Monday, May 15, 2017

Ancient Spiritual Rituals: Japanese Tea Ceremony and American Ice Cream Ceremony

For Western folks whose cultures only go back a few hundred years, and whose attention spans barely reach a few minutes ago, the Japanese tea ceremony seems "ancient". In it's present forms and practice, it's barely a half millennium old.

In fact, to quote Carly Simon's "Anticipation" anthem, "These are the good old days." Many of the same secular and religious buildings in which tea was shared by Rikyu and his patron the Toyotomi Shogun Hideyoshi in the 16th century are still standing and used. My home tearoom is certainly not ancient, yet the same alchemical reactions of fire, water, air, metal and wood / earth is no less or more viable than those before.

The spirit of the moment is also ours to evoke.

So why do we have to make a fuss, to exoticize this practice? When I hear of the "secret temaes" that were only taught to initiates, I think of rituals and rites that belong to a privileged few for no other reason than to keep some people out or to make the members seem distinctive. There's nothing inherent in chanoyu that needs to be "secret". C'mon, guys!

Certainly, there is a shift in consciousness when one picks up a hishaku (water ladle) and prepares to draw boiling water from an iron kettle, but only if  consciousness was present a split second before. 

And, yes, while it is the host who is picking up the ladle, the shift can also be experienced by the guest who is in deep anticipation (if s/he knows what comes "next").

It's the simplicity of the temae that defies expectation, the extra falls off the ordinary to make the experience one that is nothing much but a deeply human experience.

I don't think that I can explain it further. It's not ancient. It's not mysterious.

Chawan "All-Stars" & Other Top Tea Toys @ Tokyo National Museum

Not since 1980 have chawan and other National Treasures that were used by / in the collection of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, Oda Nobunaga, Sen no Rikyu and Matsudaira Fumai been together in a single exhibition! 

Welcome to the 21st Century! We’re talking Tenmoku, Oido, Raku, Celadon, Mino, Raku, Shino, works by Chojiro, Hon’ami Koetsu. On exhibition together (with frequent rotation) for a few months at the Tokyo National Museum.

The new tea drinking practices of the Song Dynasty were learned by Japanese Zen monks studying in China around the 12th century and then spread among Zen temples, samurai families, and other members of Japanese high society. These people displayed their status by decorating tea rooms and serving tea with exquisite Chinese artworks called karamono. During the Azuchi-Momoyama period in the 16th century, Sen no Rikyu perfected a new style of tea called wabicha in which Chinese artworks were used together with humble utensils from everyday life, and the tea ceremony spread from the elite of society to lesser lords and townspeople. In this manner the tea ceremony developed over hundreds of years into a prominent and unique aspect of Japanese culture. This major exhibition will focus on how the arts of the tea ceremony evolved from Muromachi period to modernity. This will be the largest exhibition of its kind since Arts of the Tea Ceremony, which was held at Tokyo National Museum in 1980. We hope that by witnessing masterpieces of the tea ceremony from various historical periods, and attuning themselves to the sensibilities of the people who used them, visitors will be able to fully experience the “Essence of Japan”. 

Exhibition Highlights
1. Once-in-a-Generation “Great Chanoyu Exhibition
The exhibition “Arts of the Tea Ceremony” held at the Tokyo National Museum in 1980 (Showa 55) was the first exhibition to present tea utensils from famous collections as Japanese art. Thirty-seven yeas later, we look back at chanoyu, the symbol of Japanese culture, with a fresh eye from a 21st –century perspective.

2. Beloved Tea Bowls of the Famous Generals and Tea Masters
The famed tea bowls once beloved by noted military commanders and tea masters that captures the hearts of people of all periods will be brought together under a single roof. These are first-class ceramics that were made in vastly different regions of China, Korea, and Japan. It is extremely rare for so many masterworks representing every major historical period to be brought together like this in what willl be a truly momentous exhibition.
Vote on your favorite!!!!!
3. From Early Modern to Modern: early modern master who maintained the history of tea tradition
Several of the great industrialists who stood at the center of Japanese economic circles in the Meiji period loved antique arts and thoroughly mastered tea ceremony from a new perspective. Through the eyes of the four figures noted in this exhibition – Fujita Kosetsu, Masuda Donno, Hirase Roko and Hara Sankei – we introduce the new charm of a tea tradition brimming with creativity.


Part 1; Tea of the Ashikaga Shogunal Family: Solemnity and Refined Taste in Karamono
Around the 12th century, the new method of tea drinking involving whisking of powerdered tea (matcha) that had been brought from Song-dynasty China gradually spread among  Zen temples and the amurai class in Japan. Tea practitioners collected all manner of Chinese artworks they termed karamono (literally “things form Tang [China]”) and displayed them in interior spaces, as well as using them to enjoy tea in demonstrations of their own status. Then, in the Muromachi period, around the 15th century, the top class karamono objects were gathered together under the Ashikaga shogunal family, especially the 8th shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, where they were classified and appraised by individuals of discerning taste. This high valuation and admiration of imported Chinese karamono objects later came to wield a major influence on later tea taste.

Part 2.  The Birth of Wabicha: Pleasing the Heart
By the end of the 15th century, the townsmen class were rapidly gaining strength as the main contributors in the new era and came to enjoy and to master renga linked poetry and Noh drama, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, incense ceremony, and other cultural arts. Amidst this atmosphere, individuals such as Murato Shuko (1423 – 1502) and te practitioners in the Shimogyo area of the capital (Kyoto) came to value not only karamono exclusively, but also in combination with objects from daily life that suited their tastes. From this aesthetic a new tide was born. The spirit of rustic simplicity in tea known as wabicha spread to the next generations of tea masters such as Takeno Joo  (1502 – 1555) and continue to deepen. We trace the changing value system with respect to tea utensils through the eyes of these practitioners, as they shift from Chinese to Korean and then Japanese objects, and further exhibit the arts of wabicha that began to emerge in the transitional period of these times.
Part 3. The Development of Wabicha: Sen no Rikyu and his Time
In the Azuchi-Momoyama period, the practice of the Way of Tea finally came to permeate broadly and deeply from the rules of the land to the regional daimyos to the townsmen due to the influence of Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591), who had succeeded to the tradition of wabicha. As tea master to the ruler of the land, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Rikyu carried on the tradition that had continued since Murata Shuko and not only discovered wabicha utensils that could stand shoulder to shoulder with karamono, but also created new utensils. By arranging such pieces together in innovative combinations, Rikyu infused new breath into the world of chanoyu. In addition to utensils adopted by and created by Rikyu, it turns to Furuta Oribe (1544-1615), the tea master who carried on Rikyu’s spirit, adn the tea ceramics that blossomed in his time. 
Part 4. Classical Revival: The Tea Traditions of Kobori Enshu and Matsudaira Fumai
With the extended peace in the Edo period, tea culture experienced a period of change. A number of movements arose and mutually affected each other, including a movement to revive the tea of the samurai form the Muromachi period centered around Kobori Enshu (1579-1647), a movement to establish an iemoto system of succession of the spirit of Sen no Rikyu’s tea through headmastership, and further a movement to create a new tide incorporating the refined world of the court nobility. From the first half of the Edo period, Kobori Enshu resusciateted the tea practiced by the samurai warriors and established a new style of tea known as kiri sabi (elegant simplicity). Matsudaira Fumai (Harusato, 1751-1818), of the later Edo, chanoyu is said to have become an empty shell. Fumai, who served as the daimyo of Matsue, traced tea tradition back to the classics and collected and appraised tea utensils.
Part 5. A New Kind of Creativity: The Eyes of the Modern Tea Masters
During the period of unrest that accompanied the end of the Edo period to the Meiji Restoration, treasures and celebrated objects were released out into the world form temples and old families. It was at this time that the famous industrialists, men of refined taste who were well known in Kansai and Tokyo, of great discernment, such as Hirase Roko (Kamenosuke, 11839-1908), Fujita Kosetsu (Denzaburo, !841-19112), Masuda Donno (Takashi, 1848-1938), and Hara Sankei (Tomitaro, 1868-1939), obtained first-rate utensils and constructed a new age of chanoyu from a new value system while still giving weight to tradition.
  • Hirase Roko (Kamenosuke, 1839-1908)             A leading authority in the Osaka financial circles who was also known as a man of culture. Devoted to waka poetry and the traditional practices of court and military households as well as Noh theatre and flower arrangement.
  • Fujita Kosetsu (Denzaburo, !841-19112)            Founder of the Fujita-gumi conglomerate of Kansai which handled construction, financing, spinning and other businesses. Collection formed the foundation of the present-day Fujita Art Museum in Osaka
  • Masuda Donno (Takashi, 1848-1938)                 The first president of the former Mitsui and Co., his knowledge of Buddhist arts and other otld Japanese arts. He was devoted to chanoyu in his final years.
  • Hara Sankei (Tomitaro, 1868-1939)   Based in Yokohama, he built his fortune from the raw silk trade. Known for cultivation of young artists such as Yasuda Yukihiko and others as well as for the creation of the Sankeien Garden in Yokohoma.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


Zenshuji’s Annual Chasen Kuyo
(Tea Ceremony Whisk Commemoration)

November 6, 11am - 4pm

Tea practitioners and the public is invited.

You don't have to go to Kyoto for authentic Japanese Zen Tea Ceremony culture. Zenshuji Soto Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo, Downtown Los Angeles, invites the general public to attend its annual Chasen Kuyo, celebration of the chasen, the bamboo tea whisk used to make a bowl of matcha (powdered green tea). The event attracts practitioners of all Japanese tea ceremony schools in the region in seasonal kimono.

This chakai (tea ceremony gathering) combines two distinct temae (tea procedures) in the temple's tea venues and a superbly prepared chaseki (meal for tea ceremony) incorporating seasonal shojin riori (vegetarian temple cuisine) crafted by the temple's chefs.

Chanoyu (tea ceremony is not often enjoyed outside Japan in its original context, that of a Zen Buddhist Temple. Zenshuji, one of the oldest and most prominent Zen temples in North America, is unique to host this event. The day begins with a solemn Buddhist service in the hondo (main sanctuary) offering tea in appreciation of the efforts of the humble hand-tool. A talk about Zen and Chado (the "Way of Tea") will follow chanting of traditional Buddhist sutras.


 English language explanation of the events will be provided for newcomers. Chairs will be available.

 Reservations are limited: $55 per person donation. No walk-ins are permitted on the day of the event.

Payment in full by check should be made in advance to Zenshuji Sado-bu and sent to 123 S. Hewitt Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012. For more information, call 213.624.8658.

Zenshuji's Sado-bu (Tea Ritual organization) is headed by Hiromi Sosei Yamashita, sensei, a senior student of the Chado Urasenke Distinguished Tea Master and USA/NEA National Heritage Fellow Sosei Matsumoto Sensei, of Los Angeles. The Zenshuji Sado-bu presented chanoyu demonstrations at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and has been active for over 30 years.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Shedding Light on the "Ancient" Japanese Tea Ceremony

Please see my post of the same title in my other blog Trads in Contempo Life.

Thanks to Mamoru Fujiwara for the inspiration!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

CHA no YU no CHA no YU no CHA no YU no CHA no YU ...yes!

The Source of the Water. The Source of the Practice.

"Sensei," the novice monk asked his teacher in the heat of summer, "Which really came first? The tea or the water?"

 "OY! It's getting cold," was the wise reply.

What is commonly referred to as the “Japanese Tea Ceremony”, is literally, “tea’s hot water”. Sen no Rikyu (1522-1592), the founder of our Way of Tea, admonished practitioners to pay strict attention to the source of water for tea, to draw it from a pure source at an auspicious time of day.

For the "Water Pavilion" Project of CURRENT:LA the first Los Angeles Public Art Biennial, we practitioners of chado (the Way of Tea), have been invited by Rirkrit Tiravanija to perform demonstrations in the structure (below) being built over the LA River in Sepulveda Basin Park near Lake Balboa. We will source precious water from the Los Angeles River that has been purified on site through modern methods and is potable, another of the important aspects of his presentation.

As our water is from the many streams feeding the L.A. River, the sources of the practice are the many streams of Zen Buddhism. As if to fortell Los Angeles’ unique cultural diversity, the great teacher Eihei Dogen Zenji (1200 – 1253) wrote in the Sansui-Kyo (Mountains and Rivers Sutra), “Ikken Shisui” (One View, Four [Different kinds of] Water). This can be interpreted as not only is there is water in the world, but there is a world in water. It is not just in water.

Presentation on July 16 (2-3pm) and July 17 (3 - 4pm), 6300 Balboa Ave., Van Nuys

In addition to its practical use in the host’s making a bowl of green tea for a guest, the notion of “water” will be reflected in the thematic aspects of today’s presentation of two distinct procedures appropriate to the summer season and auspicious occasion.

Meisuidate 名水点 Koichademae: The formal preparation of matcha (powdered green tea) utilizing water drawn from a famous source. Upon entering the space, the guest notices the tsurube, an unfinished well bucket made of hinoki cypress with special paper decorations to denote the purity of the water. This prompts a request to taste the water from the well bucket before the hot water is added from the kettle to make a bowl of tea.

Araijakin 洗茶巾 Usuchademae: As it is summertime, we will do an informal preparation utilizing a rather shallow tea bowl that is brought into the preparation area filled with water. A broad leaf (habuta), with dew drops, stands in for the lid on the fresh water container, all done to evoke a sense of coolness.

Additionally, poetic names of utensils will reflect the greater understanding and realization of the purpose of the gathering ... just that the host makes a bowl of tea for the guest. The guest receives the bowl of tea from the host.

Thus, the fundamental embodiment of tea preparation, Wa. Kei. Sei. Jaku. (Harmony. Respect. Purity. Tranquility.), we hope will be realized.

Friday, June 17, 2016

2016 Chanoyu Demonstrations in Los Angeles

I am getting inquiries about where people can see chanoyu demonstrations. Many Buddhist temples with chado clubs had demonstrations during obon. There are a few other ways to see tea practiced as a demonstration.

I'll begin the list here and continue to add to it. All will expect a donation (usually $5/person for a bowl of tea and sweet. Free to observe; Chasenkuyo includes a service and meal @ $50/person)


  • Varies (check calendar) Hunting Gardens Seifuan Tea House (not usually open to the public) (spring 2016)
  • November 6, @ Zenshuji Chasenkuyo (advance reservations required)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Turning Japanese? I Hardly Think そ: Review: Making Tea, Making Japan Kristin Surak

Review: Making Tea, Making Japan: Cultural Nationalism Practice 
by Kristin Surak (Stanford CA, Stanford University Press, 2013) 
What’s all this fuss about Japanese tea anyway?” begins a quiz I give to students after I do a demonstration in conjunction with their Japanese culture curriculum. I usually don’t don kimono, not only because there’s not lots of prep time, but also because it sends a different message than what I hope they will experience. 

Why are we studying the culture of other people? I my youth it was because it was out of my regular “ordinary” experience; it seemed exotic and either made my own daily existence look better or different. Since beginning my study of chanoyu in 1985, and being one of only a few Occidental people who has stuck it out, I can now say that it is within my regular “ordinary” experience. 
My friends seem to think that I’ve turned Japanese, but that is categorically impossible as Kristin Surak’s new book that explores how chanoyu has molded and been molded by the core essence of Japanese-ness: 
The tea practice – the preparation procedures and modes interaction at lessons – began to mold my foreign body into forms regarded as distinctively Japanese.
Turning Japanese? I Hardly Think

As a left-handed, cross-country skiing Jewish feminist, such a transformation is not likely, but something has happened and for some reason it has made its impact.
Perhaps the best test has been during numerous subsequent visits to Japan. When I mention upon first encounter with a Japanese native that I have been studying chanoyu since that time with a distinguished tea master, people stop what they are doing, inhale slightly through the teeth and a type of relief mixed with fear comes over the person with whom I am conversing: Relief that I may understand them at their core. Fear that I may ask them a questions or, perhaps worse, that I may invite them to participate in a tea gathering, an activity about which they in fact never cared too much for or about which they may know very little.
When I would be invited to join other tea folks to do a demonstration at the annual Japan Expo in Los Angeles, I am usually stopped during my break time walking around to see the other exhibitions / demonstrations by an arguably Japanese (language accent) ...

 "You wear kimono yourself?"
To which I usually replied, pulling the neckline out a bit in the front and peering down into the chasm of my décolletage that has been stuffed into the coquettishly kokeshi tubular form, much like those devices that produce perfectly round hard boiled eggs that are then sliced and served in airplane salads ... 
 "I'm the only one in there."
Of course, this questions is literally a translation from Japanese into English, as "mono" means "thing/object" and "ki" refers to the verb "to wear", so a kimono is a thing to wear, but it has tremendous cultural implications. 
A sister tea practitioner social anthropologist Kristin Surak has written an important and essential book that will help the curious place the impact of chanoyu where it belongs in Japan, smack dab in the middle of the culture. While the finger that points to the moon is “only” the finger, tea is absolutely tea and the ritual is reasonably identified as and of Japan (even though it is also of China and Korea). Like a horse with a wandering soul, it takes a strong trainer to keep it on course. This has been the work of many aficionados for more than 450 years. 
Likewise, there is a Zen Buddhist parable that states the taste of Tea and Zen are one ... or maybe it's One. There are many tea practitioners who can't possibly practice the forms without kimono. The garb does support the torso while sitting seiza, and the temae gestures do specifically accommodate and even enable the long sleeves -- doing double duty as pockets -- to be seen as a type of prop. The folds become essential "pockets" for various cloths and papers used by both host and guest.
Couquettish Kokeshi
Some might call me an "Orientalist" to the extent that I still find many aspects of Asian cultures, especially Japanese, very attractive. I used to like to wear my kimono as I have some beautiful ones, but as I've aged my body type just is not made for this cut of cloth. I stick to haori for formal Western wear.
When I began practicing chanoyu, I had lost quite a bit of weight and, for my first public demonstration, several of the Japanese ladies who were helping me dress, were muttering about how many towels it was going to take to fill up waistline. From them on I learned how to dress myself so I could avoid that stuffy feeling.
As my body filled itself out naturally over time, I know now why the obijime is worn low on the obi if one is of middle age and older. While it may be a sign that one is young and available for marriage if it sits mid-way, the lower position is more likely practical to hold fast to the extra material when more of the long sash is need to circumnavigate the midriff, leaving much less "extra" flap to tuck upward behind the "pillow".
And there is the matter of the various useful, however unglamorous strings that I have inherited from various kind women who took pity on my not having an appropriate kimono trousseau, including koshihimo, strings, usually pink or white but mine is light blue and purple wave pattern, are a formal description of these unsung heroes. I can also measure my girth and have had to resort to pretty serious knots.
There is nothing useful to be said about zori, except that if there are puddles, get high ones, but otherwise one really doesn't need them most of the time for tea ceremony events in a home. I usually wear men's varieties to accommodate the essential tabi, or use Birkenstock sandals so I can drive my car.