Monday, November 20, 2017

Steamy! Tango With Chasen

How are the art of Argentinian Tango  like Chado?

Yes, both are steam driven!

Both require precision and practice.

Then there are the choreographic steps that must be learned and executed "naturally" (as Matsumoto sensei always reminds me) as if one is born into the culture, and then, over at least one lifetime, they must be refined.

in addition, there are rules of behavior among practitioners, whether at a chaji or a milonga,  on native soil or imported into one's homeland, that govern these intimate but social endeavors.

The fact was not lost on me when looking back on my visit to the ultimate Japanese "Tango", the current head of Tanimura chasen makers of Takayama, the 20th in his lineage to inherit the title.

After more than 30 years of the practice, I finally have witnessed the process of making a chasen by an expert craftsman in his home workshop / studio.  A video may be seen from his website!

As promised by many folks who tried to dissuade me from venturing out to find such as person, the way to the region where 99% of chasen are made requires a train and long taxi ride. So we did just that to tour Tango's "performance".

I had a chance to shake his hand which is that of a man who uses them to work with materials and tools that are not kind to the skin. Sherlock Holmes would be fascinated, maybe befuddled!

In addition to watching his deft handling of relatively few tools (mostly ordinary; one handle covered in a golf club grip wrap), he used a relatively new device that helped him hold the bamboo steady as he slowly and carefully shaved more and more material of the tines.

A copy of his English language hand-out about the process is here:

 The process is pretty straight forward. Skill and more skill. Experience and more experience. Bamboo from the finest groves aged appropriately to meet the standards of the craftsman's clients, the many different schools of tea each of which seeks perfection in its whisking. One whisk per gathering is usual. (See earlier postings about chasen kuyo, the annual gathering of tea practitioners to show appreciation for the hard work in creating the tool of the trade by dedicating a used chasen at a temple.)
1. removing the outer skin of the chosen piece of bamboo

2. making 16 cuts with an ordinary carving knife (like one for chashaku cutting)

3. separating the 16 basic cut sections

4. removing the inner pulp from each tine.

5. snipping each of the 16 at least 4x and then pulling the thinner ones away from the larger with fingers

6. scraping more material from each one of the thinnest tines

7. separating the inner and outer sections and more refining shape

9. once the string has fixed the inner and outer sections, more refining each tine. the black is a rolled piece of stiff paper.

10. myriad versions are available.

11. colored strings can be added to fit the client's request. There have been sports team colors. This for an international chakai for Urasenke Midorikai.

Some additional take-aways:
1. The quality of bamboo is everything. The real smokey colored ones (not dyed!) are more expensive because there is less material available every day. Fewer old buildings are using open flames inside.
2. The curlicues at the end of some commercially crafted chasen do nothing to help make tea or preserve the whisk.
3. Don't count the 100 tines (for usucha), as there may be more or less. Ditto on the others
4. Wider tines, not just fewer, make better koicha.
5. About 10 folks in his studio make about a total of 30 chasen a day on average.
6. 3 wraps of cord = usucha; 4 wraps = koicha whisks.
7. To keep the center tines in shape, twist a few times in each direction and use a form when wet.

 What does it mean to be a 20th generation heir? It means sustaining many long term relationships over time with clients!

Meiji era box was used to deliver whisks to the Imperial court.

It also means that your home and workshop may have been your grandfather's and even beyond that. Thus the Tanimura garden is beautiful and reflective of the care that this family of craftspeople has for tradition.

P.S. Thanks to John Larissou in the Bay Area for making these nifty caps many years ago.                                                          I passed mine on to Tango, who said he'd wear it for golf!

"Buddhist Ceremonial Tea" Exhibition @ Chado Research Center, Kyoto

Next time you're in a tea gathering, imagine that osaki-ni is coming from one of those rambunctious arhats! But which one? There are many from which to chose!

Perhaps your otemae chodai itashimasu is directed toward a venerable immortal!

The exhibition "Buddhist Ceremonial Tea" which ends a dual installation run December 3 at Urasenke's Chado Research Center, will help you truly conjure up the power of camelia sinensis through time and space. On view are many mandalas, diagrams for ritual altars, dogu from by-gone eras that venerated ocha in its rightful place -- the traditional Chinese pharmacopoeia -- for its medicinal as well as, perhaps, magical properties. No wonder that many of these objects are National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties.

Thanks to Gretchen Mittwer for translating the exhibition introduction (Japanese only) that was placed on the gallery foyer presented here for your (and my!) edification. We need more of these hand-outs and Romanized transliterations if not also translations of objects on display in Kyoto museums.

In addition to items from the Konnichian Library and Chado Research Center, lenders to the exhibition include Saikyo-ji, Honkoku-ji, Shomyo-ji (Kanagawa Prefectural Kanazawa-Bunko Museum), Rozan-ji, Sanzen-in, Daigo-ji, Kakakura-ji of Hohaku-in, Ryosoku-in, Daitoku-ji, Tofuku-ji, Ryosoku-in, Sennyu-ji, Hasadera Noman-in, and Hogon-ji temples; Kitano Tenmangu shrine, National Museums of Tokyo, Nara and Kyoto;  Kyoto and Ritsumeikan (Fujii Eikan Bunko Collection) universities; as well as Sakyo Ward Kuta Region Self-Gov. Promotion Assn., Kyoto Institute Library and Archives; and Nezu and Seikado Bunko Art museums.