Thursday, February 27, 2014

Time to listen and think

Today’s coffees: kona blend, kona not blend

I’m at Tokumitsu while Keith is at home writing his talk for tomorrow’s ochakai (Japanese tea party). He’s been thinking about it for weeks, but writing it now that it’s down to the wire…

My preparations are mostly complete; I’ve practiced my role as the host of the ochakai several times, with several friends receiving our hospitality. All that’s left is to pack up my tools, put on my kimono in the morning, and head over to the church.

Over the last few weeks, with many opportunities to deepen our understanding and appreciation of tea ceremony, I’ve also been thinking about rest. I’ve struggled with my own tiredness as I deal with life in my second language; I am often surprised to discover that a task in Japanese takes twice as long and twice as much effort and the exact same task in English. I feel unproductive, even lazy, as I need more rest than my Japanese friends, and yet I have little to show for my hard work.

But do I really “need” more rest than my friends? I think maybe the problem is not so much that I need more rest as that my friends need more rest than they are getting. The students in the youth group at church look just as exhausted as we do—between studying and sports clubs and constant pressure, even during school holidays, there’s no time for them to relax, rest, play, and think. Even Sundays at church can be very busy.

I make weekly trips… well, almost weekly trips to Tokumitsu because I need time to think and reflect on my life, and this is a time and place where I can do that. Tea ceremony lessons gives me a different sort of opportunity—a chance to be quiet, to spend time with friends, and to take in beauty and peace with all five senses. To me, both of these routines are 心の癒し (kokoro no iyashi—healing of the heart). If my mind is overly busy, I can’t hear God’s voice. I need intentional times and places and activities which give me the opportunity to stop and listen.

We’ve been talking about rest with the youth group and in other contexts as well. Resting and trusting in God’s care and provision seem to be an important theme in my life at the moment. I hope that as I think about these things, I can find ways to invite those around me to rest and trust as well. Somehow I think tea ceremony has a role to play.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Tea party in a proper tea room!

Today’s coffee: White Day blend… a bit early perhaps?

The last several weeks have seen a lot of progress in our Cultural Education… and lately I’ve not had much time to write, since lots of things seem to be happening in Fridays and Saturdays. So, here’s an update with some pictures!

Last Tuesday was a national holiday, so we had a lovely day out with our tea ceremony teacher, Fujiyama-sensei, and our friend, Noriko, who is studying tea ceremony with us.

Although we’ve been served tea in various places and in various styles, this was our first time to have tea in a proper tea room… and this one even had a nijiriguchi—a tiny entrance door.

Can you see the door behind me?
Noriko in the doorway
Let me explain. In the sengoku (warring states) period, a tea room provided a place for even bitter enemies to peaceably talk and enjoy a cup of tea together. If you tried to enter the room with your sword strapped on, you wouldn’t fit through the door. Furthermore, everyone must crouch down to enter, bowing in humility. Once in the room, everyone is considered equal in status, if only for the short period of time spent in the tea room.

Before we entered the room, Fujiyama sensei led us through the process of preparing to enter the tea room. First we put on new socks—good manners when attending an お茶会 (ochakai—tea party). We entered the waiting area, then when the host “called” for us with a drum, we washed our hands and mouths and prepared to enter the tea room. I’m vastly oversimplifying here—there is a proper way to do each of these things.

This is the "garden" with hand-washing place. In the summer, we might go to a tea room in a real garden... but this is Sapporo in February.
The door was tiny. I’m not a large person, but I knocked my hairpin and the back of my obi on the top of the doorframe as I crouched to enter. Once in the room, I bumped my head on the rafters across the middle of the room as I moved around to observe the flowers, the scroll on the wall, and the kama (cauldron).

The kama sits in a hole in the floor, and is heated by charcoal. Don't try this at home, kids.
Although we were having a “proper” ochakai, Fujiyama sensei didn’t hesitate to teach. The host was a friend of our teacher’s; I imagine she is accustomed to serving tea to beginners. Her patience and grace put us at ease, even though there are still a lot of things we don’t know.

Our host prepares the tea
Waiting for our tea. The scroll on the wall says "wakeiseijaku" which means harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility.
After we finished our tea, we got to see some antique hina dolls. March 3 is Girls’ Day (hinamatsuri); some Japanese families put out an elaborate display of dolls in honor of their daughters and granddaughters.

Antique hina dolls

Then… a stroll through Odori Park to see Yukimatsuri, and lunch at a tofu restaurant!

The next day, we attended an entirely different ochakai. This time, Fujiyama sensei visited the preschool where Noriko works to give them a basic lesson! Each child served and received tea, then had a chance to practice making tea themselves. I was impressed at how the children sat quietly through the lesson and respectfully (and happily) took part. I helped out by preparing lots of tiny cups of tea.

Last night, Noriko came to our house to practice for our next ochakai, which will be at our church on March 1! Noriko and I will prepare and serve tea, and Keith will give a short talk. The ladies of our church will prepare sweets. I’m excited! I’m praying that each one of us will have a 持て成しの心 (motenashi no kokoro—a heart of hospitality) to welcome our guests; we’ve had some great examples lately!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Recipe: Matcha Latte

I'd like to share a simple recipe for the best pick-me-up ever. Sometimes I get pretty tired just from operating in my second language much of the time, but I'm thankful I live in a place with wonderful tea and tea-drinking traditions. Here's my own fusion of my favorite Japanese and Western hot drinks: a matcha latte!

This matcha latte is not what you get at Starbucks and other coffee shops. I dislike those; they are far too sweet. This version has twice the caffeine punch, but without giving me the shakes from too much caffeine and sugar. It's closer to traditional matcha, but with milk and coffee!

You will need a chawan or similar--probably a round cereal bowl would work too--and a chasen (tea whisk), although I have been known to use a milk-frother in the past. I’m assuming that everyone has access to a metric measuring cup. That’s just how I roll these days.

  • 100 mL milk, heated to 70 degrees C (160 degrees F)
  • 80 mL espresso… or very strong coffee
  • 1 tsp matcha (green tea powder)
Tools and ingredients: espresso, warm milk, a chawan, whisk, and matcha powder. I used a chashaku (tea ladle) to measure the tea--2 big scoops.

1. Put the matcha powder in your chawan or bowl, then pour in the coffee and milk. (I've tried adding coffee after whisking, but that killed all the bubbles. When making traditional matcha, there's no milk anyway, so this time I added the coffee together with the milk.)

2. Whisk vigorously with the chasen. Imagine you are making a cappuccino; that should give you the right idea. Lots of tiny bubbles will form on the surface, and the matcha powder will be thoroughly mixed in.

3. Drink your finished bowl of matcha latte! Add sweetener if you must. I find that the sweetness of the milk balances the bitterness of the coffee and matcha, so I drink it straight.