're versatile and widely available in a variety of shapes and materials (we recently purchased a bowl at a retail store that was clearly a product of mass production and  intended to be used as dinnerware; some of my favorite vases are thrift shop finds). And although I enjoy purchasing pottery from galleries, thrift stores and tea shops, buying directly from the artist -- either at a craft fair or a studio -- gives us a unique opportunity to connect through the artist to the individual work of art. Recently, this relationship provided us with a fascinating lesson in pottery and the Way of Tea.

Those who study Cha-no-yu have been taught that during tea whisk inspection, or chasen toshi, the bamboo whisk is dropped on the rim of the bowl from a very short distance (a centimeter or less) which produces a clinking sound. As the whisk is raised, turned and inspected, it is dropped three times at the beginning of the ceremony. We learned this as, "Three sounds, two inspections." (As the ceremony ends, only two sounds are made.) Each type of pottery makes a characteristic sound -- for instance, porcelain can produce a high, clear ringing sound. We're instructed to never drop the whisk on a raku bowl, however, since the pottery is porous, fragile and easily chipped.

It was at this year's Hum Arts fair that Laura purchased a chawan from one of these local pottery artists: a rich, red-brown wood-fired bowl with a classic straight-sided shape and inviting texture. Naturally, she wanted to use it during practice the following week. I can hardly find the words to describe our reaction to the sound the bowl made during chasen toshi: Surpirse? Amazement? Fear? The sound it made was not a clear ring or high-pitched "tink" as we're used to hearing in other high-fired pottery, it was more of a "tank" or "thunk." Laura froze at that first sound, and we looked about at each other, eyes wide, silently questioning whether she should allow the whisk to make that kind of contact with the rim of her new tea bowl. Did we misunderstand the firing of this bowl? Was it indeed "high-fired" pottery? Or was it more like raku? Harvey-sensei contacted the artist with our questions that night after practice.  As we're occasionally in contact with him, I expected that we'd get a reply but what followed was beyond our expectation:

 "Raku bowls are earthenware, which is a low-temperature clay, and it is fired and cooled very fast. The result is a ceramic that is not very dense, hence its relatively low thermal conductivity compared to high-fired wares -- easy to hold when containing hot liquid. In the case of raku ware, the lack of density is the characteristic responsible for the sound when struck. During the firing of earthenware clays, elements that melt basically glue the other bits together, which results in a certain degree of strength, but nowhere near that of high-fired clays -- and the vitrification (melted stuff) is brittle and therefore easy to crack and chip.

"During the firing of stoneware and porcelain, the silica in the clay forms cristobalite crystals, which interlock and give the ceramic a much greater strength. The interlocking crystals are structurally similar to many rocks and minerals, and so the name stoneware is descriptive. Ever higher temperatures do not necessarily mean greater durability, however. As clays are fired to the upper ends of their normal firing range they become more and more vitrified, more glass-like. If high-fire clays were to be put into a very high temperature industrial furnace, they could eventually be melted into glass, and glass is quite strong but not very resistant to shock.

"All of my work is high-fired stoneware and porcelain, and it is fired into the hotter end of its normal firing range. Compared to industrially-made dinnerware that you would find in a department store, for example, my pottery is robust and durable. It chips less readily than most commercial dinnerware. I have microwaved food in my bowls for many years and have never yet had one crack, so my pots consistently demonstrate a very good resistance to thermal shock. However, I do not put my very favorite pieces in the microwave because I do perceive a potential for risk -- I have never done any empirical testing on the limits of my pots to thermal shock. Also, of course, if a thin rim gets knocked against something breakage is possible. The potters' perspective here is that people break pots in normal everyday life, and then we get to make more.

"As to whether a pot makes a ringing clink or a duller clunk, several factors are involved. The composition of the clay, the temperature of firing, and the form (shape of pot and wall thickness) all contribute to the sonic qualities of the pot when struck. I personally enjoy pots that have bell-like qualities, and I flick my fingernail against the rims of all of my pots because I enjoy the sound and I am curious about the differences. The sonic nature of Laura's teabowl does not indicate the structural characteristics of raku ware, rather something that derives from the combination of the various factors just mentioned. I strongly doubt that dropping a bamboo whisk into the bowl would crack the clay structurally. I do not remember whether the bowl that she bought is the one with splashes of melted ash drips in it. If it is, I would caution you folks that those drips are glass-like, and are therefore more brittle than the bowl in general. [We] have quite a few cups and bowls with ash drips in everyday use, including the microwave, pouring in of boiling water, etc, and this normal use has had no negative effect on the drips -- but we have never dropped anything into our pottery.

"If you are curious about the durability of raku ware compared to stoneware there is an easy test. At a second-hand shop buy any really cheap stoneware bowl (50 cents?) and an earthenware bowl (any Mexican or Italian painted pot will be earthenware) of similar thickness. Then drop a ball bearing into each one from the same height, gradually increasing the height with each drop until they break. The results should give you useful information regarding whisk-dropping into different types of pots."

My next trip to a thrift store will be to find a cheap stoneware bowl instead of a vase.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Haikai no Renga Poetry Party

We recently discovered what a wonderful party game Haikai no Renga is! A form of linked poetry, renga is linked verse poetry composed by two or more authors. Here is a sampling of some verses composed by a dozen or so of our guests at Harvey-sensei's birthday party:

White birds flying high
whispers from the southern wind
life beyond the fence

Grace notes; a gift from the sky
Pure white droplets from above

lights bright from above
the streets don't sleep anymore
just rain sometimes veils

Sleeping -- sleeping -- I can't sleep
It's 3 a.m. I'm awake …

 Just like sake in our cups, the verses flowed freely. The full poems and more thoughts about our renga party are posted here at

Friday, November 11, 2011

Water Basin

forgotten ladle
basin purifies with song
shadow leaves bamboo

--Harvey II

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Are you sick my dear?
No, it's just the mountain frogs.
I really like tea.

-- Harvey II

Monday, October 24, 2011

Patterns and Ideas

"When you return the natsume, move your hand around the chawan in a 'j.' Ah, no, no, no." Then an inhalation and pause. She takes hold of my hand. "Not across the chawan, see. Around it. Like this." Her hand moves my hand around the tea bowl in an arc, tracing a "j" from bottom to top, to replace the tea container in its original location.

As it was taking form in my mind, she anticipated my next question: If we're concerned with economy of movement, being still, being simple, direct, why then would we not return the natsume to its place via the most direct path? Without me asking, she answered, "If you move your hand over the bowl when you return the natsume, your sleeve may drag across it and spill the tea."

My next question was forming. I was wearing a T-shirt.

"Your kimono sleeve."

In those early lessons, Hirose Sensei made me aware of how body movement in the tea ceremony is influenced by the traditional garment of Japan, the kimono. My natural stride, hand gestures, arm and torso movements were suddenly confined in a narrow garment with hanging sleeves and bound by a wide, stiff belt. I had to learn to take small steps and bow from my hips while keeping my back straight. And above all, be aware of those sleeves! Hold it back with one hand when reaching with the other to keep it from knocking over utensils or worse, catching fire from the charcoal in the brazier. Although I felt like an unsteady child learning to walk, the kimono worked its magic. It cast a spell over me with beautiful brocades and sensitive colors. It wooed me with silk. Tempted me with textures. I fell in love.

Like many a young romance, the kimono and I drifted apart. We went our separate ways for many years but I never lost my love for it, or for textiles in general. Recently the flame has been rekindled. I'm once again under its spell but I look back on those years apart with some regret. I would know so much now about kimono and Japanese textiles had I just kept studying! So we pick up where we left off, move forward, taking baby steps and learning as we grow.

Indeed, I've learned as I have grown, but I've also learned that I have grown. Yes, I'm older and wiser (have plenty of gray hair to prove it), but my girth is considerably girthier than it was when Hirose Sensei first wrapped me up in a kimono and obi more than 20 years ago. The kimono, on the other hand, has remained the same. It does not come in a size 14 with relaxed fit. It is not sold prêt-à-porter at Macy's. It comes in one-size-fits-some and is made in Japan.

I own or have access to several kimono, but none of them fit me properly. When I wear them, I find myself distracted by constant fussing to keep the thing closed, but inevitably it shifts and gaps and soon my lovely kimono has betrayed me. Attention diverted, concentration gone, tea practice sidetracked. That each of these kimono is a one-of-a-kind garment -- and in my mind, irreplaceable -- has kept me from altering any of them. I lived with them as they were. I wished for a body the shape of a cylinder, of an idealized Japanese woman.

But another of the things I've learned as I've grown (metaphorically now) is that while the Japanese people come in various shapes and sizes too, with round hips and tummies, it doesn't keep them from wanting -- and, for the most part, achieving -- that ideal figure. Their secrets include, but are not limited to, padding the hollow of the back with towels, binding down a large bust, and altering their kimono to fit. I had long resisted altering my kimono, but it was becoming increasingly clear that this was an untenable situation. It took a combination of experience, frustration, encouragement and nudge from an experienced textile designer to get me to take a chance.

The nudge came from John Marshall, a winsome man from rural Mendocino County in Northern California, a world-renowned textile artist, expert dyer and all-around nice guy. We met him at a textile arts fair last month where he sold assorted Japanese garments, yarns, gold thread (14 karat, straight from Kyoto), books, patterns and accessories. He was comfortably attired in linen kimono and haori, and we immediately struck up conversation. Actually, it wasn't so much conversation as it was us peppering the poor man with questions about where he buys his kimono, if he has retail shop or sells online. We explained have a hard time finding kimono that fit (pat the tummy) and we're always shopping -- and, oh, by the way, where did you get your kimono? What? You made it?

It turned out that he studied Japanese garment construction (among other Japanese textile arts), and if we wanted to learn more we should read his book, Make Your Own Japanese Clothes. (Read it? We own two copies! And if we come back to the fair tomorrow, would you autograph it?) Then the nudge, advice that caused me cancel my never-alter-the-kimono policy on the spot: he simply pointed out what seams generally have extra allowance and can be let out easily, without deconstructing the entire garment.

Kimono, can we give it one more try?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hakone Daichakai 2011

This is the second year we attended the Daichakai, a multidisciplinary tea gathering at Hakone Japanese Gardens in Saratoga, Calif. The garden is the perfect setting for sharing tea. Lots and lots and lots of tea!

Guests enjoy the scroll and flower arrangement one last time before leaving the tea room. (Lower House Roji)

Chabako temae, Wisteria Pavilion

Signature inside the lid of the natsume, Cultural Exchange Center.

See more photos here
And here
Read about last year's event here

A Different Type of Tea Ceremony

High tea at Lovejoy's Tea Room in Florence, Oregon. Listen to Judith -- that woman knows tea.

Scones, cream and jam
A rich black tea with a dash of cream

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Recent Chabana

We try to snap a photo of our chabana at Okeiko each week, but I haven't been very good about posting. Here are some recent chabana.

Tea ceremony demonstration, Aug. 21, 2011
red twig dogwood, ornamental oregano
and a crocosmia leaf in a Bizen pottery vase.
Aug. 30, 2011 -- chrysanthemum, acuba and cilantro
in a vase made by a Mendocino County potter
Sept. 6, 2011 -- chrysanthemum, hebe, ornamental oregano,
crab grass and poppy pod in a basket
Sept. 6, 2011 -- Japanese maple and cilantro
in a cylindrical
black pottery vase
Sept. 20, 2011 by Laura -- hebe and unknown landscape shrub
in Mendocino pottery vase
Sept. 13, 2011 by Laura -- hydrangea, loosestrife (?),
and cilantro in a Japanese pottery vase

Sept. 27, 2011 by Holly & Kristin --
fuchsia and spirea foliage in a hanging basket

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Harvest Moon

A harvest Moon!
And on the mats—
Shadows of pine boughs.
–Takarai Kikaku,
Japanese poet (1661

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Broken Tea Bowl

"Dad," the boy asked his father, "Do you remember that story you told me about the samurai that broke a famous tea bowl?"

"Yes," his father replied.

The boy continued, "And how even though the samurai were all very brave, they didn't think that a samurai should die on account of a broken tea bowl?"

"Yes,"his father replied again, warily drawing out the word.

"That's good, 'cause I don't want you to be angry about this." As he spoke, the boy reluctantly revealed his father's black raku bowl, cracked into two ragged pieces.

That bowl belonged to our first sensei, Professor Lloyd Fulton, who passed away ten years ago this month.

:: :: ::

The story goes like this:

Kato Kiyomasa and the Broken Tea Bowl 
Once when Kato Kiyomasa was going to give a party for Cha-no-yu he brought out a famous Tea-bowl and put it in the Tokonoma. This bowl his pages took up and passed round to examine it, when one of them let it drop and broke it. They were much dismayed at this accident, but as befitted the sons of distinguished warriors they bound themselves not to reveal the culprit whatever might happen. After a while Kiyomasa came in and when he saw the broken bowl his face darkened. "Who broke that?" he demanded, "You must know, so you had better say." But no one answered a word. Kato's expression grew more fierce, "You young men are a lot of cowards. Behaviour like this is a slur on the name of your fathers, however brave they may be!"
Then one of the pages named Kato Heizaburo, a boy of fourteen, looking straight into the face of Kiyomasa, asked him; "And why is it that you say we are cowards who bring shame on our fathers' name?" "The reason you will not tell the name of the one who broke the tea bowl is because you are afraid he will be condemned to commit seppuku, I suppose," retorted Kiyomasa, growing even more wroth, "And what is a coward but one who fears for his life?"

"Among us," replied Heizaburo calmly, "there is not one who is afraid to die. But the reason why we do not wish to say who broke the Tea-bowl is because we do not think it right that one of ourselves, who certainly is of some use, should suffer anything on account of  a Tea-bowl however famous, which can well be done without. In keeping the peace of the Empire of what use can a tea utensil be? But if an enemy should attack us now we should at once hasten to repel him and to protect our province, holding our lives of no account whatever and willingly throwing them away in defence of our lord and his domains. So however great a treasure a Tea-bowl may be, is it in reason to consider it worth the life of even one of us?" "That is true, admitted Kiyomasa, overcome with admiration at this clear and logical defence, "you are a fine lot of young fellows. You may become even better warriors than your fathers but you certainly will not be worse. Yes, you are well worthy of my trust." And he said no more about the Tea-bowl or the one who had broken it.

-- from Cha-No-Yu The Japanese Tea Ceremony by A.L. Sadler

Japanese Bowl

Tea Bowl -- repaired. Lacquer and gold leaf,
Freer Gallery
, Washington, DC. 
Photo by Flickr user ghbrett, Creative Commons license.

I’m like one of those Japanese bowls
That were made long ago
I have some cracks in me
They have been filled with gold

That’s what they used back then
When they had a bowl to mend
It did not hide the cracks
It made them shine instead

So now every old scar shows
From every time I broke
And anyone’s eyes can see
I’m not what I used to be

But in a collector’s mind
All of these jagged lines
Make me more beautiful
And worth a much higher price

I’m like one of those Japanese bowls
I was made long ago
I have some cracks you can see
See how they shine of gold

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ganbare Nihon! Media Exhibit

We attended the exhibit of the Ganbare Nihon! tsunami relief project this weekend. The photographs and multimedia presentation were incredibly moving.

Coordinator Fukiko Marshall and journalism student
Ashley Ward speak with guests at the exhibit.
This show will be up only from Sept. 2–7 at the Vance Hotel, 521 2nd Street (corner of Second and G streets) in Eureka's Old Town from 11:30 a.m.– 7 p.m.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Ganbare Nihon Project

Ganbare Nihon! is a media exhibition of tsunami disaster/relief in Japan. The exhibit features photos and videos by Fukiko Marshall and three students from Humboldt State University who traveled to Japan last spring.

This show will be up only for a short time
from Sept. 2–7 at the Vance Hotel, 521 2nd Street, in Eureka's Old Town from 11:30 a.m.– 7 p.m. The opening reception is during Arts Alive! Saturday Sept. 3, 6–9:00 p.m. 


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Putting Together

Ever get the feeling that somebody is sending you a message? In the space of a week, Harvey found these passages in books he was reading:

When Coleridge tried to define beauty, he returned always to one deep thought; beauty, he said, is unity in variety! Science is nothing else than the search to discover unity in the wild variety of nature, — or, more exactly, in the variety of our experience. Poetry, painting, the arts are the same search, in Coleridge’s phrase, for unity in variety.

— J. Bronowski, Science and Human Values, Pelican 1964

All design is synthesis — composition — the putting of forms together so that they conform to a demand which is made by the eye and the mind. Why this demand is made by the eye and the mind it will not profit us to inquire. But the demand asserts itself at every turn in life’s affairs. It is based upon some adoration of Order amongst Variety.
All people arrange things in orderly fashion. To do so is one of the most general of human actions. People can therefore be trusted, when they arrange, to arrange orderly.
Design is conscious arrangement. Spite of the objection that it sure to be raised by those critics who, not being producers, delight to find some paradoxical impasse to block the efforts of others — spite of their complaint that art must be artless, one repeats, what every productive artist knows, that design is conscious arrangement.

— Richard G. Hatton, The Craftsmen’s Plant-Book, 1909. Republished as Handbook of Plant and Floral Ornament from Early Herbals, Dover Publications 1960.

Toriawase means "taking and putting together." It is a guiding principle in many Japanese arts. For example, in haiku the poet attempts to unite two themes separated by kireji or a "cutting word." In chado, the host strives to put together utensils in such a way that, however different in appearance or mood, they unite in harmony without repetition or artifice.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

July Tea Ceremony Demonstration

In July, we demonstrated chabako for a small but appreciative audience. Since the ceremony is meant to be performed outdoors, chabako is affectionately known as "picnic tea" but we routinely practice the procedure indoors.

We were able to enjoy chabako outdoors several times last year. I hope we have a chance to have tea outdoors soon, before summer ends.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chabako Okeiko

We reviewed chabako temae for our Tea Ceremony demonstration this Sunday.
Harvey-sensei and Laura practice chabako together

Since the ceremony is meant to be performed outdoors, chabako is affectionately known as "picnic tea" but we routinely practice the procedure indoors.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


"I think we should have a tea ceremony for the unemployed. But you have to leave your resume and work worries at the door. Kind of like the way samurai had to leave their swords at the door." 

-- posted on the LinkedIn Japanese Tea Ceremony discussion board

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Chop Wood, Fire Pottery

It's an apparently simple process: chop wood, boil water, make tea. Tea bowls also appear simple, but we learned recently their simplicity belies their making.

We met pottery artist Thomas Fossier a couple years ago at an arts and crafts fair, and were quite taken by his tea bowls. We struck up a conversation, shared anecdotes about travel in Japan and invited him to learn about Tea with us. One of our friends bought a bowl from him at that craft fair, and several of us went in together on a bowl to give to our Sensei in Japan when we visited her last spring.

Thomas brought several tea bowls to our May Tea Ceremony demonstration fresh from a firing at a friend's kiln in Oregon. The bowls were lovely, and it was wonderful to be able to share tea with the artist and his creation. Thomas told us he was building a kiln of his own, and invited us to come see it when it was finished. The type of kiln he was building is anagama, the traditional wood-fired kiln of Japan. (Wikipedia has a much better explanation than I could write, Typical anagama kilns have a single chamber; Thomas designed his with two chambers, the upper chamber at a right angle to the lower chamber. Stoking the fire is done primarily through the lower chamber.

Thomas Fossier's kiln
Last weekend we got a message that he was firing up his kiln. He began firing early on a Friday morning. When we arrived around 6:00 that evening the kiln was glowing merrily.

Pots can be seen glowing inside the kiln
as wood is added "shotgun style" to the firebox.
We thought it looked merry, but that wasn't necessarily the case. Thomas had been struggling with the kiln all day. He explained that when he began firing that morning, the weather was cool and overcast, even a little foggy, and the kiln temperatures climbed as expected each time he stoked the firebox. But kiln temperatures plateaued as the day warmed, skies cleared and the fog burned off. It seemed that no matter what variety or how much wood was fed into the firebox temperatures hovered, climbing or dropping by a few degrees, but not even approaching the 1400°C that was needed to fire the pottery and create the surface glazing and textures he desired.

The reason? Thomas theorized that it might have been high barometric pressure, or "thick air" as he characterized it, kept the kiln from drawing in air and starved the fire of oxygen. Regardless, in the two hours we spent with him the kiln's temperature hovered around 750°C, never making the dramatic leaps of temperature he anticipated with each stoking.

Thomas and his friend Scott, also a pottery artist,
stoke the firebox with scrap wood from local
musical instrument makers.
Scott and Thomas' wife Suzanne watch
for smoke from the chimney -- a sign
that the kiln is drawing properly.
Thermometers register cool temperatures from
rear (top thermometer) and front chambers

The next morning we received an email that Thomas ended his firing at 7:00 that morning, "having gotten just above red heat throughout the kiln and too exhausted to go any farther." He never really figured out the problem but chalked it up to the learning curve. What will he do with the half-fired pottery? Most likely he'll close up the kiln, cover up the firewood and wait till autumn and cooler weather.

Green Tea Cola

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Starry Flowers

Star-shaped campanula flowers
in anticipation of Tanabata
23 June 2011

June Tea Demonstration

Our June Tea Ceremony demonstration of furo usucha was for three lovely people, one of whom studies chado with the sensei of a mutual friend in the Omotesenke school (we study Urasenke style). As is usual, Harvey-sensei narrated and answered questions while we students demonstrated the temae.

As I brought in the utensils to do the demonstration, I realized we had forgotten to place a tea scoop on the bowl so I brought it in with the kensui (waste-water bowl) and hishaku (water ladle) -- kensui and hishaku in left hand as usual, but with the scoop alone in my right hand (normally the tea bowl, whisk, scoop and chakin -- a small linen cloth -- are brought in together with the tea container ahead of the kensui). After the demonstration, our guest asked if it was customary in the Urasenke tradition to bring in the scoop in that fashion. We all had a good laugh at our mistake!

Chabana in a sake bottle: veronica, cotoneaster,
ornamental oregano, buttercup and miniature rhododendron

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Hot Tea

Last week, shipment of tea was banned from four prefectures near the failed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant due to high levels of radiation:
The government banned on Thursday the shipment of green tea leaves grown in four prefectures in eastern Japan after samples were found contaminated with radioactive cesium above the permitted level.

The shipment ban covers tea leaves, including dried leaves in a processing stage, harvested in parts of Tochigi, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures and all of Ibaraki Prefecture, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said.
-- Mainichi Daily News (Mainichi Japan) June 3, 2011
Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has mandated testing of all tea throughout Japan. Shizuoka declares it's tea to have acceptable radiation limits, and websites for tea producers in the Kyoto/Uji regions (1) (2) also state that their tea is safe. While these and other tea-producing regions of Japan may not share the fate of those in the banned areas, it is certain that this ban will increase radiation fears as well as create a tea shortage and higher prices.

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

"Carefully look at nature, including insects. It's a way of life."
-- From Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

What sounded like a Saturday monster movie matinee turned out to be a charming and thoughtful examination of the relationship of insects and Japanese people and culture. A must-see for lovers of Asian culture and insects alike:
"Like a detective story, the film untangles the web of influences behind Japan’s captivation with insects. It opens in modern-day Tokyo where a single beetle recently sold for $90,000 then slips back to the early 1800s, to the first cricket-selling business and the development of haiku and other forms of insect literature and art. Through history and adventure, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo travels all the way back in time to stories of the fabled first emperor who named Japan the 'Isle of the Dragonflies.'"
 Visit the website and view the trailer here:

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Kissa Yōjōki

On the memorial day of Eisai,
Higashiyama is awash
with the steam and aroma of tea
-- Seisei

portrait of Eisai
Myōan Eisai, 1141–1215

To say there would be no tea in Japan without Eisai might be an overstatement, but there can be no question that the Zen monk was vital to Japanese tea culture and the Way of Tea. Eisai brought tea seeds to Japan in 1191 when he returned from studying Chan (Zen) Buddhism in China. Through his gift of the brown nutlike seeds, tea plantings were established in Chikuzen (Kyushu), Toganō (near Kobe), Kyōto and Uji, and soon tea cultivation flourished in Japan.

Eisai promoted tea as “… miraculous medicine for health and an elixir for long life" in his book Kissa Yōjōki (How to Stay Healthy by Drinking Tea) written after his second trip to China. He popularized tea drinking with the samurai class when he demonstrated to the Shogun the efficacy of tea as a hangover remedy. In 1202, Eisai founded Kennin-ji, Kyōto’s first Zen temple.

He died on July 5, but his memorial service is now held on June 5. He is celebrated as a benefactor of the Way of Tea by the grand tea master of the Urasenke tradition at Kennin-ji.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tea Demo, May 22

On Sunday we hosted eight lovely guests at the Ink People Center for the Arts for a lively tea ceremony demonstration.

First, Harvey-sensei demonstrated furo-usucha, with Holly and area potter Thomas Fossier as okyaku, then Holly made usucha for other guests -- two at a time -- while Harvey answered questions. It was lovely to see familiar faces and meet interesting new people.

The highlight of the day was Thomas' new chawan, fresh from a firing in Oregon last month. He's in the process of building his own kiln, which means  (we hope!) that we'll be seeing more of his beautiful work.

Chawan made by Humboldt County potter, Thomas Fossier

We used roll-up mats for our 'chashitsu' --
lightweight and portable, but impossibly wrinkly

Information table and chabana

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Earthquake Relief Tea Ceremony

The Northern California Region of the Omotesenke Domonkai will host an East Japan Great Earthquake Relief Fund Chakai on Sunday May 22, 2011.

All proceeds from this Chakai will be donated to the disaster victims.

Nichibei-Kai 3rd Floor, Kanso’an
1759 Sutter St.
San Francisco, California


Usucha (thin tea) Seating #1 @ 12 Noon
Usucha Seating #2 @ 1 PM
Usucha Seating #3 @ 2 PM
Usucha Seating #4 @ 3 PM

All seatings will consist of 10 guests in the tearoom and 15 guests at the Ryurei (table) sitting.
Please select your desired seating and style (tearoom/table) with your application.


$20 or more per person as a donation


Make checks to: Omotesenke Domonkai
Mail to: Takako Ueda
1104 Potomac Way
Modesto, CA 95355

For information contact Ueda Takako at:
Phone: 209-521-5782

Monday, May 9, 2011

Official (but belated) Boy's Day post

Tango no Sekku, Boy's Day
Chabana by Laura

New Beginning Gamelan Class this Summer

Gamelan Sekkar Sequoia
New beginning Gamelan community music class:
Three Sundays (June 12, 19, 26) -- from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at Sharon's house in Arcata (11th & D).  Cost for the session: $20.

No previous music experience necessary, no long term commitment required, no performance expectations (unless you join the performing group!). 

All learning is hands on, without notation. 

Sharon is delighted also to report that she recently acquired some new instruments which are particularly easy for beginners -- kenong (very big pots), kempul (medium sized gongs), ketuk/kempyang, and demung.  ("Colotomics" for you music theory types -- well, except for the demung).

Please give Sharon a heads up (via comment to this post) if you or anyone you know would be interested in joining the class.

Terima kasih ("thank you" in Indonesian)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

12th Annual Hakone Matsuri

At Hakone Gardens, Saratoga, California
Sunday, May 15, 2011, 11 AM – 4 PM

A yearly event to enjoy mouth-watering chicken yakitori and other dishes, musical and dance performances, a silent auction and various other cultural events. Admission is free.

Highlights of the Event

Program: Mochi Pounding Performance, Tea Ceremony, Tsugaru Shamisen, Koto and Flute Performance, Japanese Kimono/Obi demonstration, Shorinji Kempo, Flower Arrangement, Okinawa Dance, Children's games. Silent Auction: includes round trip air tickets to Japan, electronic gadgets, Kimonos. Foods: Chicken Yakitori, Gyoza, Kagami Biraki, sake tasting, and more.

Supported by Consulate General of Japan, San Francisco

Parking: Free parking at the Saratoga High School, 20300, 20300 Herriman Ave., Saratoga. Take free shuttle buses to Hakone. Hakaone Parking is $15 per vehicle and upon availability.

Happy Tango no Sekku!

Boy's Day Tea Ceremony.
Flower arrangement of irises by Laura. Re-arrangement by Nikko.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Achieving a Happy State of Vagueness

"Georgio and I got back very late last night. Our dinner of eels lasted a long time, we drank more sake, and reached that happy state of vagueness about the exact relations of spatial co-ordinates that leads to the opening of hearts."

-- Fosco Maraini
 Meeting With Japan

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pinkies Up!

Tea creates a convivial atmosphere wherein we make new friends. One such friend is Stephanie, a lovely lady who has come to our monthly Japanese Tea Ceremony demonstrations. She invited us to an English tea party in celebration of England's Prince William's wedding to Katherine Middleton.

With pinkies extended, we enjoyed her hospitality with "cheering, jeering and a great smearing of jams" on home-made English muffins while tipping back cups of black tea. There were some familiar faces. We enjoyed making some new friends and reconnected with a woman who studied Cha-no-yu with us more than 20 years ago. What a wonderful afternoon!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Google Doodles celebrates significant anniversaries and holidays from around the world with Google Doodles. Here are some we collected from earlier this year.

Mar 03, 2011 Girl's Day - (Japan)

Feb 28, 2011 Li Bai's Birthday - (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan)

Feb 26, 2011 100th Birthday of Taro Okamoto - (Japan)

Feb 17, 2011 Lantern Festival - (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan)

Feb 12, 2011 Naomi Uemura's 70th Birthday - (Japan)

Feb 03, 2011 Lunar New Year's - (China, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan)

Jan 20, 2011 Birthday of Takayanagi Kenjiro - (Japan)

Jan 10, 2011 Coming of Age Day - (Japan)