Friday, October 22, 2004

Drinking a little piece of Japan in Sydney:
Cha no Yu

I am a true believer in fate. I believe things must happen for a reason. When two events fused into one and seemingly been arranged beforehand yet it was really accidental, this is termed coincidence in english.How many times have you experienced this in your life? I am sure there have been heaps!

What a coincidence it was when Dennis started a japanese tea ceremony conversation with fishfish. I happened to attend one myself that very afternoon! It must be fate or what we call yuan fen in mandarin.

We jumped immediately at the chances to attend a traditional Japanese tea ceremony with sydney good food month's Taste It workshop: Cha No Yu. It was really too good to be missed. We joined Christina Simpson of Tea Temple and visited a traditional Japanese tea room right here in Sydney!

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♥ very pretty hand-drawn invitation
I received these pretty hand-drawn cha no yu invitation cards in my mailbox from Christina. I was surprised to have received these though Christina had told me she would mail the invitation out. I didnt expect the invitations to be so lovely! What I mean is how long has it been since you last received handmade invitation cards?

The norm today is to use standardised commercial invitation cards in many different themes, colours and occasions for you to choose. All you have to do is pick one, pay, fill in the blanks then mail. Very simple. If you are fast, it can be done in an hour.

These pretty floral prints invitation cards had me in flowery and happy mood for days even during the wet gloomy weather that had been embracing Sydney for almost a week.

tabeshimashita on 21 Oct 2004
tabeshimashita @ Chahitsu in the art gallery of nsw
Chado is the Japanese way of tea. It is the practice of making and serving tea, through which one is believed to be able to reach a calm state of mind and reflect on themselves at the present moment. Chado is deeply connected to the Buddhist Zen philosophy.

In fact, you will find many traditional Japanese arts (or martial arts) are actually a tool or a way to achieve the highest level of the Zen philosophy ie. a calm state of mind. This essentially is what the japanese word do means: the road, the pathway. Some other examples are kendo (Japanese way of Sword) and kyudo (Japanese way of Archery), both of which I would love to try some day! Oh of course there is the very popular bushido (Samurai!)

Cha no yu literary means tea and hot water. It is the actual ritual of preparing and serving tea where only a small number of guests, usually 4 or 5, are invited. And no, you dont have Cha no yu as often as you have a backyard barbeque. Cha no yu is only held on certain occasions in Japan. Such occasions are usually seasonally related.

A typical Cha no yu usually lasts for about 4 hours, starting with a kaiseki course, an exquisite Japanese banquet where you start and end by sipping sake (Japanese wine) in between the many aesthetically arranged tiny plates of seasonal dishes. The guests are then served koicha (thick tea) after which usucha (thin tea) is served. We had the last course of a cha no yu: the usucha.

Inside A Traditional Japanese Tea Room
♥ interior of a typical chashitsu
The Japanese tea room (chashitsu) is tucked away at the end of the Asian gallery. To the right of chashitsu are displays and explanation of the setting of a typical chashitsu and chado equipments.

In Japan, normally you will find chashitsu a heritage building with a lot of historical backgrounds. It is rare to have a new chashitsu built today. However, this chashitsu is special. It is incorporated as part of the Asian gallery and isdesigned by a chashitsu specialised architect from Japan.

The chashitsu is the size of 6 tatami (japanese mat). You dont count the 2 tatami on the raised platform: tokonoma (alcove). It is the central spot of the room. In tokonoma you will find only two things:
1. kakemono: the hanging scroll
2. chabana: the simple form of flower arrangement in hanaire (vase)

These are for the guest to admire and study. They also make a good topic for conversation. It is important that the guests have certain level of knowledge on the calligraphy on kakemono and the arrangement of ikebana in order to keep a conversation going. In any case when you come across kakemono that you do not understand, you can make a mild compliment first and then kindly ask your host to enlighten you.

The calligraphy on the scroll sets the theme for the ceremony. The scroll in this particular chahitsu is written in kanji. I dont know how to pronounce them in Japanese but in mandarin, it says xing wai wu fa man mu qing shang (literary heart outside no law, full eye blue mountain). It means something like abandon the mortal laws from your heart to focus your mind so as to set eyes only for the blue mountain (this is where mortals turn into immortals I think).

Pinkcocoa was the main guest
♥ the prestige order: pinkcocoa - the guest of honour!
Before entering, you must do a shallow bow (rei). The guests are seated in the order of prestige with the most important guest seated nearest to the alcove. Pinkcocoa was one lucky girl. She was invited to be the first to enter the tea room! Probably because I was seated furthest left outside the tea room. *yay*

oh. that's my shorty legs in black tights you are seeing there. :p Next to me was a psychology honour graduate. ShinChan was the last guest, by the way.

The guest of honour (shokyaku, literary the first guest) is the main focus of the whole ceremony. It is conducted specially for the main guest. It is also important that the main guest is highly acquainted with chado because he/she is the one leading the ceremony. So you would thought the person seated furthest away would be the least important one, right? Wrong! The last person is equally important in that he/she is the one ending the ceremony.

We exchanged rei (bow - a gesture of acknowledgement) with the hostess (teishu) and then sat down seiza-style! *Ouch*

Higashi - the sweets accompanying the tea
♥ japanese dry sweets to be eaten on special papers
Our hostess is Yayoi Maloney Sensei. Here you see her preparing higashi (sweets) to accompany the usucha (thin green tea) that she was going to prepare for us.

Maloney sensei has prepared 2 types of higashi for us. Sorry I havent had any bigger pic of the sweets. The colourful bunch on the left is the modern higashi, it was not developed until 300years ago but it is still termed modern! The greenish strips on the right is made from the stems of the angelica plant. This sweets is called fuki which is the name of the angelica plant in japanese.

Kaishi- Sweets Paper
kaishi (paper you place in the front of your kimono)
Sweets are eaten from special paper called kaishi. Guests are carries their own kaishi, usually in a decorative wallet tucked in the front pocket of kimono.

Kaishi can have many patterns. Maloney sensei had prepared one with three symbols. The three symbols, I am not sure if you can see it clearly from the pic, represent the four seasons in Japan.
Moon: Summer and Autumn
Snowflake: Winter
Sakura (cherry blossom): Spring

I shall enjoy higashi before you
higashi (dry sweets)
The guests place their sweets paper to their right. After that, Maloney sensei came over (very elegantly) and placed the plate of higashi in front of the main guest (ie. pinkcocoa). She then proceed to prepare all the equipments necessary for the ceremony.

Pinkcocoa was kindly advised to proceed with the sweets. I exchanged bow with Maloney sensei. Then bow to the guest to my right saying "osakini" which means before you (as opposed to 'after you' in english manner). The second guest replied "dozo" (please). I place my sweets paper in front of myself. Pick up the plate. Took one of each of the two sweets onto my paper and pass the plate to the second guest. This pattern was repeated by the second guest to the third, third to fourth and so on and so on until the last guest.

Eating Higashi before Drinking Maccha
♥ pinkcocoa tabemasu! (oishii desu ne~)
Here you see me enjoying fuki. (sorry no face shown here but at least you see my body :p) It is a long green strips rolled in sugar with tiny bits of icing sugar on it. It can occur to be very sweet to those who dont have a sweet tooth. But it is important to eat the sweets before you drink because the sweets helps bring out the flavour of the tea.

Scooping Maccha Powder with chashuku
♥ Scooping maccha into tea bowl
We watched the graceful yet spontaneous movement of Maloney sensei in the ritual of cleaning and preparation all the utensils one by one. We sat in silence, eyes ungazed and beaming, trying to catch every simple little details our hostess went through. There we sat in the tea room, no conversation. No loud talking. The atmosphere was tranquille and calm. There was the sounds of the water boiling, charcoal crackling. The smells of the incense and tea. The interactions between the utensils.

My mind suddenly came to a blank. I was not thinking. I had no thinking. Aiks. What am I saying here? But at that very moment, I felt a sense of calmness embrace around me.

After the cleaning ritual, Maloney sensei scooped green-tea powder(matcha or maccha) from the tea-holder (chaire or natsume) into the drinking bowl(chawan: tea bowl) using a bamboo scoop called chashaku. Each bamboo scoop is different. Usually this is passed down from generations to generations. The text scribed on the bamboo scoop has a special meaning at the time when the scoop was made.

Pouring water into the bowl
♥ Ladling water
Using a bamboo water ladle called hishaku, Maloney sensei carefully ladled water from the kettle(kama) and poured slowly into the tea bowl.

Whisking maccha with chasen
♥ whisking
We watched Maloney sensei whisking the tea using a bamboo whisk called chasen. Her movement was graceful and elegance yet you can feel a vibrant chi (spirit) from her that embraces the whole room.

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♥ drinking
Once again, the hostess started with the main guest first. We repeated the pattern similar to when we had the sweets except before acknowledging your fellow chajin (tea people), you thank the hostess for the tea that she/he had prepared. It's a long bunch of Japanese words and I couldnt remember at all. :p

Oh. I forgot to mention the hostess also has helpers called hanzo. The helpers are the one who helps to gap the hostess and her guests. Here I was given my tea bowl by the helper who sat in front of me, holding the tea bowl and then turning the bowl clockwise twice. She then placed the bowl in front of me. I then thanked my hostess, acknowledged the guest on right. Took up the bowl using right hand first, place my left hand on the side of the bowl. Using my left hand, I turned the bowl clockwise twice.

And then I sipped from the bowl. The portion in the tea bowl are for three and a half sips. It is polite to slurp as loud as you can when you drink. It is a polite gesture in Japan. Slurping (the louder the better) implies that you enjoy the food the host has prepared.

Everything was just really systematic. You really got to know what you are doing. No wonder the first guest and the last guest are important because they start and end the ceremony!

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♥ sensei at full concentration
Here's our elegant sensei at work! I hope she doesnt mind me putting so many pictures of hers up here. She wore a green kimono to reflect on the freshness of greens that sprouts during the season of spring.

Nice gifts from Christina: Tea Temple Sample Bags
♥ tea temple gift packs
The ceremony ends with yet another surprise from Christina! We all received a gift packs from her. Inside are three sample tea bags.
From top to bottom:
♥ Serenity
♥ Coco Lime (Japanese Green)
♥ Genmaicha (Japanese Green)

I had a really good time. I felt calm and relaxed after the tea ceremony. Really! I am telling the truth. If only I could go to a cha no yu more often!

One more thing before my super long post, I am not sure if all the details I have written here are correct. This is simply a gather of my thoughts and what I have learnt in that short one and a half hour with Maloney Sensei.

Tea Temple
s24 south dowling st
paddington nsw 2021
tel & fax: 61 2 9360 1371
Urasenke Foundation, Sydney
130/19-23 herbert st
st leonards nsw 2065
tel: 61 2 9439 5251
fax: 61 2 9968 2165

Urasenke Tradition of Tea

Japanese Term Associated with Cha no Yu

♥ cha no yu: japanese tea ceremony
♥ chabana: arranged flower in a vase
♥ chado: the way of tea
♥ chahitsu: tea room
♥ chaire: tea tin
♥ chajin: people who practice chado
♥ chasen: bamboo whisk
♥ chawan: tea bowl
♥ dozo: please
♥ fuki: angelica plant
♥ hanaire: vase
♥ hanzo: helper of host
♥ higashi: dry sweets
♥ hishaku: bamboo water ladle
♥ ichigo ichie: one time one meeting
♥ kaishi: paper to eat higashi on
♥ kaiseki ryori: kaiseki course
♥ kakemono: hanging scroll with handwritten calligraphic script
♥ koicha: thick green tea (more paste like)
♥ kama: kettle
♥ osakini: before you
♥ rei: bow or literally it means the act of being polite
♥ sake: Japanese rice wine
♥ tatami: japanese reed mat
♥ teishu: host or hostess
♥ tokonoma: alcove, focal of room
♥ ushucha: thin green tea
♥ maccha: japanese green tea powder