For your aural enjoyment: ~10 minutes (2.5 MB) of Ogg Vorbis audio from a recent walk through the Shimei branch 紫明店 of the Seisenkan Nakamura 生鮮館・なかむら Kyoto-area grocery chain, recorded on the evening of March 7, 2012 with my cell phone. You'll hear generic jazz-inspired background music, the beeps of barcode scanners at the checkouts, shouts of "Irasshaimase!" from the fishmonger, the catchy "o-niku suki suki" song emanating from a portable audio player in the meat department, and the occasional spoken phrase from a fellow customer or a cashier.

I'm a little late to the party here, but here's to a happy year of the dragon!
Ever since I got a camera small enough to tuck in my obi, I've been happy with my ability to photograph nearly any interesting thing I happen to see. But I often think I'd like to be able record and share audio snapshots of my experiences, too. I don't have any good audio recording equipment or know of any good audio-hosting/sharing resources, but here's a humble start on the endeavor, anyway: ~20 minutes (4.4 MB) of Ogg Vorbis audio from a recent ride on a Kyoto city bus, recorded with my cell phone (so, crappy quality). Nothing unusual happens in the course of the recording, which is exactly as I had intended. I don't expect it will interest most of my readers. You'll hear the bus driver making announcements in a drawn-out monotone that my classmates and I find amusing, pre-recorded announcements of the next stop name, and various audio indicators about opening and closing doors. If you're interested, enjoy. I find riding the bus here to be comfortable, even soothing, so I wanted to capture the sound of it as a personal memory.

a brocade

Nov. 21st, 2011 07:45 pm
foliage viewed from my dormitory room's balconyEven the almighty
gods of old
never knew
such beauty:
on the river Tatsuta
in autumn sunlight
a brocade—

reds flowing above,

blue water below.

[poem by Ariwara no Narihira; translation by Donald Keene]

千早ぶる
神代もきかず
龍田川
からくれないに
水くくるとは

在原業平朝臣

(This poem is part of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu.)
On Thursday, September 29, 2011, the three of us 1Bs hosted a Welcome Chakai for the four 1As at Urasenke's Chado Kaikan. (The 1Bs are the senpai, currently those of us who entered in April, while the 1As are currently the newer students who entered in September.) A Welcome Chakai is not something that happens every semester in Midorikai; my understanding of the reason for having one this semester is mostly that since there are only three of us, as opposed to the usual four or more students, there was enough time for us to fit in an "extra" chakai/chaji beyond the ones we will each host individually, and since the students who enter in September don't get the opportunity to be part of the larger school-wide welcome events that take place in April (well, they'll still be around in April 2012 when their kohai arrive, but since they won't be new students it won't be so welcome-y), it seems like a good chance to welcome them. This gathering we hosted is maybe more properly called a chaji, though only a hango chaji, which is the type held after a mid-day meal, and so a meal is not necessarily served at the event. So this was a hango chaji very similar in form to the ones we'll host individually, except without any nakadachi (intermission). Each of us hosted a different part of the gathering: Andrei did the shozumi temae, I did the koicha temae, and Mika did the usucha temae. We tried to use as many utensils made by—or somehow connected to—previous generations of Midorikai students as possible; most of them are the property of Midorikai and reside in our utensil storage room at Kenshu Kaikan (currently the men's dormitory).

Here are the utensils we used:

Machiai 待合
Tabakobon 煙草盆Kozama-zukashi
Hi'ire 火入Vent de sel by Midorikai graduate Lue Foucher
Kumidashiwan 汲出し茶碗asahi-yaki
Kumidashibon 汲出し盆Finrando-saku by Pentik
Koshikake Machiai 腰掛待合
Tabakobon 煙草盆Tsurutsuki-marubon
Hi'ire 火入Chosengaratsu
Honseki 本席
Sumitori 炭斗don't remember; it was one of the sumitori that was already in Chado Kaikan
Kan 鐶rikyu-gata
Hibashi 火箸Tatami needle by Kimura Seigoro
Haiki 灰器Sasaki Shoraku
Haisaji 灰匙rikyu-gata
Ko 香byakudan
Kakemono 掛物"wa kei sei jaku 和敬清寂" yokomono by Hounsai Daisosho
Hana 花kikyou, mizuhiki, and another that I forget...
Hanaire 花入a kurogaratsu-yaki mimitsuki hanaire that I got in Karatsu-shi when I visited there this past August
Kama 釜matsuyama?
Furo 風炉doan mentori
Furosaki 風炉先purple Indian fabric, ordered by Gary-sensei
Mizusashi 水指four-sided mimitsuki with white and green glaze by Richard Milgram
Tana 棚marujoku (Sotan-konomi)
Kogo 香合Hawai'ian koa wood
Fuchidaka 縁高Shinnuri
Okashi お菓子Midori no Hoshi みどりの星 made by us
Chaire 茶入Taikai
Shifuku 仕覆Jukô-donsu
Koichawan 茶碗kuroraku by Sasaki Shoraku
Chashaku 茶杓福音(ふくいん?)by Midorikai graduate Andrew Hare
Futaoki 蓋置by Richard Milgram
Kensui 建水something borrowed from Hamana-sensei...
Koicha 濃茶Babamukashi 祖母昔 by Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten 上林春松本店, a perennial Midorikai favorite
Usuchaki 薄茶器ceramic Richard Milgram
Chawan 茶碗Irabo-style chawan by Midorikai graduate Lee Jeong-hwan
Kaejawan 替茶碗Mika's akaraku-style chawan, made and given to him by his senpai and teacher, Midorikai graduate Markku Peltola
Kaejawan 替茶碗"American" chawan, provenance unknown; we call it "American" because of the stars-and-stripes cord around its kiribako
Tabakobon 煙草盆Same as machiai
Hi'ire 火入Same as machiai
Usucha 薄茶Uzuru no Shiro 宇鶴の白 by Tsujirien 辻利園, a brand that we understand is familiar to our first guest; Mika reports that Uzuru no Shiro 宇鶴の白 is a Hounsai-konomi, but I suggested it (among Tsujirien's usucha line-up) because of the reference to the Apollo moon landing(s) on the description page
Higashi 干菓子edamame 枝豆-shaped higashi from Yuuzuki 遊月 (used by our senpai Karoliina in her hango chaji) and Polish marzipan left by our senpai Krzysztof and formed by us into red maple leaf shapes
Higashiki 干菓子器Polish higashibon
Mizu 水Somei no Mizu 染井の水 from Nashinoki-jinja 梨木神社


You'll notice we used three utensils—mizusashi, usuchaki, and futaoki— by Richard Milgram, a potter who is probably the most well-known dogu maker among past Midorikai graduates. Originally we were planning to use only the mizusashi and usuchaki made by him, but Hamana-sensei noted that if you're going to use several utensils with something in common, it's better that the set have odd rather than even cardinality (this is a rule of thumb generally in Japan, not just in tea). So we used a four-sided Milgram-made futaoki featuring the four cardinal directions in place of the futaoki we were going to use, which was one Mika had bought on our trip to Bizen this summer.

Mika and I had practiced making the omogashi Midori no Hoshi みどりの星 a few times, cutting the proportion of sugar because the amount called for in the recipe seemed extreme, and cutting the amount of kanten because it also seemed more than necessary and imparted a kanten-y flavor. We couldn't find Limoncello in our local big liquor store, Liquor Mountain, so we substituted a yuzu liqueur, which I think worked well. But. In our tests of this sweet, we had always refrigerated it immediately after making it, and we tasted it right from the refrigerator. I think we didn't realize how important the original kanten ratio and/or refrigeration were to the stability of this sweet, though, because we discovered on the day of the chaji that at room temperature, our reduced-kanten version starts to melt. We did end up using the refrigerator at Chado Kaikan, but not before our sweet had started to form little pools of liquid inside the fuchidaka, and I understand that several of our guests ended up having their brand-new packs of kaishi ruined by the messy sweet. Oops. Logistically, I think we also should have finished preparing this sweet (by cutting it into individual servings and topping with kinpaku) before arriving at Chado Kaikan instead of in the midst of morning-of preparations; it was only because there were three of us hosting that we didn't run into time trouble because of saving this to the last minute.

Overall this chaji went well, and if I'm focusing on things we could have done better, it's only because that's easier to notice and write about. That said, we were running a pretty messy mizuya until Hamana-sensei stepped in and told us to tidy up and get things off the floor. (During the temae we always had an instructor in the mizuya area with us, but during preparations that morning we were largely on our own, and since this was our first time as hosts, we didn't know about things like lining the mizuya shelves with sarashi.) Mizuya organization was one of the topics of our lecture this morning, actually, and the thing about mizuya is that everything has its place... for a limited subset of "everything". The problem is that many things you need for a chaji don't have a place in the mizuya, especially sweets and their serving utensils. And you need to find a place for the myriad boxes that utensils are stored in. Keeping a tidy mizuya requires constant vigilance.

I do wish I had been able to practice handling a short, wide taikai chaire more before the event, as I found it difficult to rotate while I wiped it with the fukusa. We had decided on this shape of chaire pretty well in advance because of its contrast to the shape of the ceramic usuchaki that we knew we wanted to use. I should have gone to my teacher(s) and requested to borrow one to practice with, instead of relying on one of my co-hosts who thought he had one I could borrow but discovered he didn't when it was too late for me to borrow one from elsewhere. I did practice the nagao knot to the point where I became relatively comfortable with it, but since I was practicing alone, there was nobody to point out that katatombo is for the chawan shifuku we use in chabako, not for chaire shifuku. (I practiced it in class a day or two before the chaji, but apparently the teacher wasn't watching very closely.) I was surprised at how little practice we did of the temae for this chaji—I would have expected we'd at least run through them once together the weekend or evening or morning before the event, but my co-hosts seemed to think it was unnecessary. I would have been much more comfortable if we had, but I guess they're on a different level of confidence with their skills than I am.

I apologize for the lack of photos. I didn't bring my (bulky) camera that day, and so far no one who did take photos has shared any with me. Given that those factors tend to repeat themselves and combine with my protectiveness of images taken at the school, I have fewer photos to record my experiences here than I'd like. I'm buying an extra-slim point-and-shoot camera that I can slip in my obi or kimono sleeve to try to remedy that.

月今宵

Oct. 12th, 2011 10:37 pm
October moon, waxing gibbousLooking at the moon
thoughts of a thousand things
fill me with sadness—
but autumn's dejection
does not come to me alone.

[poem by Ōe no Chisato; translation by Donald Keene]

月見れば
千々に物こそ
悲しけれ
わが身一つの
秋にはあらねど

大江千里

(This poem is part of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu.)
[How can I resume blogging after a nearly-two-month hiatus and not make some meta-remarks about it? This event may seem like an arbitrary subject to resume with, but I have my reasons. Namely, we Midorikai students are strongly encouraged to write reports about school events like these, and this blog entry can serve as a report. And many more events are coming up soon, so even though this entry is late as a report, at least if I finish it before the next one I can avoid running up a backlog. I still hope to write about the many interesting things I did in August, but I'm not quite sure when I'll have time.]

On the afternoon of Monday, September 12, we went as a class to Nara to attend an event at Tōshōdai-ji, but first we did some sightseeing, starting with perhaps the most visited sight in Nara, Tōdai-ji. I had already visited Nara three times previously this summer, including Tōdai-ji once, but I certainly didn't mind returning. The temple's Great Buddha Hall (大仏殿 Daibutsuden), the largest wooden building in the world, once again impressed me with its immense scale. Amongst the massive statues of Buddha and guardians, one wooden pillar toward the rear of the hall attracts attention with its invitation for visitors to crawl through a hole in its base. I've heard different claims about the rewards for successfully crawling through, from good health to enlightenment. Two of my classmates squeezed through, as did Hamana-sensei, and somewhere there are photos to prove it. Leaving Tōdai-ji, we got matcha soft-serve ice cream cones that made us especially interesting to the ubiquitous Nara deer. It took some maneuvering to keep the ice cream to ourselves, but we managed, and one classmate somehow managed to buy a pack of senbei meant for the deer and escape Nara with it unscathed.

We rode the train to get to another part of Nara, where we entered Yakushi-ji about fifteen minutes before closing, since we still had time to spare before the event we'd come to Nara for. We walked through at a whirlwind pace. For me the most memorable sight in this temple was a set of statues of the Ten Principal Disciples 釈迦十大弟子, which struck me with their realism—unlike many of the Buddhist statues we'd seen earlier that afternoon, these were human-scale, and instead of idealized imagery they depicted tattered robes and emaciated flesh. It was an almost shocking contrast.

Next we proceeded on foot to the event, a hochashiki at Tōshōdai-ji. A hochashiki is a tea offering made by a high-level tea practitioner at a temple or shrine. When these offerings are made by the head of our tea tradition they are called kenchashiki (at a shrine) or kuchashiki (at a temple). We'll attend several of these over the course of our year in Midorikai. So far we'd only attended one at Kennin-ji, a June 5th memorial for the temple's founder where I enjoyed the accompanying gagaku but couldn't see Daisosho's temae at all thanks to our seat placement. At Tōshōdai-ji we had to stand, but since Hamana-sensei saved us a place early in the queue and we hustled in as soon as the doors opened, we got places right in front, with an excellent view of Abe Sosei gyotei's temae. These offering temae are quite different from the kind we practice daily in jitsugi. They employ a daisu, which is a sort of shelf used in procedures that are higher than I'm currently licensed to practice, and the chakin and chasen sit on their own little plate instead of starting in the tea bowl. The practitioner dons a paper face mask during part of the temae to protect the tea offering from his breath. The fukusa he uses is white, which I suppose is extra-pure in contrast to the purple or red we normally use. As the sun set and it grew darker out, the silhouette of the utensils in front of the lighted altar was a beautiful sight. I didn't take any photos, though I'm not sure whether photography was allowed. (I'm surprised at my own protectiveness when it comes to photographing my school and our tea events.) Although I don't think this was a public event (we received invitations from O-iemoto), the behavior of our fellow spectators was less than exemplary, what with the continuous murmur of voices throughout the ceremony and the pushing against us.

With simple, direct movements, Abe-sensei first offered a bowl of tea at the altar, and then he made a second bowl that he offered at a tsukimi setup outside of the temple building where the offered tea sat alongside seasonal flowers, tsukimi dango, and fruit, including a melon with an archetypal T-shaped stem and the sticker still on it(!).

The time was perhaps approaching 7 p.m., and we still had a teichaseki to attend, dinner to eat, and a couple of trains to catch to get home in time for our 10 p.m. curfew. So we were escorted to the head of the queue for the teichaseki (teicha refers to a tea service that accompanies some other event that's not primarily a tea gathering), ahead of many more distinguished people who no doubt resented our special treatment. This took place outdoors (nodate), and while we briskly enjoyed tsukimi dango and shallow bowls of usucha we juggled a set of bento we had generously been provided for dinner, but since we had already made a dinner reservation, we saved them to take home. Moving on to the local noodle shop that had saved a table for us, we ate quickly and left even more quickly, leaving one classmate in the bathroom as we made our way out, and unfortunately the staff "cleared" her train ticket and folding fan along with her dishes, much to her (and my) frustration when she emerged. The moon peeked out from behind some clouds as we hurried to the train station. On the train ride home, exhaustion caught up with me—this despite our taking it easy by wearing Western clothes that day rather than kimono.
On July 26, four of us Midorikai students volunteered to help our Zen teacher, Matsunami-sensei, with an annual memorial event at the Daitoku-ji sub-temple where he is the abbot, Ryosen-an 龍泉庵. A few days before we had reported there to do some preparatory cleaning and setup of the tea bowls and felt-matted seating areas. On the day of the event we reported, dressed in our most formal kimono, early enough for some last-minute serving instruction. Our role would be to serve food and tea to the twelve Zen monks who would be Matsunami-sensei's guests. Or rather, that would be the role of my three male classmates, because it turns out women aren't supposed to do that. ::sigh:: Ah, yeah, I have some problems with the role of women in Japan.

The event began with Matsunami-sensei and his guests doing some sutra chanting in the zendo for about fifteen minutes. Then they filed into the hall where we'd be serving them a shōjin ryōri meal catered by Ikkyu 一久. The serving etiquette was rather different from what we've been learning for cha-kaiseki. For one thing, Matsunami-sensei instructed the men to carry in the lacquered meal trays with one in each hand; also, the servers' seated bows to guests were to be forehead-to-the-tatami deep. Most remarkable of all, to us, was the fact that beer was served with the meal, at this solemn Zen Buddhist memorial event. Not that there's anything forbidding Zen monks from drinking alcohol—certainly sake has an important role in Buddhist and Shinto rites—but still. Nothin' like a cold glass of Kirin Lager after meditation. :)

Following the meal was our service of matcha and manjū. Each guest was to be served tea in a tenmoku bowl atop a kinindai, another point that struck me as different from our accustomed way of serving tea. This matcha service is where I could offer the most help from my place behind the scenes, by apportioning tea into the tea bowls, adding hot water, whisking, and passing them off to the guys to serve. But I hadn't counted on the swift pace of the meal, and so my timing was woefully late. Plus, I didn't realize until several bowls in that in this kind of tea service the portions are much smaller than we normally make. Reportedly the guys made plenty of mistakes of their own in the serving part, so we could have done a better job all around. Finally they served little bowls of chilled bancha, and then the guests departed with the same briskness with which they'd arrived and eaten.

I hope we were more help than we were trouble; at least Matsunami-sensei didn't seem upset with us afterwards, when he treated us to our own portions of the delicious shōjin ryōri meal. For us, the experience was an education in a different kind of chanoyu.

July 12-17

Jul. 19th, 2011 04:01 am
July 12

In the morning we 1As met with Hamana-sensei to talk about the Christmas Chakai we'll be hosting in earlier December for the head family of Urasenke, the other students, and assorted staff members, a total of about 200 expected guests IIRC. Traditionally we Midorikai students give the guests handmade favors in addition to making the sweets served in the tea room. The machiai tends to be decked out with Christmas-y decorations while the tea room itself isn't so much. We 1A students have already started talking amongst ourselves about possible themes and our own preferences, the latter mostly being NO TACKY CHRISTMAS CRAP. I'm told we'll see tea utensil shops selling stuff like natsume with Santa Claus on it, and we pretty much agree that's not the direction we want to go with our Christmas Chakai.

Following that talk we gathered at the Urasenke Center's gallery for our third tour of the current exhibition. The curators made some tweaks to the exhibit at the beginning of this month, but most of that appears to have been shuffling items around. Among the newly-added pieces, my favorites were a lacquer-edged boat-shaped hanging bamboo flower vase named Araiso 荒磯 (windswept and wave-beaten shore) and a three-legged lid rest with one leg each of pine, bamboo, and ume woods, an auspicious combination called shō-chiku-bai 松竹梅.

Afternoon jitsugi, in an end-of-semester review of the basics, was tana usucha and koicha. We were in roku-no-ma, where the air conditioning doesn't seem to work very well, and we tried out a kan'un joku, which is unique for having no bottom board, so the temae with it are a hybrid between hakobi and tana temae. Ro-sensei was not pleased with our choice, but we had no way of knowing beforehand either (a) that he didn't like it or (b) that he'd be our jitsugi teacher that day. The day's sweet was this lovely little number, and I was lucky enough to score two of the extras to bring home with me.


July 13

On Wednesday morning we started with a Hamana-sensei lecture about toriawase (the coordination of utensils) and review of architectural points in a tea room. Next Swanson-sensei, our Japanese art history teacher, gave us a lecture on Yamato-e, with a focus on illustrations of Genji Monogatari including the Genji Monogatari Emaki. I'm just now starting to read the Royall Tyler translation of Genji Monogatari along with some friends back in the States.

Afternoon jitsugi was more tana usucha and koicha. We were in roku-no-ma again, unfortunately for those of us less comfortable in the heat. Hamana-sensei taught us, and we chose a tabidansu, a portable chest that can theoretically be used to transport utensils as well as display them while making tea. The day's sweet was a kuzuyaki similar to this one from the previous week.


July 14

On Thursday morning we had jitsugi in chado kaikan. Two visiting Finns—at least one of whom was a Midorikai graduate—sat in on the 1Bs' class. We did hakobi usucha under Ro-sensei's supervision. For the 1B students, this was their last Midorikai jitsugi ever, so we 1As tried to be quiet as we cleaned up after finishing earlier than them. Stefen made koicha for their last temae, and the atmosphere was heavy with not-quite-shed tears. Even though I was outside of their practice room, it was really touching to be close to such an intense act of fellowship among people who had just spent the last year together.

Over lunch, I bought a charming gosho kago (a special wicker basket of a type formerly used in the Imperial Palace and now used for shikishidate temae) from Stefen, who needed to shed some items from the haul he was packing to send home. Mind you, I haven't yet learned shikishidate temae, so I hope I don't dislike it.

After lunch, we changed into samue and reported to Gakuen for end-of-semester ōsōji 大掃除 (lit. "big cleaning"). We've all settled into the routine of it, and it went smoothly. Then while the 1Bs went to a graduation ceremony rehearsal we 1As headed over to the men's dorm to get a head start on cleaning and organizing the Midorikai dōgubeya, or utensil storage room. The first order of business was removing books that had nothing to do with chado but which had been left by previous generations of Midorikai students. Then we removed empty boxes and sorted the remaining ones by type of utensil. Mika (another 1A) is planning to create an inventory of these utensils over the summer break.

That night I stayed up late writing thank you/farewell letters to each of the departing Midorikai students and some of our teachers. To the envelopes I added little knotwork dragonflies that I'd tied myself following these video instructions from TyingItAllTogether.


July 15

Friday morning was the spring semester closing ceremony and graduation for our senpai and for a handful of Japanese students who were in a few-months-long program here. Unlike the semester's opening ceremony, this one was conducted in a tatami mat room, so we sat seiza the whole time, and when it came time to stand afterward, whoa, that was a doozy. I think I'm actually gaining more endurance at seiza, but between the length of this ceremony and the combination of solemn tone and elbow-to-elbow seating that kept me from shifting around, this one was tough.

Following the ceremony we 1Bs and 1As went around in two separate groups to greet and thank various parties including the cafeteria staff, the school staff, and the department that deals with international students and groups. After a sparsely-attended udon lunch in the cafeteria—why does udon day always happen to fall on a day when we're wearing our best kimono?!—I returned to the dorm and took a nap to catch up on sleep I hadn't gotten the night before.

That evening we Midorikai students and teachers had a farewell dinner at the Hotel Okura's penthouse restaurant Orizzonte. There was a fairly lavish buffet, an incredible view of the city, a champagne toast, speeches. Time flew by, and before we knew it we were wrapping up with a group photograph. I distributed my thank-you letters. A few of us retired to Alcove for some (premium, as it turns out) ginger ale before curfew.


July 16

Saturday was Yoiyama, a sort of Gion Matsuri Eve full of revelry and yukata-clad crowds wandering the streets of Kyoto. Anna and I joined them, first checking out a gagaku/bugaku performance that included her ryūteki teacher. We traversed the grounds of Yasaka-jinja, ate ice-cream-filled crepes, got dangle-y hair ornaments to go with our yukata, and later had a more sensible dinner of tonkatsu (her) and chilled simmered summer vegetables (me). And then! Karaoke! We got an all-night karaoke box at Super Jankara and proceeded to spend eight hours, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., drinking and singing and carrying on. It was a great time. The karaoke systems here are pretty sophisticated; you can adjust the tempo and pitch of songs on the fly. With the exception of "Dragostea din tei" and the Azumanga Daioh theme song, I stuck to English-language songs. A few of them played with their official music videos, but many of them were set to hilariously cheesy generic music videos.


July 17

At 6 a.m. we joined the youthful throng stumbling out of the Super Jankara building and into the daylight. In just a few hours the streets and sidewalks would be jammed with people attending Gion Matsuri, but at this hour they were nearly empty. It was a little eerie. We headed down to Kyoto Station to partake of the sentō under Kyoto Tower. This was the smallest sentō of the few I've been to, but washing up revivified us, and afterward we ate breakfast at a nearby bakery.

It was approaching the time that the Gion Matsuri processions would be getting underway, but fighting the crowds and lack of sleep to stand in the sweltering heat and dazzling sunlight didn't sound appealing, even though it meant I'd miss the chance to see some of my classmates pulling one of the hoko (and probably suffering even more for it!). We headed back to our respective abodes for some rest. I did make it to an afterparty at the men's dorm later that afternoon, and at Alcove we met up with some other gaijin who were in town, including Cone, the Midorikai graduate whose blog probably had a big influence on my coming here and who's now a grad student at Doshisha.


As a reminder, here's our academic year calendar.
The longer I procrastinate in writing a blog post to summarize the last, oh, six weeks since my last post, the more daunting the task becomes. So this post isn't going to try to do that. Instead, I give you bullet points:
  • The rainy season is officially over. Indeed, it seems somewhat less humid lately than it was last month. But it's still pretty hot. High temperatures have been around 90°F/32°C. In June we wore unlined kimono, and in July and August we wear thin kimono and open-weave obi. Of course there are several (albeit thin) layers underneath those. Air conditioning is a luxury given how careful people here are about electricity usage, so I've gotten used to the feeling of sweat rolling down my face even as I sit quietly during class. Still, I'm not so frugal with the electricity when I'm in my dorm room.
  • This Friday is the end of the current school term and graduation for our senpai. I'll miss them, but I'm also looking forward to a batch of four new students who will be entering in September. Since we'll be spending more time with those students (the September-to-March term being longer than the April-to-July term), I expect we'll probably bond more closely with them.
  • This Sunday is Gion Matsuri. It should be a pretty crazy weekend. Anna and I are going to wear our yukata and I'll be sure to take my camera. Can I tell you how glad I am that Anna is here?
  • Speaking of crazy weekends, four of my classmates and I went camping on the shore of Lake Biwa a couple of weekends ago. We rented a tent and sleeping bags, brought large amounts of booze, went swimming, set off (legal) fireworks, and lay in the sun with insufficient sunscreen to prevent sunburn. It was a great time.
  • And speaking of Gion Matsuri, originally all of the men in our class were going to be helping to carry one of the hoko floats, but one of them was asked not to participate because of his prominent leg tattoo. The other men were outraged, and I agree it's a silly basis for discrimination, but where was their outrage when we learned that only the men were invited to participate?
  • Contrary to what you might think based on my photostream, I do not in fact spend all of my time eating beautiful sweets.
  • We students from overseas recently gave slide presentations to the vice principal and our classmates on our lives back home, both chado-related and otherwise. I included this video still showing me at work. I'm not sure whether they were more impressed that I help operate a spacecraft or shocked at my formerly purple hair. :)

May 14-31

Jun. 1st, 2011 12:11 am
radhardened: (cropped from pic with Anna)
May 14

It was a pleasant Saturday, and I made good use of an all-day bus pass. First stop: Kyoto Station, to see about getting cell phone service. I went to the first floor of the Bic Camera building where all the cell phone providers have their phones for sale. A Softbank representative told me it wouldn't be possible to get a contract with them using my own cell phone. An NTT DoCoMo representative told me that they only sell phones at that location; to sign up for a new contract, I'd need to make the short walk over to their store under Kyoto Tower, which I did. And I managed to sign up for voice and data service with an NTT DoCoMo-provided SIM card. But the rep there spent about an hour and a half trying to figure out how to get data service working with my phone before giving up. (Since then I've gotten it working, thanks not to the hours I spent with customer service reps and tech support but rather to this blog post.) I was getting hungry and impatient, but I accepted the partially-working arrangement eventually and left, grabbing a personal-sized margarita pizza in the underground Porta restaurant area before hopping another bus to Shijo. I checked out the big department stores for their rice cooker selection, but their choices were few and very pricey. Next I wandered Nishiki Market, where I bought some kind of brown rice, a variety pack of nama-fu, some little eggplants and little radishes, and a wasabi root. For a snack I stopped at Mochitsukiya for their yakimochi set A (白みそ、磯巻、亀山、甘辛、あべ川), which I highly recommend. Next I hopped another bus to Kitaoji Town, where I got a rice cooker, picnic blanket (chabako by the Kamo River, anyone?), wasabi grater, and kitchen knife.


May 15

P1200066I went with Anna to see Aoi Matsuri from Shimogamo-jinja. Since we didn't know what route the procession would take—and many of the familiar-to-Anna paths through the shrine were cordoned off—we wandered around, snacked on mitarashi dango, and eventually found our way to where some costumed participants were mounting horses to lead the procession as it resumed after a lunch break. To watch the procession itself, we walked up Shimogamo-hon-dori and found a break in the human fence that lined the street to squeeze in. Here are my pictures from Aoi Matsuri. ayame 菖蒲 (iris) omogashi at Tsuruya YoshinobuAfter the procession we met up with Anna's friend Teruyo and her young daughter, walked westward along Imadegawa-dori, and enjoyed wagashi and matcha at Tsuruya Yoshinobu.


May 16

On Monday morning our first lecture was by Imagawa-sensei on haigata forms. I apologize for my brevity, but I think I may never finish this entry if I explain much. The next lecture was by Hlawatsch-sensei on Japan's Christian Century, 1549-1650, a fascinating time in Japanese history that started with hopeful Portuguese missionaries entering a politically chaotic Japan and ended with a strong shogunate expelling the barbarians, who threatened vassals' feudal allegiance to their lords with the idea of allegiance to the Pope.

That day's jitsugi was sugi-dana usucha with Hamana-sensei. The omogashi was "ao kaede" by Oimatsu. We used a couple of notable (which is how I count anything other than Rikyu-gata) usuchaki: a negoro-nuri chuunatsume and a Yugensai-gonomi oimatsu usuchaki.


May 17

On Tuesday we had a quiz on furo and tana usucha, and I got a perfect score for the first time! Following was a field trip to the nearby Kyoto City Archaeological Museum to view and handle Edo-period pottery recovered from a site in downtown Kyoto and currently being cataloged in a back workroom. Many of the pieces were damaged, but some weren't, and I think we all wished the museum would lend us a few of the pieces we saw. I hadn't known there were so many varieties of oribe ware; besides the standard black-white-green I'd seen before, there's kuro oribe 黒織部 (standard minus the green), oribe kuro 織部黒 (all black), ao oribe 青織部 (like standard but dominated by green), aka oribe 赤織部 (with red, possibly from clay), and Shino oribe 志野織部. We saw mukozuke, chawan, chaire, mizusashi, kogo, and something to do with oil lamps. In a country with this much history, Edo-period stuff isn't considered that old, but it was still amazing that we got to touch and handle it all. My favorite piece was a distorted chawan that might have been oribe kuro, though as I remember it the glaze was a dark color but not black. When my classmates share the thumb drive with their photos from the outing I'll take another look at it.

For jitsugi it was futaoki day with Imagawa-sensei, who didn't realize it was futaoki day until the third or fourth tana usucha temae in which someone brought out a notable futaoki. I chose to practice with the ikanjin 井閑人 futaoki since I have this (adorable!) variation on it at home.

May 18

We were supposed to have our first meeting with Okusama, who is both O-iemoto's wife and vice principal of the school, this morning, but the meeting was canceled due to a funeral she had to attend. Instead, Gary-sensei got some extra time to teach us about Rikyu-konomi and Rikyu-gata stuff in a continuation of the rekidai lecture series.

In the afternoon, instead of regular jitsugi we had shoza keiko at Kenshu Kaikan (on the second floor of the men's dorm). This was where we practiced eating as we would at a chaji. Yes, eating. Like everything else in chado, it is done in a particular way with intricacies that need to be learned. Former Midorikai student Eric Dean described it well in his blog:
As involved as kaiseki cooking is, actually serving and eating the meal rival the preparation in complexity. All the various dishes come out in predetermined order, are set down in specific places, are received with scripted words and movements. We pantomimed eating the foods and drinking sake from shallow red hikihai saucers. We learned how to use chopsticks properly in the kaiseki context: first pick up the bowl you’ll eat from, and hold in in your left hand; then pick up the chopsticks from the tray in front of you with your right, holding them from above; transfer them to the hooked little finger of your left hand so that the right can orbit the back ends of the chopsticks and grasp them again from beneath in order to use them.

Don’t ask me to explain the part of the meal when the host brings out the hassun tray and serves each guest in turn while also pouring sake for each and drinking a serving of sake poured by each. I participated in it and the procedure still has my head spinning. All I know is that this can be very dangerous for the host at a chaji with many guests. Hamana-sensei told the story of a chaji he’d helped to host, at which the host himself actually passed out after this portion of the meal, and had to be revived with strong tea and a walk around the garden.



May 19

On Thursday morning Hamana-sensei lectured on more tana: Gengensai-konomi gogyodana, kokodana, and sugidana; Yumyosai-konomi Yohojoku; Ennosai-konomi Yoshinodana, Kan'unjoku, Tsubotsubodana, Genjidana; Tantansai-konomi Tsurezuredana, Kotobukidana, Tagasodedana, Ouchidana, Yachiyodana; Houndai-konomi San'undana, Koundana, Chikujudana. As you might expect from the length of that list, by the end we were flying through the descriptions with little chance to take notes or let the images sink in.

Soothing Breeze (kunpuu, 薫風) by Surugaya (駿河屋)For jitsugi we began shozumi and koicha, under Hamana-sensei's guidance. Andrei was the only one of our classmates who actually did shozumi that day, but we are told that in Japan if you observe someone perform something you are considered to be as responsible for having learned it as the person who performed it. Personally, I think this expectation is problematic, but there's no room to argue about it. The day's omogashi was Soothing Breeze (kunpuu, 薫風) by Surugaya (駿河屋), pictured above.


May 20

workshop spaceOn Friday morning we paid a visit to Urasenke's Eizenbu 営繕部, or Department of Maintenance and Construction, which is building a new two-story tea room structure. Here are my photos from the visit. We saw some impressive structural members made from cypress and American pine that will fit together in beautifully crafted joints without nails, and the heck of it is that these gorgeously hewn beams won't even be visible in the finished structure. We saw a traditional Japanese cedar tokobashira as Maeda-san explained how it joins with other structural elements around it. We saw a long piece of a cypress variety called hiba 檜葉 being planed to produce an incredibly smooth, plastic-like surface—along with a perfectly uniform, transparent shaving the length of the board. We saw ajiro, variously textured tokobashira-in-waiting, and some okimizuya constructed with a level of care we couldn't have imagined.

The afternoon's jitsugi was more hakobi koicha.


May 21-22

On Saturday I visited Kobo-san—the monthly temple market at Toji—with June. We were mostly shopping for hitoe kimono and accessories for the upcoming changeover from awase to hitoe kimono. I dislike shopping for used kimono at these markets, though, because they're all in a heap and any good ones have almost inevitably got stains on them. That said, I got a striped hitoe kimono that pleases me, adding to the one red-and-gray komon hitoe I brought and the two komon hitoe I picked up from the pile left by former Midorikai students. As it does even on weekdays but especially when it falls on a weekend, the market became choked with people before long, so we left to seek out a large kimono store June had heard about called Mimuro. And indeed we found it and fell under the spell of its discount-wielding owner. I bought a green iromuji hitoe kimono and a coordinating summer obi, obijime, and obiage; a mustard-colored obi and orange obijime and obiage to match the striped hitoe kimono I'd bought at Kobo-san; casual zori to replace the now-worn-out ones I've had for years; a new kimono bra; and literally on my way out the door a yukata and yukata obi because I couldn't resist a yukata design of trees silhouetted against a star-filled night sky. So now I have not only kimono to wear to practice and special events through the months of June and September but also something to wear to festivals, which occur with happy frequency in Kyoto.


May 23

On Monday we had jitsugi in the morning in Kenshu Kaikan. I did shozumi for the first time, under Ro-sensei's supervision, and it Did Not Go Well. It wasn't a disaster in the sense of breaking or spilling anything, but I'm pretty sure Ro-sensei does not expect to be teaching us new temae, and I should have learned shozumi through a combination of observing my classmates doing it, reading about it from old Chanoyu Quarterly issues, and asking my senpai if I had any questions about it. I had observed and read, but clearly not well enough. Ugh.

add food dye to the liquid if desiredThe reason for having jitsugi in the morning was the afternoon's field trip to Oimatsu 老松, famous wagashi maker, to learn how to make three kinds of higashi (the dry sweets served before usucha but honestly not much loved by anyone). I photographed the process for each: uchimono, kizatou, and suhama. Realistically, I don't foresee making higashi myself; traditionally for our own hango-chaji we Midorikai students make the namagashi but not the higashi, and higashi is sufficiently non-perishable that it can be shipped overseas. Maybe if I'm feeling ambitious I'll buy a bag of wasanbon and a mold before I leave Japan next year.


May 24

One of our senpai had his hango-chaji on this day. We did the usual pre-chaji cleaning beforehand. Here's my braindump from after the chaji, unfortunately not formatted into sentences. Sorry.

machiai: scroll with fish, cups were hagi that reminded us of asahiyaki

shoza
tokonoma: scroll: seizan ryokusui
kettle: very wet! red patina
tana: kuwa kojoku with white mizusashi, triangular slanted lid with pinecone knob
byobu: turquoise/teal design, quite eyecatching, goes nicely with tana and mizusashi
phoenix + clouds (houn) hiranatsume
shozumi: tsuru feather, wooden kogo with sliding lid, presumably from the U.S., found in Midorikai dogubeya
omogashi: botan, with kuzu on the outside and hand-made shiro-an inside

goza
tokonoma: irises, a purple one just beginning to open, a white one closed, another bud whose petals we couldn't see
koicha: baba no mukashi
first bowl: kuroraku
second bowl: Korean?
ikkanjin futaoki
zabosai chashaku
shifuku: botan
kobukusa: shippo

usucha
first bowl was shigaraki tri-lobed bowl
second bowl (the one I drank from) was large pink raku (?) oke shape made by teishu
more bowls with nanbanjin design
higashi: blue water uchimono and little white meringues from Poland

themes
slants: mizusashi top, hishaku kazari, irises hanging in tokonoma
hermit: futaoki, scroll
circle, triangle, and square representing whole universe on tana


May 25

On Wednesday morning Imagawa-sensei lectured on hanaire, going over the names for various metal and bamboo ones but also drawing an extended metaphor between the shin/gyo/so progression of chadogu and the progression of the Japanese writing system, which was likewise originally imported from China:
formality levelimpetushanairein the Japanese writing system
真 shin (formal)importbronze, celadon, sometsuke, Chinese potterykanji: 安 以 宇
行 gyo (semi-formal)imitateglazed Japanese-made pottery, including seto, takatori, hagikatakana: ア イ ウ
草 so (informal)inventunglazed Japanese-made pottery, bamboo, basketryhiragana: あ い う


Next Mittwer-sensei lectured on Urasenke organizational structure, including the locations of the various departments, and I was struck by her claim that there is a supercomputer in the Urasenke Center's basement. Surely not? Afternoon jitsugi was more hakobi koicha.


May 26

kinome mochi 木の芽餅Thursday morning began with a quiz on sumitemae and koicha. We haven't gotten our scored quizzes back yet, but I suspect I didn't do so well on the sumitemae parts. Hamana-sensei lectured on June seasonal topics, providing us with a hundredth reminder that the rainy season is coming. In the afternoon we began tana koicha with the sugidana. The omogashi was kinome mochi, pictured at left/above.


May 27

On Friday morning Gary-sensei gave us a lecture on the fourth floor of the Urasenke Center on invitations and letter-writing. It was very helpful, and I'm looking forward to getting a copy of his list of seasonal remarks that can be used to begin a letter. In the afternoon most of the regular teaching staff was unavailable due to planning for an intensive seminar, so we had Kunimi-sensei as a substitute teacher. All of us gathered in Ichi no Ma, the 1As and 1Bs alternating doing unohana chabako and hana chabako, respectively. I haven't been mentioning our mizuya toban duties much, but that day I handled flowers on my own and chose a single sasayuri ササユリ lily in a bronze tsurukubi (lit. "crane's neck") vase. The top of the flower reached twice the height of the hanaire, which I thought was a general guideline, but that was too high. And the flower, which already was facing downward a little sadly at the beginning of jitsugi, was looking downright dejected by the end.

[Edited to add: One memory I wanted to record from that afternoon's jitsugi was the sounds I heard simultaneously from outside our practice room: Buddhist chanting (from Honpo-ji, I'd guess), Westminster chimes from I know not where, and Gakuen students laughing in an adjacent practice room.]

May 28-29

I did plenty of reading and sleeping on this rainy weekend. On Sunday morning I tuned in to an episode of an NHK World TV program called Booked for Japan that featured an interview with Daisosho. In the afternoon I went shopping for summer kimono accessories with Karo, June, Lani, and two students from China at Harajuku Chicago. I picked up some summer obijime and three obi suitable for June and I think part of September. I didn't have a hard time convincing my compatriots to join me afterward for sweets at Lipton.


May 30

Monday morning was a Daisosho lecture, but since the short-range radios our bilingual teachers use for simultaneous interpretation weren't working at all, I didn't understand much of the lecture. I did pick up his favorable mention of the book Three Cups of Tea, whose web site suggests that it probably meshes well with Urasenke's motto "Peacefulness through a bowl of tea." Next we went to Chado Kaikan, unusually enough, for a lecture by Murata-sensei on mizuya work. He did speak a few words of English, but not enough for me to follow most of what he said, which seemed to be potentially helpful advice on setting up for a chaji like the one each of us will be hosting. Since we were in a tatami room, of course we were sitting seiza, so we were in for a long day. kuzuyaki 葛焼 by Toraya とらやFor afternoon jitsugi I'd been hoping for a linguistic break by getting our one English-speaking teacher, but our teacher turned out to be Ro-sensei, who, while he doesn't speak English, doesn't really speak much period. He supervised our practice of tana koicha. The day's omogashi was kuzuyaki, pictured right/above. Back home I wasn't a big fan of koicha, but I have to say I've been enjoying the Chousho no Mukashi 長松の昔 koicha (from Ryuoen) we've been drinking lately. For us 1As it was our first day of being the the "main" mizuya toban people; I handled the charcoal and had a rather good time doing it.


May 31

Finally we've reached today. This morning we reported to the fourth floor of the Urasenke Center for a show-and-tell by Tachibana-sensei on Edo-period kogo (incense containers). There was an elaborate ranking chart that had been established for them akin to the ranking of sumo wrestlers. The reasoning for particular types' positions in the ranking was a mystery to me, but it was interesting to see and handle the examples she brought. Most of the ceramic ones were glazed in vivid colors. My favorite, though, was made from a piece of wood that was split and then lacquered; the bottom had a little space carved in it for the incense, and the top was decorated with a snowflake makie design.

For jitsugi today we began the konarai temae with Hamana-sensei teaching us kinindate usucha (serving usucha to a noble guest!). I picked out the san-un-dana for a tana, sparking debate in the mizuya about which vessel—the katakuchi mizutsugi or the koshiguro yakan—is used to refill the mizusashi on it. I went with the first option, which turned out to be the right answer. I enjoyed learning this new temae and frankly it was a relief to me to have an English-speaking teacher guiding us. This evening after dinner I did haigata in preparation for tomorrow's class where I'll try shozumi for a second time. Wish me luck.
radhardened: (panda)
Friday, May 13 was our day to visit tea manufacturers in and around Uji.

just-picked tea leaves at Marukyu Koyama-enFirst we went to Marukyu Koyama-en in Ogura. We sat in a tatami room with some other visitors who weren't native Japanese speakers (so they could take advantage of Hamana-sensei's English-language interpretation of Koyama-san's remarks), drank a little shincha, and watched an English-language video on the production of matcha and other types of tea at Koyama-en. I think we 1As had seen some of this video during our orientation with Hamana-sensei during the first few days of this school term. Afterwards we walked outside to some of the fields where they grow tea plants in the most traditional way (shading with rice straw rather than black plastic), apparently for competition entries rather than for sale in this case. We got to walk among the shaded tea plants, watch tea pickers at work, take photos, and even pluck a leaf or two to taste the flavor of the raw leaf (which actually tastes nothing like matcha). I was surprised that we had so much access to these tea fields. We were lucky that the weather had cleared up after a series of rainy days when I gather we wouldn't have been able to go out into the tea fields.

Next we got a tour of the initial processing facility, a building right next to the fields where the leaves are steamed and dried very soon after they're picked. We had a chance to taste the leaves right after steaming (they tasted sorta like cooked spinach or asparagus, not appealing to me) and after drying (crunchy and less intense). In the next building, where the subsequent processing takes place, we weren't allowed to take photographs. Here were sifting and wind-tunnel machines that separate the stems and veins from the fleshy part of the leaf, which is of course the desired part for matcha. We saw displays of the various separated parts; the nice fleshy part is called tencha at this point. And finally comes the mesmerizing grinding part, where hundreds of motors slowly turn hundreds of millstones to grind the tencha into the fine powder we call matcha, all in a room whose cleanliness—except for the matcha particles—probably rivals some of the spacecraft assembly facilities I've been in.

After the tour we gathered in an upstairs room to drink as much usucha as we wanted and eat little skewers of yummy chadango. We chatted with some of the other foreign visitors; I met a matcha enthusiast from China, and I overheard a few words of Spanish pass between Stefen and some visitors from Spain. Of course there was a gift shop on the premises; I bought some matcha-flavored baked crepes, matcha financiers, and a little cannister of tencha for cooking (e.g., sprinkling over cooked rice like furikake).

In a building next door we ate the bento lunches we'd picked up earlier at a convenience store. We were pleasantly surprised when Koyama-san appeared and gifted us each with a small cannister of their shin-matcha along with packets of sencha, genmaicha, and houjicha. Here are my pictures from our visit to Marukyu Koyama-en.

Next we rode in a conveniently-sized nine-passenger van to Uji-Kanbayashi Memorial House. I'm not sure why I didn't take any pictures here; perhaps they weren't permitted. On the first floor of this museum we saw some big old chatsubo and scrolls depicting tea production of yore. The processes were basically the same as today's, just less mechanized. On the second floor we saw an area with a skylight (facing northward, IIRC) where the tea manufacturer uses this very specific, consistently-illuminated environment to evaluate his teas and create blends of teas that combine good color and good flavor. Farther along the second floor are displays of official documents granting names to Kanbayashi teas from O-iemoto in various eras. We learned more about the process of packing and transporting chatsubo from Uji to Edo. What interested me about this were the various layers of security. Beyond the armed guards protecting the chatsubo, the mouth of the jar was sealed with layers of something like papier-mâché (tamper-evident seal!). And if I understand correctly, a document listing the contents of the chatsubo was overlapped with another sheet of paper and either stamped or written on (with brush and ink) across the edge so that if the manufacturer or any other party kept the second sheet of paper, it could be used to authenticate the list by seeing whether the stamp or letters match up. This is an authentication technique also mentioned by Hlawatsch-sensei during our Japanese history lecture last month in the context of ship manifests, which is the first time I'd ever heard of it, and I'm curious to know more. Have any of you heard of something like this? I wonder whether it has a name. Afterward we perused the Kanbayashi retail store, where I bought a canister of 松風の昔, chosen largely because I could read the name, which is something I can't say for most names of matcha (yet!).

matcha piling up at base of millstoneNext we crossed the main bridge in Uji and walked over to Fukujuen Uji Kobo, a center where the famous Fukujuen tea company offers a number of different workshops. We were there for the matcha-grinding one, so we headed to a laboratory-like room where we were each set up with our own millstone topped off with a little pile of tencha. We turned the stones counterclockwise, ideally at a rate of one revolution every three seconds, and slowly matcha accumulated in the shallow moat surrounding the bottom millstone. Honestly, I enjoyed turning the millstone, and the fifteen or twenty minutes it took to grind a few grams flew by; of course it helped that I was surrounded by chatting, laughing, photo-snapping classmates, so it was hardly drudgery. Once all of us had ground our tencha into matcha, we added hot water and whisked it and drank it. Not bad at all! We were served houjicha yokan as well, but we un-customarily saved that for after the tea so that we could taste the matcha with a relatively uninfluenced palate. I don't think I'd want to hand-grind tea for, say, a chaji (as a previous student once did, leaving him precious little time to practice his actual temae), but it was a satisfying experience. I enjoyed the feel and sound of the heavy stones slowly turning and gnashing away at the tencha caught between their grooves. And of course I enjoyed the result, but then, I get to enjoy that every day, a privilege I ought not take for granted. Here are my pictures from our visit to Fukujuen Uji Kobo. I'm definitely interested in returning there to explore there other workshops, including ones on sencha-do, rolling sencha, and roasting houjicha.

Before catching a train home we stopped at the Asahi pottery gallery to catch a glimpse of the unique asahiyaki pottery with its pastel hues and light splotches. Alas, the pieces we saw were much too dear for my budget. The potter enjoyed chatting with my Finnish classmates about their country, which he had visited some forty years ago, and we enjoyed looking at his work and that of his son, who's carrying on the family pottery tradition.

May 12

May. 23rd, 2011 08:53 pm
radhardened: (panda)
May 12

Our first lecture of the morning was by Swanson-sensei on Japanese art history during the Asuka, Hakuho, and Nara periods. Swanson-sensei noted that although she largely tries to expose us to secular art, since that's more applicable to chado, the influence of religious art is inescapable, and today we would see some images of religious art produced in the time after Buddhism was introduced to Japan in 552 (or 538). Since Buddhism was introduced from outside of Japan, naturally internationalization was a theme during these periods, with influences from Korea and China. Swanson-sensei pointed out that in the Buddhist art of these periods, similar standards of beauty applied to both aristocrats and deities, so that images of Buddha and bodhisattvas have clothing, jewelry, hairstyles, and poses that reflect contemporary aristocratic style (luxurious rather than modest). One image in particular that stuck with me portrayed the Buddha flanked by a pair of bodhisattvas in contrapposto postures. Swanson-sensei also told us about Shōsōin, a sort of "time capsule" of Emperor Shomu's belongings established in Nara by his widow after he died. Wikipedia reports that although "collections are not open to the public, selections are shown at Nara National Museum once a year in autumn." So, note to self: go visit Nara in the autumn. Also, Hamana-sensei seems to have forgotten that we've already been introduced to outside teachers like Swanson-sensei, Tanihata-sensei, and Matsunami-sensei, so each time we have another lecture from them he insists we 1As introduce ourselves. No one has spoken up and told him we've already done this.

Next Hamana-sensei lectured on more tana: Rikyu-konomi maru joku (unfinished paulownia wood), Rikyu-konomi Kakudana, Rikyu-konomi Tabidansu, Sotan-konomi Koraijoku, Sotan-konomi maru joku (ikkanbari lacquer), and Senso-konomi kuwa kojoku. I took notes at a furious pace, as is typical during a Hamana-sensei lecture, but I couldn't keep up with his descriptions of the kazari for shozumi, after koicha, after usucha, and sokazari, the first of which I'd never done and the last of which I didn't know the meaning. So I felt pretty lost toward the end of each tana description. I suspect we'll be expected to know this stuff when we get to it in jitsugi. :/ Guess I'll be scrambling for some reference materials.

karagoromo 唐衣 by Surugaya 駿河屋That afternoon was our chance to do kokodana usucha, with Imagawa-sensei IIRC. I went first, and I didn't do too badly. The day's omogashi was karagoromo 唐衣 (meaning "ancient Chinese clothes") by Surugaya 駿河屋, pictured here. And other than that my memories of that day's practice have faded. That'll teach me to procrastinate so long in posting an update.

May 11

May. 11th, 2011 10:22 pm
radhardened: (lonely blue)
Our first lecture didn't begin this morning until 10:40, so June and I used this bit of spare time during business hours to head to the Kamigyo Ward Office to pick up our alien registration cards. Now we're official aliens! My understanding is that I now, with this card, have the credentials I need to sign up for a cell phone service plan. As for the language skills I need, we'll see about that, especially since what I want (voice and data service with just a SIM card) is probably not cell phone companies' standard product. This weekend I should have time to visit Softbank and/or NTT DoCoMo to see what I can do.

On the way back from the ward office we stopped at the boulangerie "Marry France" on Imadegawa-dori for some very satisfying pastries. It rained all day, so a cozy bakery with its warmth and light and enticing smells was a welcome respite from the gloom.

The morning's lecture was on tana, which was well-timed since our afternoon jitsugi was our first tana temae, maru joku. For reasons unknown to me we were upstairs on the third floor of Gakuen, not that I minded, since excessive light wasn't a problem today. (It was a little warm and humid, so someone turned on the air conditioning, but Hamana-sensei insisted we should suffer some more, and as sadistic as that sounds I think he's right—to understand the primacy of seasonality and the need to evoke coolness in our temae during warm weather we need to experience the warm weather. So the air conditioning was turned off.) We switched kettles with our senpai so that we used the 常磐 (evergreen/eternity) kettle with a pine needle tsumami. Since we were using tana, we got to use a more-interesting-than-the-usual-bamboo futaoki, in this case a ceramic futaoki in the shape of a candle holder (apparently) with the name 夜学, meaning night study.

The omogashi, from 二條若狭屋, was called aoi gasane 葵襲 and consisted of a ball of anko covered with a pair of folded green and white gyūhi layers. Aoi 葵 in this case refers to the hollyhock emblematic of the upcoming Aoi Matsuri 葵祭. Gasane 襲 refers to layers of clothing worn under one's overcoat or—as an abbreviation for 襲の色目—a combination of colors created by layering of garments.

The natsume we used today included the Rikyu-gata chuunatsume with mismatched lid, a Kōdai-ji-makie hiranatsume, and a chuunatsume that we guessed might be 春草秋草 but that Hamana-sensei called 春野 in which case it's un-seasonal to be using it now. The Kōdai-ji-makie designation refers to a combination of paulownia (the Hideyoshi mon) and chrysanthemum, since Toyotomi Hideyoshi's wife established Kōdai-ji. I don't know the reason for the chrysanthemum.

This evening it was my turn to do haigata for our class. It took me two hours and I wasn't satisfied with it, but it was getting late and I was getting frustrated. So it'll have to do. As a reward I'm enjoying a can of yuzu-flavored Chu-Hi while I let my socks and samue trousers dry out from the rain. Woo-hoo.

May 10

May. 10th, 2011 07:22 pm
radhardened: (storm trooper hello kitty)
This morning was our (monthly, I think) lecture on Zen followed by a session of zazen. Matsunami-sensei talked about Daitoku-ji and the seaport city of Sakai in the Muromachi period. He also talked about monastic life and gave us a handout comparing a typical daily schedule in a Zen monastery in Japan, a Trappist abbey in the U.S.A., and a Benedictine monastery in Australia. Common features are an early start to the day (between 3 and 6 a.m.), meditation, prayer, and work. The Zen monks are unique among the three in their practice of takahatsu and in their five tea times throughout the day. The tea might be necessary to function: while the Trappists and Benedictines (seem to) have an opportunity for at least seven hours of sleep per night, the Zen monks don't appear to have the opportunity for even four. That is certainly not the life for me.

KashiwamochiJitsugi was our final hakobi usucha practice for a while. (Tomorrow we start using tana.) The unlacquered kiri-makie hiranatsume from Friday's welcome chakai appeared in our mizuya. Today's omogashi was kashiwamochi (pictured), but we didn't eat them in our class since Hamana-sensei thought we could use some practice handling a higashi-bon (tray for dry sweets), so we took them home. Kashiwamochi is anko-filled mochi wrapped in an (inedible) oak leaf.

Today was rainy with a high of 77°F/25°C. It's not even the rainy season yet, and already our faces are dripping with sweat when its our turn in front of the brazier (furo). We'll be wearing lined kimono (awase) for the rest of the month, and I expect it's only going to get worse.

May 3-9

May. 10th, 2011 12:32 am
radhardened: (cat ears)
May 3 (Constitution Memorial Day)

Last Tuesday was the start of our Golden Week holidays. In the morning I puttered around my room, did laundry, and assembled the wire shelf unit I had delivered from the department store. In the evening I headed to Anna's for a few days of curfew-free gallivanting. We walked over to nearby Fujinomori-jinja, where a festival was taking place, and we were just in time to see a mikoshi being carried down the street to the shrine. We enjoyed the festival food: I got a grilled corn cob, Anna got karaage and oden and caramel-filled taiyaki, and we each downed a cheap little jar of sake while chatting with friendly locals who were (unsurprisingly) less involved in traditional Japanese culture than we are.


May 4 (Greenery Day)

me and Murasaki ShikibuThe next day, after a breakfast platter of Anna's homemade buckwheat hotcakes, we went to Uji for some sightseeing. We each had a bowl of usucha and a wonderful nerikiri ao-ume sweet at Taiho-an, the city's municipal tea house. We briefly visited Ujigami-jinja and Uji-jinja. We went to the Tale of Genji Museum and I felt thoroughly ashamed for not (yet!) having read the famous novel, something I intend to remedy soon. We walked up a scenic tree-lined path to Kōshō-ji, which turned out to be closed. A cone of matcha soft-serve with extra matcha sifted on top and some hanging out on the river bank later, we headed to Kyoto to temper all that serenity with some electronically-mediated overstimulation at Teramachi's ROUND ONE entertainment complex. We headed up to the karaoke floor and booked a room and two hours' worth of nomihodai (all-you-can-drink) service, which—speaking for myself—made it a little less intimidating to do karaoke with a professional opera singer. They had a good selection of food to share, and their yuzu gin and tonic was refreshingly tasty. The time flew by. Afterward, on the ground-floor UFO catcher level, I scored a couple of plush nemuneko on my second hundred-yen try. Ahhh! So cute!


May 5 (Children's Day)

On Thurday, we spent most of the day sleeping in, reading, and poring over a Chinese-language printout that goes through the enumerative combinatorics of genji-mon. I think. Eventually we went out and rode the train a short way to Momoyama to stroll the shopping area there and look for sandals, now that the weather was getting warmer. I succeeded, and I also picked up a set of Ogura Hyakunin Isshu cards, which I intend to go through and understand (likely with the aid of a book like One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each for translation and context) before the New Year. We'll see. Anna cooked up a delicious dinner, and alas, my holiday was over; it was back to the dorm in time for curfew.


May 6

On Friday morning we had jitsugi instead of lectures because we would be attending the upperclass Gakuensei's welcome chakai in the afternoon, and apparently jitsugi takes priority over lectures when there's only time for one. Since other students use the first-floor Gakuen practice rooms in the morning, we used some of the space in the vast third-floor area, like we had on Monday except this time we were sharing the space and its preparation area with a couple of other classes. The preparation area was a nexus of confusion over what things were ours versus theirs. With the sun streaming in through the south-facing windows, it was unpleasantly hot and bright. Imagawa-sensei had a lot of suggestions/critiques on our hishaku handling, not all of which I understood. We used a 雲龍釜 tsutsugama with a lid knob that was so difficult to grasp that it landed in the ash formation during a classmate's temae. Oops. One of the Rikyu-gata natsume we were using had a mismatched lid. It was just that kind of day. The omogashi was yama-fuji (mountain wisteria) from Oimatsu, and from witnessing their delivery to Gakuen and the mizuya-cho's deliberation about their name, I wonder whether the cho invents the names of the omogashi or his job is to ascertain the pre-existing name (which apparently isn't offered by the maker). Hmmm. I'll have to ask around.

As mentioned earlier, in the afternoon we (not only Midorikai but also the newer Gakuensei and shorter-term students and new Urasenke employees) attended a welcome chakai hosted by the upperclass Gakuensei. This was held on the bottom floor of Gakuen, where rooms 5 and 6 (the least formal) served as a large machiai. In one tokonoma were some chakai notebooks from previous entering classes (apparently we are the 50th!) with a poignant scattering of sakura. The scroll in that alcove was one of the few recognizable to me: 関 (barrier), which I own as a tanzaku back in the States. I don't remember the full phrase on the scroll in the other tokonoma, but I seem to recall it started with 千年 or 千歳. Whereas back home we would serve the guests kōsen (warm water infused with something seasonal and/or aromatic, like sakura or seasonal herbs) in the waiting area, here the guests are simply served warm water, so that is what we drank in the machiai.

Proceeding to the honseki in rooms 1 and 2 (the most formal), the tokonoma contained cheerful yellow yamabuki, a red incense container carved in the shape of a carp (appropriate both because of the just-past Children's Day and because of its association with striving), and a scroll reading 一華開五葉 結果自然成, if I recall correctly. The okashi was kusamochi made by the hosts with yomogi they had picked at Kyōto Gyoen. They performed usucha temae with a tana with which I'm not familiar. The mizusashi had a bamboo design, and the wooden hiranatsume had a gold paulownia design. I don't remember the first chawan, but the second chawan was sōmayaki which is memorable to me because it's from Fukushima Prefecture. For me, though, the highlight among the utensils was a chashaku carved by one of the upperclass Gakuensei from a trimmed branch of the sakura tree right outside Gakuen.

After tea we had a tenshinseki in rooms 3 and 4, but I won't go into detail on the food; suffice it to say that it was good and symbolic in ways that Hamana-sensei explained to us briefly afterward but which I don't remember.

May 7

On Saturday, I did a little catching up on e-mail and feed reading. Later June and I practiced hakobi usucha in the second-floor practice area at our dorm, the first time we've used it so far. Between the musty air and the loud squeal coming from some equipment outside the room, it's not a place I want to hang out any longer than necessary. We each practiced one round of hakobi usucha before wrapping it up and getting to Kitayama just before they closed to buy an inexpensive mizusashi, kensui, and take futaoki for practice. I also happened to see an awesome Kyōyaki hirajawan painted with a nature scene with jumping ayu, and I had to have it. We offset our purchases with a cheap dinner at a kaiten-zushi place where I'm happy I can get salmon/cream cheese makizushi.


May 8

On Sunday we headed over to the men's dorm to practice hakobi usucha some more in a storage room that they set up as a practice area. It was a bit cramped, but the atmosphere was convivial with more of our classmates around and some wagashi and tea to share. After practice I biked over to the department store that I seem to find a reason to visit every weekend; this time I was in search of pins for a sewing project I worked on later that evening, but I also got a hanging plant and a floor pad for under my room's low table, which has already made lounging around here more comfortable.


May 9

This morning's first lecture was by Gary-sensei on the general order of activity in a chaji 茶事, supplemented with beautiful photos from the book 茶の美. The lecture that followed, by Tanihata-sensei on Japanese tea culture in the Kamakura and Muromachi eras, happened to include a description of tōcha 闘茶, a kind of tea event of that time with clear similarities to modern chaji. Tanihata-sensei also explained what historians know about tea culture from that time based on the cargo from a recently-discovered shipwreck of a Japan-bound vessel from 1323. Apparently it was not unusual in those days for a Japanese temple or shrine to raise money by coordinating a sail from China (with a possible stop in Korea for celadon) to import tons of highly-valued utensils.

Today's afternoon jitsugi was again with Imagawa-sensei and again was hakobi usucha, this time with haiken. Even though today was the warmest, most humid day yet this season, I was happy to be back in the first-floor Gakuen tea rooms, and it was nice to feel the occasional breeze through the open doors. I used hibashi (large metal chopsticks for handling charcoal) for the first time today! Not as part of a sumi temae but rather in my role as one of the fire setup people. I used them to rotate the shitabi as we started them burning before jitsugi and to remove charcoal from the braziers after jitsugi. They require some finger/hand strength, for sure. A notable utensil we used today was a Tantansai-gonomi kiku karakusa kuro oonatsume. Perhaps more interesting to my readers, though, was today's omogashi, which was chimaki, an item I've been curious to try ever since I learned about them in our seasonal topics lecture for May (at which point I started noticing them over virtually ever doorway around here), but which I hadn't bought because of their relatively high price for omogashi. Reportedly the school paid 800 yen each for the ones for today's jitsugi. They're nontrivial to unwrap, so in our class for each temae the guest would start unwrapping practically as soon as the temae had begun. The mochi inside was interesting, and not bad, but overall the experience isn't worth 800 yen to me.

the crest on my scholarship kimonoAfter today's jitsugi we new Midorikai students headed over to the Urasenke Center to accept our scholarship kimono (plus obi and nagajuban). As I wrote a month ago,
We had the option of adding a mon to the back of the kimono, which makes it suitable for formal occasions (of which I'll attend many over the next year, and not a few even after I return to the States, I expect) though that add-on isn't covered by the Midorikai scholarship. If you are Japanese you already have a designated mon from your family, but if you aren't, you get to choose one, an act of identity-expression that rivals choosing a name for yourself, if you ask me. The shopkeeper has a catalogue of hundreds of—probably over a thousand— around four thousand mon, and I'm afraid I tried my doukyuusei's patience in paging through the catalogue to choose one, but I eventually found one I think suits me well.
And there is mine, in the photo above or to the left, depending on where you're reading this. It's 北斗七星, a.k.a. the Big Dipper. What do you think? If you're curious, here are some of the other astronomical crests.
radhardened: (storm trooper hello kitty)
April 27

fox statueLast Wednesday morning's first lecture was by Hamana-sensei on the architecture of the tearooms at Gakuen, the school building where we (usually) have both our classroom lectures and our tearoom practice. The third floor of Gakuen is a large window-lined space that is usually covered with tatami mats—I'd guess over a hundred of them—but can also be converted to an auditorium for school-related ceremonies and such. The second floor includes several classrooms, a library, a reception room for guests, and a ryurei room for practicing temae that use tables and seats instead of tatami. The first floor includes an office space for school staff, a large kitchen, and six different eight-mat tea rooms, the first couple of which were the subject of this lecture. When you're in the first-floor tea room area, you'd never guess you were in a concrete building. The architect did a brilliant job of hiding the concrete pillars and providing a living dictionary of different tea room styles along with meeting the usual functional and aesthetic requirements for tea rooms.

Next on our schedule was a lecture by Yamamoto-sensei, the gyotei-sensei who had taught our senpai in tearoom practice the previous day. As we introduced ourselves, Yamamoto-sensei asked us questions about what interests us about chanoyu and used our answers as opportunities to talk about a range of topics from wagashi to the ceremonial role of sake in Japanese culture to the naturalist aesthetics favored by Japanese wabi-type tea people and Scandinavians. This discussion ended up taking the entire 80-minute lecture period, which I don't think Yamamoto-sensei originally intended but which was educational and interesting perhaps more than the original lecture material would have been.

In the afternoon, we practiced wakei with Hamana-sensei. Wakei is a procedure with lots of little movements to remember. The men in our class had practiced the night before, but June and I hadn't, citing a lack of practice space and appropriate utensils in our dorm. You could tell which of us had practiced. In retrospect I think we should have improvised with whatever we had on hand and used our own dorms rooms as practice space. I spent the whole afternoon feeling frustrated alternately about the womens' dorm lack of available practice resources and about my failure to deal with that lack productively instead of turning it into an excuse not to practice.


April 28

Thursday was ro-furo irekae, the day when the non-Midorikai students switch the tea rooms from the sunken hearth (ro) configuration to one in which a smaller brazier (furo) sits on top of the tatami mats. As a result, we had jitsugi in the morning at the large practice space in the men's dorm, which required some coordination as far as figuring out what items Midorikai had available there and what we needed to pick up from Gakuen (wagashi, flowers, charcoal, ash). We continued practicing wakei with Murata-sensei.

In the afternoon we Midorikai students did our part in the day's changeover by cleaning the second-floor classrooms just as we had earlier in the month, right after the school entrance ceremony. So we don't get an opportunity to see the actual procedures for closing out the ro and getting ready to use furo.

Since we finished cleaning earlier than we'd normally finish afternoon jitsugi, I had a little spare time during regular business hours to take a few of my kimono to a cleaner that reputedly does a decent job with them for not too much money. The kimono I took there were a crimson iromuji that's actually the first kimono I ever had (and which suffered a bit in the previous week's unexpected rain), a pink-and-gray komon kimono I picked up from the pile left behind by previous Midorikai students, the light green iromuji from Harajuku Chicago whose stain I found only after I'd bought it (and all sales there are final), and a nagajuban with a yellowed collar. The total was around 8400 yen; I can pick them up this Saturday (the Golden Week holidays slow things down a bit), so I'll see how good a job this cleaner does.


pond behind Fushimi-inari Taisha Grand ShrineApril 29

This was Shōwa no hi, so we had the day off from classes. I headed to Fushimi Inari-taisha to fulfill my years-old desire to walk the entire length of the place (about 4 km of trails, with a number of side-tracks). Although the areas closer to the main shrine were a little crowded, I didn't notice particularly more people there than I'd seen in the past on non-holidays, and in areas farther along the trail it wasn't unusual for me to be alone among a stand of mossy stone monuments (otsuka) and the calls of songbirds in the tree canopy above. my table at the restaurantI stopped for lunch at one of the trailside restaurants perched atop a steep hill and had my pick of tables, so I sat in the tatami area right beside one of the windows, where I enjoyed the feeling of being up in a treehouse as I ate my kitsune udon and inarizushi. A little later I stopped at an overlook for kinako soft-serve, thus doubling the number of new soft-serve flavors I've tried in the past month (others included honey-and-black-sesame and black soybean). I love the natural beauty at Fushimi Inari-taisha. There's one particular low area of otsuka where the evergreens are really tall and where a curious person can find an opening through some large stones where a small stream has been diverted into a waterfall in a sort of grotto. I don't know the name of this area because I was never really clear where I was on the trail with respect to the maps at any given time, but I'm sure I'll make a note of it when I return. On my way out of the shrine I got an omamori for success in my studies along with an omikuji that I couldn't read or interpret. Doh! Turns out its summary is 小凶後吉 (blessing after small curse), so I'm going to tie it to something at the next shrine I encounter. Here are my photos from Fushimi Inari-taisha.

When I got home I got in touch with Anna and we met up for dinner, but between our late start and our indecisiveness in choosing a restaurant, I ended up having to bail out partway through dinner to make my curfew. I'm going to be staying at her place for the next couple days of holidays to prevent that from happening again. :)


April 30

On Saturday I joined some of my classmates in the morning to help Matsunami-sensei with cleaning the garden at Ryosen-an, but we got there early enough for a session of zazen beforehand with about a dozen other people. It was a chilly morning, and the door to the zendo was left open, so I wished I'd worn another layer under my samue, but the chill ensured I didn't fall asleep. Cleaning the garden afterward was really difficult due to the tiny red somethings dropped by the Japanese maple trees onto the moss below. Have you ever tried sweeping moss? There's a fine line between sweeping too gently to make any progress and sweeping too vigorously so that the moss separates from the ground. It felt like an exercise in futility, but after making some progress our cleaning session was declared over and we gathered around a table for tea and conversation.

After returning to our dorms, changing from samue into normal clothes, and gathering some of our classmates who'd opted to sleep in, we wandered around our neighborhood looking for a place to eat lunch. Many places were closed, presumably for the holiday period. Eventually we found a hole-in-the-wall soba/udon shop where I had a satisfying 500-yen bowl of curry donburi. The rest of my day was rather slow, mostly involving napping and reading.


May 1

On Sunday I headed to a local department store to pick up some things for my room, including an electric kettle, a stepstool, and a wire rack shelf unit, the latter two of which I had delivered (for a quite reasonable fee of 450 yen) because I had no way to carry them home on the bicycle. I did a few other chores including cleaning the filter in my air conditioning unit and removing the shitsuke (basting thread) from the dark green iromuji kimono I picked up from the pile of leftovers in preparation for wearing it the next day. In the evening I met Anna for parfaits at Lipton and much wandering around along Teramachi and Shijo.


May 2

On Monday morning we first gathered in the genkan at Konnichian to receive our monthly stipends from Iemoto (the reason we had to wear the formal iromuji kimono). As we were waiting in line, right before we were announced to Iemoto, Daisosho came along and started peeling off bills from inside his pocket and giving them to us! Weird! But yay! But weird! But I'll take it. Scholarships and bonuses in hand, we reported to our classroom for a quiz on chitosebon and wakei. I think I did pretty well, but on a question about who formulated the wakei procedure, I didn't see Tantansai's name among the answers. I figured I must have misremembered who came up with it. Doh. Turns out Tantansai is also known as Mugensai, which was among the answers. Not the one I picked, though. Now I know.

Following the quiz was a lecture by Hamana-sensei on more May seasonal topics, including sweets (kudzu-starch sweets start to appear at the end of this month), flowers, and an event called shoburo that celebrates the beginning of the furo season. Hamana-sensei then went on to continue the Gakuen chashitsu lecture, covering the less formal tea rooms and the hallways.

Our afternoon jitsugi was hishaku warigeiko and hakobi usucha temae. For hishaku warigeiko we each needed to practice in front of a separate kettle and brazier setup, so we were up on the expansive third floor of Gakuen. The ambiance up there is much different from downstairs, what with all the light and the views and the space. Since the weather was mild, the windows were open somewhat, and the wind whistled through at times, creating a kind of rooftop-of-the-world Tibetan feeling. The day's wagashi was awarimochi, which at first glance you might mistake for kashiwamochi since it's enveloped in an oak leaf, but this awarimochi uses yomogi mochi instead of regular mochi.
radhardened: (living room)
April 25

Yesterday morning started with erratic weather and a weekly quiz; the topic for us newer students was ryakubon temae. We got our graded quizzes back today and I missed two question: one on the term for the folding of the fukusa for usucha (which I'm pretty sure we were not taught in full), which is so no fukusa sabaki 草の帛紗捌き, and another on when the teishu moves the natsume back to its original position in the center of the tray, which is done after placing the wiped chashaku on the tea bowl and before placing the kettle lid slightly ajar. On last week's quiz, I turned out to have missed three: the material of the peg from which the scroll is hung (bamboo), the mizusashi water level for hakobidemae (80%), and the mizusashi water level for tana temae (90%), the latter two of which I underestimated.

Following the quiz was our first lecture by Imagawa-sensei, who had previously only taught us in jitsugi. He talked about furo (braziers used from May through October in the northern hemisphere) and the shikiita that go with them, with a tangent into kanji radicals. This was the first lecture directed to us (Midorikai students) that was given only in Japanese with no interpretation, but Imagawa-sensei makes it easier for those of us not yet fluent in Japanese by speaking slowly and clearly, using simple vocabulary, and making use of the chalkboard for writing and drawing. So I'd say I understood most of the lecture.

In jitsugi, we continued to practice chitosebon, this time adding haiken, under the direction of Hamana-sensei. We used my haigata, and to my surprise it was not judged terrible, though Hamana-sensei was fairly astonished that I'd spent 3.5 hours on it. Our teachers and senpai insist that after about one hour spending more time on haigata does not improve it. But it's so hard to look at something so obviously flawed after an hour's work and put down your tools instead of trying to fix it!

We used an interesting natsume, a Gengensai-gonomi akebono natsume utsushi 玄々斎好写 曙棗 (pictured at right). The day's wagashi was chogoromochi 長五郎餅 from Chogoromochi Honpo, which we're told sets up a booth on the 25th of each month at Tenjin-san (Market) 天神さん at Kitano Tenmangu 北野天満宮. It's a very simple wagashi with no particularly interesting color, design, shape, or flavor, so I had a hard time getting excited about it. But Hamana-sensei noted that traditionally, the role of wagashi in chanoyu is to enhance the tea, not to take attention away from it.


April 26

This morning's first lecture was by Gary-sensei on Senke Jusshoku, the ten families of craft-makers upon whom the Senke schools of chanoyu rely for the very best utensils. The second "lecture" was a guided tour through about half of the current Urasenke Center gallery exhibition, "Eighty-eight Years of My Life with Tea: Sen Genshitsu (Soshitsu XV)". I forgot to mention in my previous post that last Tuesday, April 19, was Hōunsai Daisosho's 88th birthday. Since 88 is considered to be an auspicious number, it had been planned as a big celebratory bash, but what with the recent earthquakes and tsunami in northern Japan, it was considerably toned down. We current Midorikai students—and some former ones—wrote birthday cards to him, but the day wasn't marked by any birthday events that included us, so the most noticeable marker of the birthday from our viewpoint are the lavish bouquets of orchids and roses that now adorn the Gakuen building. But I digress. This exhibition included chanoyu utensils made and/or preferred by Daisosho, often accompanied by photos of the events they were associated with, a last-minute tweak to the exhibit that I think adds a lot to the context of the items on display. To me, the most jaw-dropping utensil was a chashaku (tea scoop, usually carved from bamboo) with five nodes within a few inches of each other; does bamboo do that naturally? Was it somehow coerced into growing that way? I've never seen anything like it. There were many utensils featuring a phoenix (the "Hō" in Daisosho's Zen name Hōunsai 鵬雲斎). We learned the source of the tsubo-tsubo motif, which is the crest worn on formal kimono by people who attain the level at which they receive a chamei (tea name) and the right to wear the crest in Urasenke. I was interested in a red raku tea bowl that had a flaming jewel painted on it in white; I don't often see raku pieces with deliberately painted designs, and my understanding is that such tea bowls cannot be used for drinking koicha, but rather only usucha. I'd be interested in learning more about the "flaming jewel" in Buddhism; some cursory Googling didn't enlighten me. This tour and the Senke Jusshoku lecture that preceded it dovetailed nicely since so many of the utensils we saw in the gallery were made by craftspeople of those families. All in all, it was a fascinating tour, and I hope we'll have a chance to hear about the rest of the pieces that we didn't have time to get to.

Today's jitsugi was our last chitosebon practice. A gyotei-sensei (one of the high-level tea practitioners who work directly under the Iemoto and serve the Sen household) was guest-teaching our senpai in the adjacent room, so we were on our best behavior. One of the tea bowls we used had a contemplative mountain scene painted on it and two kanji inscribed inside, one of which was jaku 寂 (tranquility), one of the four principles of the discipline of Tea. Kyo no Yama 京の山 "Mountain(s) of Kyoto"Today's wagashi was Kyo no Yama 京の山 "Mountain(s) of Kyoto", pictured at left.

After dinner and evening chores June and I went to Hinodeya to buy kimono raincoats, ensuring that our recent rainy weather will soon come to an end. :) Still, the rainy season is coming up.

The Midorikai men are submitting their applications to help carry a float in this year's Gion Matsuri. Apparently women aren't allowed to, despite the fact that my female senpai, an aikido practitioner, is stronger than many of the men. :(
radhardened: (cat ears)
April 18

Monday started with a weekly quiz. This one, for us newer students, was supposed to be on the basics of mizuya and the names of tearoom elements, though I don't remember any questions about the latter. The questions were not so much on the lecture material as on what we had been taught—or not taught—during afternoon practice, during which note-taking is difficult to impossible since it's forbidden in the tearoom. I think I did fairly well on the quiz; maybe I'll find out tomorrow, at which time we'll have another one.

Following the quiz all of the students filed into a large classroom to hear o-iemoto's (bi-monthly?) lecture. For the benefit of those of us who don't understand much Japanese, Hamana-sensei and Gary-sensei took turns simultaneously interpreting into English through a set of short-range radios, but even though we tested them beforehand the setup didn't work in practice, maybe because the microphone wasn't picking up the quiet voices they used so as not to disturb the lecture itself. So I didn't really understand o-iemoto's lecture. :( Afternoon practice was bonryaku. Uneventful. In the evening June and I shopped for things for the next day's mizuya mimai. She made poke (a hit) and inarizushi, I made panfried mochifu, and we added some grapes, edamame, and bottled green tea.

April 19

On Tuesday one of our senpai held his hango chaji, a type of chaji that takes place after the guests have already eaten, so the host only serves sweets and tea. The idea of doing this type of chaji is that it's somewhat manageable for someone at our level. Even so, as guests we helped out in various ways that normally would be covered by the host. In the morning we brought the mizuya mimai and cleaned several of the rooms in Chado Kaikan as well as the garden areas, where most of the work was picking up fallen bamboo leaves, since spring is "bamboo autumn". We didn't have time to do a really thorough job, since we needed to hurry back to the dorm to change into our formal kimono and then to the cafeteria to eat lunch.

After a lunch that actually ended up being less rushed than usual, we gathered at Chado Kaikan, quietly avoiding some meeting that Okusama was holding there at the same time, and made our way to the yoritsuki to remove our tabi covers and leave our belongings (and, in the men's case, to put on their hakama). And this is where I'll wave my hands for now, dear reader, because there is much to write about the chaji, and I should be getting some sleep. I hope to fill in this part before my memory of it fades too much. Feel free to pester me if I forget.

April 20

Wednesday morning's lecture was an introduction to chashitsu by Hamana-sensei, whose overview of the requirements and design constraints of chashitsu is informed by some architectural training. A chashitsu requires a number of facilities outside the tearoom itself, including places for the guests to change their tabi and leave their belongings (genkan/yoritsuki), gather and wait for the chaji to begin (machiai), calm down and prepare spiritually for the drinking of tea (koshikake machiai), purify themselves (tsukubai), and rest while the host prepares for the second half of the chaji (koshikake machiai again). And the host needs places to prepare utensils and food, including the heating of water and charcoal, and means to move between the garden, preparation room, and tearoom unseen by the guests. I was interested to hear also about the psychological impact a chashitsu should have on guests and the ideas of 'cocooning' (Hamana-sensei says the Japanese have a preference for small spaces, a preference that I suspect I share) and tranquilization through the control of stimuli.

For afternoon practice, our class had Hamana-sensei for the only time this week, but he was in a bad mood! He was particularly not interested in hearing comments about how our teachers back home taught us to do things differently from how he was teaching us. I'd been warned about this by my teacher back home and advised to adapt to whatever ways I was being taught at the time. Some of my classmates have a hard time, when they encounter the different way of doing something, keeping from commenting about the difference; I suppose my strong skill in inhibition serves me well here. :/ Still, we tried our best at bonryaku and avoided causing our teacher any further irritation.

April 21

Thursday morning's lecture was on rekidai by Gary-sensei. Rekidai refers to the successive generations of heads of Urasenke, from Sen no Rikyu to the present day. But this lecture just started with Rikyu and focused on utensils that he preferred or designed, including the Amidado kettle, Shigaraki ware pottery, chashaku with a node in the center, Rikyubashi (long, unlacquered wooden chopsticks tapered on both ends), shibugamide 渋紙手 utensils that mimic the color and texture of kakishibugami 柿渋紙 (paper treated with persimmon juice), and many more. One slide showed a glimmering image of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's gold-leaf-covered portable tea room in what I presume was an example of the kind of extravagance Rikyu was against.

Afternoon practice was more bonryaku, this time with Imagawa-sensei, whose grace and gentleness leaves us students in awe. He speaks with us in Japanese but is quick to switch to English when it's clear we're not understanding him.

April 22

Friday morning's lecture was on seasonal topics for May. I can tell this is going to be one of my favorite kinds of lecture. We covered flowers that appear in May, various poetic names for the month, the solar terms that occur in May, festivals and traditional events that occur in May, the tradition of beginning to pick tea leaves on the 88th day after Risshun, the Tokugawa-era procession of the shogun's tea jars from Uji to Edo, the processing of green tea, and the history and traditions of Children's Day.

I practiced chitosebon for first time in the afternoon. Chitosebon is a temae created by Tantansai's wife for his sixtieth birthday; in it the utensils are carried inside a circular lacquered black box similar in size and shape to a round hat box. This was our first session with Ro-sensei, one of the teachers who doesn't speak English, but he didn't say a great deal. We had looked at some reference materials beforehand so we had a rough idea of how the temae goes. At first it felt strange to be putting down my fukusa with my left hand, but when you're putting it down to your left, it's less awkward than the alternative.

That evening it was my turn to do haigata for my class—that is, to sculpt the ash formation for the brazier we'll use on Monday. The hour of time we have in the evenings at Gakuen is plenty of time for the cleaning chores but not nearly enough time for a newbie doing haigata, so after an hour's effort I put mine aside to finish over the weekend.

April 23

my new chabakoOn Saturday morning June and I took advantage of a 50% off sale at Kitagawa, one of the local chadogu shops. We picked up chitosebon-sized kobukusa, and I fixed myself up with a gorgeous chabako set, the box made of unlacquered wood cut with a watery motif. We treated one of our senpai to a gourmet shojin-ryori lunch at Izusen for helping us with the evening cleaning chores even though the senpai are not obligated to do them (a subject of some controversy). He in turn treated us to aburimochi at Ichiwa. If that last sentence sounds familiar, that's the same place where Kido-san treated me to aburimochi last weekend. I'm so lucky! On the way back to our respective dorms we stopped at a ceramics gallery on Kitaoji-dori with some really funky but expensive pieces.

April 24

my first haigataThis morning I spent 2.5 more hours on my first haigata. Gah. The end state for this kind of thing, at my stage of learning, is not so much "finished" as "given up".

June and I headed downtown afterward for a tenzarusoba lunch at 鶴喜そば and secondhand kimono shopping at Chicago. I got a couple of kimono, one of them a light green iromuji that might in retrospect need some cleaning, and a couple of obi to match. We were not quite sure about the distinction between summer (July/August) and non-summer obi, so we stuck with ones we're pretty sure are of the latter type. We walked around the basement food floor of Takashimaya a bit, but by then we were exhausted from the heavy bags, hordes of people, and rain outside, so we took a bus back to our neighborhood. A nap was really tempting, but I stopped in at Tsuruya Yoshinobu instead for namagashi and bowl of usucha, and that carried me through the rest of the evening, including a nice video Skype chat with my parents. Thank goodness for in-room Internet access.
radhardened: (storm trooper hello kitty)
April 15

On Friday, instead of lectures and jitsugi, our class had a charcoal-cutting session. We donned samue, face masks, plastic bags for shoe covers, and—as part of a new giggle-inducing "tradition" begun by recent classes of Midorikai students—towels on our heads arranged a la Korean bathhouse, rolled up on the sides. Using a handy wooden length guide and hand saws, we took charcoal-ized branches of cedar and cut them to size for burning in the hearth in the upcoming furo season. It was enjoyable work, and the mood was jovial. I didn't bring my camera for fear of getting charcoal dust in its crevices, but at times the scene was downright picturesque thanks to a blizzard of fallen cherry blossom petals.

After we finished up, cleaned up, and ate dinner, I headed for the VIVRE grocery store to buy the ingredients for a panfried komachibu recipe I want to try making as part of the mizuya mimai for a senpai's chaji this Tuesday; mizuya mimai is food brought by guests to give the hardworking host and assistant some nourishment as they're working behind the scenes. I didn't find komachibu, and I still haven't, but I hope the mochifu I bought instead will suffice.

April 16

sad tea bowl?Yesterday I went downtown with June and Karoliina. We bought usucha from Ippodo and some kimono things from a few different stores, including Midorikai-student-favorite Daiyasu, where Karoliina got an iromuji summer kimono. We should wear iromuji to formal events like chaji, chakai, and meetings and lectures with the principals. (We can wear a wider range of styles, including komon and tsukesage, to daily classes.) So far I have one iromuji awase (lined) kimono and another on order but no iromuji hitoe (unlined, for wear in June and September) or iromuji summer kimono. I'll need to get those and the accompanying lighter underkimono, but I'm not in a hurry. We stopped for lunch at Mr. Young Men in Teramachi; the okonomiyaki was fine but so far I've preferred the okonomiyaki I've made in the U.S. to the okonomiyaki I've been served in Japan, which perhaps has a more egg-y batter. On my way back to the dorm I stopped at one of Kyoto's larger post offices and was pleased to find that they have a service desk that's open all the time, including nights and weekends.

April 17

me at Koto-inThis morning I met up with a former chado classmate who lives in Kyoto but spent a year in the DC area a few years ago. She now has one- and three-year-old daughters, and with the older one we went to Imamiya-jinja, their neighborhood shrine. After walking around for a bit we stopped for some aburimochi at Ichiwa and proceeded to Daitoku-ji, where we visited a couple of the sub-temples, Koto-in and Daisen-in. My friend's daughter loved the space to run around. It wasn't very crowded since there aren't any cherry blossoms in this area, but there are lots of momiji, so in the autumn I understand it becomes very crowded. We went to Yubanzai Komame-ya Kotaoji for a delicious light lunch set including yuba (their specialty), tofu, and okara. This neighborhood is only a few blocks away from my dorm, so I can definitely see myself going back there when I'm in the mood for some healthy, elegant Kyoto cuisine.
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