Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Do you truly know Rikyu?

Is Rikyu really a superior man as a tea master?  The Rikyu you know might be an idol.  As I learn more about chanoyu, The Way of Tea, I found out that the character and anecdotes of Rikyu might not be all true. 

During a long history of chanoyu, Rikyu was kind of deified.   Some of the stories nowadays regarding Rikyu are from unreliable historical sources which are 南方録Nanporoku and 茶話指月集Sawashigetushu written after his death.  Rikyu was a very tall guy and he learned the tea from Jouo Takeno.  These are common understandings.  However, I was surprised to learn that there is no evidence about them.  There is not any historical verification to proof that Rikyu and Jouo actually met.  Another surprise is that in Rikyu’s time, people didn’t sit seiza (sit on their legs) during the tea ceremony.  They sit at ease.  I wonder how they performed the ceremony without seiza.  Can you imagine it?

Do you know the episode of the Morning Glory Tea Ceremony?
One day, Hideyoshi (the ruler) heard that the Morning Glory's (flower) at Rikyu's residence were beautiful.  He wanted to view them and asked Rikyu whether he could visit.  When Hideyoshi arrived at Rikyu's residence, there were no Morning Glory's at all.  Rikyu took the puzzled Hideyoshi to his tea room.  There, Hideyoshi saw just one Morning Glory.  Rikyu had cut all the other Morning Glory's down to highlight the most beautiful flower.  It was sitting in a non-decorated space, looking very vivid and impressive.  Hideyoshi praised him saying "You are a great master, Rikyu."  (Dec.2012, SpaceALC)
This is one of the famous anecdotes of Rikyu.  Many of these type of stories we know now are from茶話指月集Sawashigetushu.  It is written by Soan Kusumi who is a disciple of a disciple of Rikyu’s grandchild if I remember right.  You will wonder how reliable the stories are, which have been passed through the generations. 

Even the popular book, “The Book of Tea” written in English by Tenshin Okakura includes some stories from茶話指月集Sawashigetushu.  We might not really know the real Rikyu.  He is still a mystery.  However, there is no doubting the fact that Rikyu innovated and formed the foundation of chanoyu.  He actually created raku teabowl and nijiriguchi (crawl-through doorway).  I admit that the adoration of Rikyu helped to develop and continue our tea culture.  It is a part of our history.  He might not be as superior as we imagine him to be.  That’s why I find him so curious. 

“Cha” by Souoku Sen
“Rikyu-no “wabi” towananika” by Asao Kodu
“Rikyu nyumon” by Soshin Kimura

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tea ceremony manners for guests 2

Continuation from the previous entry

3.    Enjoy your sweets before tea.
Oftentimes, sweets are served in one container.    You take one piece and place it on your kaishi paper with the chopsticks come along with the container.  Put back the chopsticks onto the container and pass it to the next guest.   You eat it before the tea is served.  If you cannot eat the whole sweet, you can wrap it with kaishi paper and take it home.  You don’t leave it there.

4.    Avoid drinking the tea from the front of tea bowl.
The side that has a design or pattern is the front of the tea bowl.  It is considered important.  To show your respect, avoid drinking from the front.  If the tea bowl is handed facing you with its front, turn it about 90 degrees and drink the tea from the side of the bowl.

5.    Observe the bowl at a low position.
You have a chance to observe the tea bowl after drinking the tea.  You hold it with both hands and treat it close to the floor if by any chance you slip it off from your hands.  If you want to see the bottom, you flip it while making sure some tea residue does not drip.  You do not hold the bowl up above your head to look at the bottom.   The value of the bowl might be worth a lot.  Imagine how you, the host, would feel if your guest carelessly held up your precious tea bowl above his head.

A significant fascination of the tea ceremony is the non-verbal communication that creates intimacy with others.   The host sincerely treats you with utmost hospitality with his precious utensils.   You should respond him with the respect and proper etiquette he deserves.   If the host sees you treating his bowl with care, he will gratefully acknowledge your consideration.  The manners are there to help you properly interact with others.  Now that you know the five rules, it’s your turn to experience the one of a kind ceremony!  Enjoy!!

1.    Take off your watch and accessories.
2.    Do not seat at the first and the last seats.
3.    Enjoy your sweets before tea.
4.    Avoid drinking the tea from the front of tea bowl.
5.    Observe the bowl at a low position.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Tea ceremony manners for guests 1

Would you like to attend a Japanese tea ceremony?  As a guest of the ceremony all you have to do is simply enjoy the tea and spread. However, there are hundreds of etiquette one should know when in the ceremony.  Don’t worry.  I’ll lay down the five most basic rules that you should know for attending your first ceremony!

1.    Take off your watch and accessories.
2.    Do not seat at the first and the last seats.
3.    Enjoy your sweet before tea.
4.    Avoid drinking the tea from the front of tea bowl.
5.    Observe the bowl at a low position.

1.    Take off your watch and accessories.
The host might serve you the tea with his treasured tea bowl.  You do not want to damage it with your rings or with your accessories.  It is the well-known reason, but I also think that, in the tea room, there is no need for you to glam up or be bound by time.  Take off your watch and accessories before getting into the tea room.

2.    Do not seat at the first and the last seats.
The main (first) guest and the last guest have special roles to do during the ceremony.  So, it’s better to avoid sitting the first and the last position.  Usually, the nearest seat to the tokonoma alcove is the position for the main guest. 

As you can see, the rules are not so difficult.  I’ll talk about the rest in the next entry.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tea production region for a good quality tea

Which region in Japan do you think produces quality tea?  Uji or Waduka in Kyoto?  Yame in Fukuoka?  Have you ever heard of Asamiya in Siga?  Tea lovers are well aware that Asamiya produces excellent quality tea.  Sad to say, that I haven’t heard of it. 

I finally had a chance to visit an Asamiya tea farm and a tea shop in Siga when I attending a tea studying tour.  It is said that mountain regions are ideal for producing tea because of its big difference in the temperature between day and night.  The farmer showed us around his field. The well known notion made sense when I finally got to observe the actual field.  Look at the picture above and notice the tea plants are grown on the slopes.  To get to this place, you drive up the narrow winding road.  Large machineries used in the regular farms are useless here.  Farmers need much effort in taking care of growing and harvesting manually.  Why do they make tea in such hard places?  Simply, for the quality of the tea! 

According the farmer, when buying Asamiya tea, you need to be careful of imitations.  Asamiya is not a large production region, so their tea is distributed only to a few limited channels.  The famous tea shop in Kyoto, Ippodo also uses authentic Asamiya tea. 

During the study tour, we were offered to try the Asamiya tea at the farm, which was the super-premium tea that had won a prize in a contest.  It was regular-steamed sencha with a great aroma.  Its’ water was slightly red, which is considered not good for sencha.   However the taste was incredible!!  I was drawn to the distinctive and amorous umami with a nutty note.  The most surprising thing was that although this tea definitely has bitterness, the wooden like aroma made it flavorful, not astringent at all.  Would you believe that you find the bitterness tasty?  The distinctive umami and tasty bitterness merge to create a profound flavor that registers a prominent impression on your palate.  I got another taste of Asamiya at the tea shop.  It was also premium tea with the same bitterness and luscious flavor.  I really fell in love with Asamiya tea so I wanted to introduce in this blog.

Unfortunately, the two Asamiya teas that I tried were quite expensive; I can’t afford the pleasure of always drinking them. I wonder if regular-quality Asamiya has the similar flavor.  If you have tried Asamiya tea, tell me, how do you like it?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I introduced a temple in two past entries; “Korinin, Zen temple with beautiful mossed approach” and “Why should a tea room be dim?”.  I made a mistake on the name of the temple.

Wrong: Korinin temple
Correct: Kotoin temple

I’m sorry for the confusion.

I also introduced another temple on “Tea ceremony at Daitokuji, Kyoto 2” where I attended a tea ceremony.  I called the temple Korinin which is correct.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Smell in the tea room

What do you smell in the tea room?  The aroma of green tea?  Yes, it’s not only that.  During summer we use the fragrance wood and kneaded incense in winter.  To fill the room with incense, it is placed by the charcoals in the brazier or sunken hearth. Japanese incense has more subdued and earthy smell compared to the fragrances used at Western countries which are floral or sweet.  The earthly aromas probably fit better with green tea. I honestly don't know much about incenses.  I even don't know what aromas I like to smell. There are many things to learn about in sado, The Way of Tea.

lisn, an incense shop in Kyoto

One of my blog readers introduced me “lisn”, an incense shop in Kyoto.  Ever since I saw their cool website (, I wanted to visit there.  I was finally able to visit their shop during my trip to Kyoto.  At the shop, there are a large variety of samples displayed. Customers are allowed to smell them. Such aromas were fruity, nutty, sweet to refreshing ones.  Customers can buy incenses by piece. 

Their incenses were sold as a stick, which is different from what we use in sado.  Since I don’t use charcoal at home, it is difficult for me to try the classic type of the incense.  Their stick incenses were very attractive for me.  I bought three kinds of incenses including sandalwood.  Sandalwood is a popular aroma used in sado.  Their sandalwood has a little sweetness in it.  The smell may be slightly different from the classic but I’m still happy to enjoy the incense casually.  I would like to explore more and see what scents I like and also the ones that goes well with tea. How about you?  What aroma would you prefer for your tea?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Japanese tea enthusiast only

Have you ever dreamed about making your own taste of tea?  You can actually make one at Fukujuen in Kyoto.  The teas sold at various stores are usually blended in different kinds.  You can try the tea blending at Fukujuen.  It will be quite maniac, but if you are a Japanese tea enthusiast, you will be fascinated about it.

They have a list of different teas; senchakabusecha and gyokuro.  You can choose your tea preference by checking out the description from the list, and you can actually have a taste of it.

A crew will help you to find your choice of tea.

The crew prepares the teas for tasting.  She knows how to prepare delicious tea very well.  If you are not sure how good green tea tastes like, this will be a great place to try decent Japanese tea.
We were a party of three and shared teas with each other so we could taste many different kinds. 

After some tasting, I found a tea that I really liked.  It is extremely mellow sencha, with no bitterness and full of pleasing sweetness.  That sencha is okumidori breed from Wazuka region.  It was quite different, or I should say it’s much better than the okumidori that I know.  This okumidori can be too mellow so I decided to blend a yamakai with a distinctive flavor.  The yamakai has a refreshing note with a gorgeous fruity fragrance.  I wondered about the ratio of blending if I should go for 7:3 or 9:1.  This whole process of tasting and wondering is what I enjoy most.  I decided to go for 9:1=okumidori:yamakai.  The crew blended them and finally served me the tea.  Yes, Excellent!!  The tea has a rounded sweet flavor with an accent of refreshing yamakai aroma.  It was perfect.

I paid 2,257yen for this tea (100g/3.5oz) which is expensive for sencha.  But if you consider the quality and all the experience, it is very reasonable and all worth it.  If you are a Japanese tea enthusiast, I highly recommend this place if you get the chance to drop by Kyoto. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Space ship in Kyoto

What do you think this is? It looks like a chamber in a space ship, doesn’t it? 

Actually, this is a hotel that I stayed in Kyoto!  If you are traveling around Japan, what are the choices for a reasonable accommodation?   Capsule hotels are definitely one of them.  When I was looking for a hotel during my Kyoto trip, a lot of hotels didn’t have vacancies.  I guess it was a peak season.  Instead, what I found was this capsule hotel, which is quite new and stylish.  The price was very reasonable.  Here are some pictures of the hotel.

Entrance: You check in and receive the key for your locker. 

They have the separate floors for men and women.
This is a floor for lockers and showers.

In your locker, you will find pajamas and a toothbrush.
You must leave all your belongings in this locker.

Here is lavatory and behind it the shower stalls

The shower stall

The sleeping floor:
After you’ve taken your shower and put your things in the locker, it’s time to go to bed.  Most Japanese prefer to take a bath before going to bed.  This floor is dark and quiet.

This is your Capsule.  You crawl into your cell and just sleep.  The capsule's height is tall enough to sit down properly.  The "door" to go in the capsule is simply a curtain in which you draw up so that you can enter.  You will be able to hear other people coughing or snoring.  Fortunately, that night I stayed was peaceful and I had a good sleep.  The only space that is yours is the capsule and the locker assigned to you

There was a rule that I found silly.   It is that you can use an alarm on your cell-phone but only in vibration mode.  With a rational point of view, I can understand the rule because I don’t want to be bothered by someone’s alarm.   On the other hand, I wondered if I have to keep my phone with me all night long to feel it vibrate.  Hahaha, how do I do that?   I was not confident to wake up with a vibration alarm.  How would you wake up?  As I was wondering about it, I got into the cell and found an alarm system on the control panel in the cell.  Of course it is not an ordinary alarm. 

I was ashamed of myself for being only with the typical alarm clock.  Indeed, sound is not the only factor to wake you up!  This alarm wakes you up with the light on the ceiling.  When the time comes, it makes the cell bright.  Wow that’s cool.  I was so delighted and excited with this system.   I set the timer and fell asleep.  I found this cell quite comfortable and had a good sleep.  Next morning, I woke up naturally before the alarm hit on.  I could not experience the alarm.  Damn!  Hahaha!

You may not find capsule hotels in the countryside but big cities usually have them.  It’s a pretty interesting experience.  You should try it!

This is the website that I found this hotel (Japanese) >>> Nine Hours

Friday, November 16, 2012

Why should a tea room be dim?

At the end of the passage next to gardens at Kotoin temple, I found what I thought was a dark space.  It was a preparation room for a tea room.  I even found it gloomy.  I walked in there and peered at the darkness, and saw that there was a small tea room right beside this room.  This small tea room is the Sansai Hosokawa’s room that I mentioned in the last entry.  I found it too dark, maybe because I had just walked from the bright passage.  Or maybe the room was dark due to the cloudy sky.  It is said that it is good to be a little dark for a Soan-style tea room.  However, some people feel that it’s dismal and gloomy.  So why should a tea room be a little dim?

While I was wondering about it, I continue taking some more photos.  During this time, my eyes finally adjusted to the darkness, and I could see more.  Check out the bottom picture compared to the picture above; Isn’t it much better?  In this photo, the light from the windows brightly illuminates the tatami mats, but in the actual view the contrast between the bright and dark parts was not that high.  The very soft flowing light from the windows filled the room.  It’s still dim but there is enough light, which is very relaxed and laid back. 

So let’s think of some reasons why tea rooms should be a little dark.  One of the reason why is probably because it’s easier to relax, or focus on your concentration.  I found an intriguing idea in a book I read.  It says that you can see things clearly in brightness, but if it’s dark, the borders between things get blurred.  The distinction with others gets ambiguous and it can help you feel a sense of wholeness.  That’s why it’s ideal for a tea ceremony.  It is more of a spiritual concept and I agree with it.  Since the tea ceremony is also for enjoying others company, it is important to be able to mingle with others.  Therefore just like a nice cozy bar to relax in, a dim lit tea room is just as good, maybe even better.

This room was a reminder that I should be careful about how bright a tea room should be.  As I left the temple, I was dreaming to have tea in this attractive dim place.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kotoin, Zen temple with beautiful mossed approach

This subdued scenery with moss may be one of the reasons that will make me come back to Kyoto.  I don’t like rain during any of my trips, but I’ll make an exception when going to Kyoto.  After the rain, a stone pathway and greens look more beautiful when wet.  

Here is a picture of Kotoin, one of my most favorite small temples in Ditokuji.  I was supposed to go there for tea ceremony on that day, which unfortunately did not happen. Yet my trip to the temple was not in vain because the scenery was worth the time.   I was captivated by the beauty of mosses surrounding the gateway and went into the temple.  The best thing about the garden seems that it was naturally designed.   You will feel a sense of tranquility simply by enjoying the natural looking trees.  When we visited on Nov. 28, the leaves had begun to change their colors.  The colors were still pale, and the scenery was not like an oil painting but more of water color.  There were some people peacefully enjoying tea at the porch along the garden.  I love the view that is trimmed off by the door frame. 

In Kotoin, they have a small tea room designed by Sansai Hosokawa.  Soft light fills the room from the windows creating an delicate and exquisite aura.  I longed to have a chance to be in that room.  They also have the removed and rebuilt Rikyu’s shoin-room from Jurakudai.  I found that room too somber, though (^^;;  Go to see it yourself, haha.

This temple doesn’t have anything magnificent to behold.  This temple is simple and rustic.   You might find wabi-sabi there.  If you are looking for the tranquility of Japan, this is one of the temples that I highly recommend you to visit.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Tea ceremony at Daitokuji, Kyoto 2

The temple that we finally found  for a tea ceremony was Korinin in Daitokuji, Kyoto.  I later on learned from Wikipedia that this temple is not usually open to the public.

The ceremony was held in a big room with more than 20 guests.  Most of them were wearing kimono.  Everybody seemed to know the manner of Sado, The Way of Tea, and the ceremony went along smoothly.  The most memorable thing of the ceremony was the excellent flavor of the tea.  Since I love matcha from a local tea shop in my town, I don’t usually find good tasting matcha in other places.  Fortunately, the matcha served at this ceremony was quite flavorful.  It didn’t have much bitter taste in it and the pure flavor of green has simply pleased my palate.  The tea didn’t have any undesirable flavor.  The reason for its great flavor may not only be the matcha powder itself.  The thickness, temperature and amount of liquid were all well considered and it was exquisitely prepared.  Maybe water was superb, I don’t know, but everything seemed perfect.

The matcha was Tamanoshiro from Ryuoen tea shop in Kyoto.  I wanted it for my souvenir so we visited Ryuoen on our way back from Daitokuji.  However, to my disappointment the shop was closed on that day.  Bummer! 
I found their tea on this webpage (Japanese) >>>

I still don’t know where you can get schedules and information about tea ceremonies in Kyoto, but anyhow I was able to attend one at Daitokuji on 28th of last month.  We did not wear kimono and we just looked like ordinary tourists but the receptionist welcomed us.  What I can say for now is that there are some ceremonies that are open for everybody.  However, you need to be aware that most of the attendees are experienced people.  It is advisable for you to know the basic manners of tea ceremony.  If you are willing to learn the culture and participate to the authentic tea ceremony, this could be a good place for you to try.  It will be a fantastic experience at a historical Zen temple.

Another garden in Korinin.  They also have a small tea hut.