Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Mirrors of the Mind: The Noh Masks of Ohtsuki Kokun

As part of a year-long celebration of the opening of its Cultural Village, the Portland Japanese Garden held an exhibition of Noh masks and costumes which runs October 14th to December 3rd.  The exhibition includes a selection of 30 hand-carved Noh masks provided by Ohtsuki Kokun and a selection of costumes provided by Orinasu-kan.  

Okina - A peaceful, good-humored deity bringing good fortune, Okina predates Noh theater and is the only mask believed to embody an actual deity.

Kokushikijo - A joyful deity who performs a celebratory harvest dance.

Shishiguchi - The lion performs the dance of paradise in Shakkyo, the only play featuring this mask.

Red Karaori featuring clouds, spherical waves and tatewaku (wavy lines), usually worn for female roles.

Waka Onna - A young, confident woman, Waka Onna appears in many roles.

Magojiro - A bewitching woman, this mask commemorates the deceased wife of the famous Noh actor, Kongo Magojiro.

Zo-onna - A woman of nobility, created by actor Zoami in the 14th century.

Ko-omote - A young woman, Ko-omote is suitable for many, many roles.

Karaori featuring a pattern of weeping cherry blossoms and butterflies, usually worn for a female role.

Yoroboshi - A blind youth, thrown out of his home after being falsely accused.  This mask is only worn in the play Yoroboshi.

Karaori featuring snowflakes patterned with plum blossoms and narcissus, and chrysanthemum flowers alongside bamboo fences.

Obeshimi (left) - A tengu (superhuman) who protects humans from evil spirits and demons.  

Tenjin (right) - After a series of disasters followed the exile of statesman Sugawara no Michizane, he was deified as Tenjin in hopes of preventing more catastrophes. Tenjin is also worn for the role Amatsu-kami, guardian of Buddhist law.

Ko-beshimi (left) - A demon of sorrow.

Yaseotoko/Emaciated Man (right) - A ghost tormented in hell, Yaseotoko can either be a man who has killed or a man who believed too strongly that life wasn't treating them fairly.

Shikami/Biting Lion (left) - A terrifying and violent demon, usually wearing a long red wig.

Ishiojo (right) - A benevolent spirit.

Fudo (left) - Representing the Buddhist deity Fudomyoo, Fudo fiercely protects believers from evil spirits.

Rojokomachi (right) - Based on the poet Ono no Komachi, though old and impoverished, she remains strong.

Noh Lecture and Mask Carving Demonstration

On October 15th, the Portland Japanese Garden hosted a Noh lecture and mask carving demonstration to celebrate the opening of the exhibition of Mirrors of the Mind: The Noh Masks of Ohtsuki Kokun which runs until December 3rd.  This event was also part of the year-long celebration of the opening of the Garden's Cultural Village in April.

For this event, Yoshiaki Shimizu, Professor Emeritus from Princeton University and current Portland resident, presented a lecture on Noh followed by a Noh mask carving demonstration by Ohtsuki Kokun.

Noh: The Slowest Profundity

Noh is meant to be taken in as a whole, rather than the separate elements.

The square Noh stage represents the Divine Presence.  The pine tree motif appearing at the back of the stage represents the god within, referring to the pine tree where god descended in Nara.

Chanters sit to the right of the stage while the musicians sit along the back.  To the left of the stage is a goshiki (five color) curtain in green, yellow, red, white, and black.  Goshiki curtains can also been seen displayed in sweets shops, in kabuki theaters, and in Buddhist temples.  The room behind the goshiki is the kagami no ma (mirror room) where actors will don their masks, becoming the character.  The shite (main actor) is usually a person from the past or a spirit.  The waki is a companion actor or subordinate.

Professor Shimizu shared an excerpt from Funa Benkei.  In it we could see examples of the "slowest profudity" in the entrance of  Yoshitsune's mistress, Shizuka, her gestures of weeping, and the rubbing of beads by Benkei to exorcise the vengeful ghost of Tomomori.

Shizuku weeping

Mask Carving Demonstration

Master-carver Ohtsuki Kokun took the stage to work on a new Okina mask with narration provided by Professor Shimizu.  During this time, the audience was invited to ask questions.

Ohtsuki Kokun has been carving Noh-men (Noh masks) since childhood, studying under Soshun Nagasawa.  He makes masks for a number of high-profile actors, including members of the Kanze family, and holds mask carving workshops.

The Noh mask is a visual representation of happiness and sadness on stage.  A mask tilted up depicts happiness (terasu) while a mask tilted down depicts sorrow (kumorasu).

A woman's age is depicted by the number of hairs on the mask and a man's age is depicted by the color and shape of mask.  Only a spirit or main character will wear a mask in a Noh play.  There were over sixty types of Noh masks by the 17th century with Okina being among the oldest.  Ohtsuki's first mask was ko-omote (young woman) which is traditionally the mask younger carvers start with because it gives them a measure of progress as carvers.

Ohtsuki's tools are hard iron with soft iron edges, making them easier to sharpen.  The Japanese saw he used to create the hinged jaws of the Okina mask is pulled rather than pushed like saws in the west.

Cypress wood harvested from Kisou is preferred for Noh masks as it has tighter lines due to slow tree growth.  Though craftsmen have chosen this wood for hundreds of years, current actors often don't know why they use this wood.  The wood will achieve an ideal 20% humidity after approximately five years.  A two hundred year old mask will become very lightweight like papier-mâché due to dehydration.  Masks up to four hundred years old are still in use today.

The mask is coated with four coats of lacquer on the front, traditionally made from pulverized, burned oyster shell and a paste made from boiled fish bone collagen (organic glue).  The mask is smoothed using a plant with a scouring surface or shark skin, and varnished.  Then, features are added with black ink made from soot from bamboo slats, collected from homes and boiled, and with red cinnabar.

Of the sixty classic Noh masks, each acting family has its own style.  In modern Noh plays, actors have the freedom to ask for new or different masks, allowing for creativity in commissions.  Even during the brief interludes between commissions, Ohtsuki continues to carve.

Noh on Stage: Walking With the Spirits

Two Noh performances were held in the Portland Japanese Garden on the evening of October 14th to celebrate the opening of the exhibition of Mirrors of the Mind: The Noh Masks of Ohtsuki Kokun which runs until December 3rd.  This event was also part of the year-long celebration of the opening of the Garden's Cultural Village in April.

Though it was initially planned to have an open air stage with the garden as a backdrop, weather required that the performance be moved indoors.

Roles for the second performance of the evening:
Shite (main) Actor: Tamoi Hiromichi
Chanting: Kawamura Haruhisa, Yoshinami Toshiaki, and Juge Chisato

Kawamura Haruhisa provided commentary and introductions throughout the event.  He began studying with Kanze School of Noh at the age of three and has been designated an Intangible Cultural Asset.  He currently performs and teaches at Kawamura Nohgakudo in Kyoto and teaches Noh history and culture at Kobe University and Kyoto City University of Art.

Tamoi Toshiaki began studying Noh at the age of three and has performed Noh throughout the world.  He teaches with the Hekito-kai (Noh study group) which he founded, as well as at Kyoto University.

Yoshinami Toshiaki  received the master teacher designation from Kanze Noh in 1992.  He currently teaches Noh at Asahi Culture Center in Kyoto.

Juge Chisato has studied Noh since he was six years old and has performed worldwide.

Opening - Chanting from Takasago 
From the program: This chant is from the legend of the twin pines of Sumiyoshi and Takasago, located across from each other on Osaka Bay, and personified by an aged couple. According to legend, the spirit of the Sumiyoshi Pine travels nightly to visit his wife, the Takasago Pine, in a bond which defies age and time. The twin pines are also symbolic of the two great poetic anthologies, the Manyoshu and the Kokinshu, and the prosperity of the land brought about by the observance of high moral and aesthetic principles exemplified in these anthologies.

Kawamura provided a brief lecture on the history of Noh.

Noh dates back to the 14th century, a time when singing a word gives it a soul.  Each mask in Noh is a god (kami).  In the role of Okina, for example, the actor will first bow to the Okina mask.  Then, as they don the mask, they become the god Okina.

Samurai shogun Yoshimitsu Ashikaga, who built Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion), was fond of Heian noble culture.  Upon learning Yoshimitsu would be attending Noh performances by the great Noh playwright Ze'ami and his father Kan'ami, Ze'ami changed the performance from the simpler style meant for the the general public to something more relatable to nobility.  Ze'ami later met with Yoshimitsu and from there was inspired to create deeper stories.

Izutsu (The Well Head)
From the program:  A traveling priest stops at Ariwara Temple where a beautiful woman appears offering water and flowers at the grave of the ancient poet Ariwara no Narihira.  She tells of the relationship of Narihira and the daughter of Ki no Aritsune, who was known as the "lady by the well," and finally reveals that she is, in fact, the spirit of that woman, mourning the loss of her husband.  She disappears, and after the priest prays for her, she reappears wearing the costume of Narihira, hoping to catch the reflection of his image in the waters of the well.  She dances, and then vanishes at dawn.  Narihira's wife wears the Wakaonna mask.

Rather than going to Buddhist paradise, Lady Izutsu waits after death for her husband.  She describes the poem he wrote for her, asking for her hand in marriage. "I'm finally taller than the well." he says to indicate his maturity.  She responds by saying "My hair is longer than my shoulder." and lifts it up to show that she too has grown and accepts his proposal.  Narihira had another woman on the side and would cross the mountain to see her.  One day, Narihira lingered nearby before heading over the mountain and overheard Lady Izutsu praying for his safe travel, though she likely suspected where he was going.  He was so overcome by her selflessness that he never went to see the other woman again.

The play concludes when the temple bell rings to indicate sunrise when the soul must disappear.

Kawamura provided a brief lecture on Noh masks and costumes.

The mask is called omote which means to amplify or bring forward. When the mask is donned, the actor's face and personality is covered and the spirit of the character is amplified.

Historically, orimono (woven fabric) was used for Noh costumes.  Modern costumes may feature nuihaku (gold or silver leaf) embroidery.

The broad-sleeved overcoat is called choken. If one sleeve is worn off, it can indicate the heart revealed as in a woman who has lost a child or lover.  The same piece can be worn as an overcoat, underwear, or a skirt.

Atsumori Excerpt
Kawamura introduced this play with an explanation of the history of the conflict between the Minamoto and Taira as well as a quick but detailed explanatory run-through of the excerpt that would be performed.

From the program:  This play is by Ze'ami Motokiyo which focuses on Taira no Atsumori, a young samurai who was killed in the Genpei War, and his killer, Kumagai Naozane.  Atsumori's death is portrayed tragically in the Heike Monogatari (Tale of the Heike), from which this and many other works stem.  Atsumori wears the Juroku mask.

See my review from a Noh performance in 2009 for a slightly more detailed explanation of Atsumori.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Northwest Tea Festival 2017

The 10th annual Northwest Tea Festival was held in the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall on September 30th and October 1st.

Finding the new location can be confusing, so here are a couple tips for anyone attending next year's festival.  The Exhibition Hall is located on Mercer Street between McCaw Hall and the Seattle Repertory Theatre.  The entrance is on the lower level on the streetside.  The upper level is The Phelps Center, home to the Pacific Northwest Ballet.  The ticket booth including Will Call is to the left of the doors which don't open until the festival begins. Another change this year was the all-in-one pass.  Rather than juggling separate tickets for Saturday and Sunday, one price gets you one wristband that covers both days. 

Commemorative bags and tasting cups that are included with the price of admission were handed out at a table in the entryway, leading to the main hall.

The new festival location was much more spacious than previous years which resulted in more vendors and better traffic flow.  The stage was directly to the back and curtained off which helped to cut down on the noise and distraction of the festival during presentations.  Workshops and tea tastings were held in booths along the right side of the room.

The rest of the space was filled with vendors, vendors, and more vendors!

Tsuru no Maru made its debut at the Northwest Tea Festival. Sales for their flagship sencha, Kagayaki No. 10 comes from Izumo, Shimane Prefecture, an unusual region for tea growing.  The climate requires the plants to work harder to produce leaves which usually results in more flavorful results. Their website and sales opened on November 18th.

Sugimoto America offered tea ceremony demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday at their booth, performed by certified instructor Chiaki Ito of the Yabunochi School.  Tokara wagashi was available for sale at the booth and chef Chika Tokara was in attendance.

The Northwest Tea Festival Tea Bar hosted by Charles and Laurie Dawson

Charles and Laurie Dawson provided 5-minute drop-in tasting sessions throughout both days of the festival.  Their energy and enthusiasm is incredible!  I dropped in for a tasting of Lao Shan Qing Tea and Sichuan Green Needle followed by a game of Name That Tea.  The mystery tea turned out to be a 1960's aged black tea.

Day One

Ten Years of Tea Festivals with James Norwood Pratt

James Norwood Pratt kicked off the presentation with a thanks to Julee Rosanoff, Doug Livingston, Chris O'Dowd, and Annie O'Dowd for all the hard work dedication they've poured into the Northwest Tea Festival over the past ten years.  The Northwest Tea Festival was among the first of its kind in North America and a decade later, tea festivals are held coast-to-coast.  These festival offers the unique opportunity to communion with other tea people. 

Mr. Pratt discussed changes in the tea industry over the past 10 years as well as the UC Davis Global Tea Initiative which is progressing toward an eventual degree program.  They'll be hosting a symposium on February 22nd.  He also talked about the US League of Tea Growers and the tea festival in Prague.

Tea Blogger Roundtable moderated by Cinnabar Wright (Phoenix Tea)

I was honored to be included in the Northwest Tea Festival's first ever Tea Blogger Roundtable alongside Geoffrey Norman (Steep Stories of the Lazy Literatus), Char Gascho (Oolong Owl), Anna Mariani (Tea Squirrel), and Stephanie Lemmons Wilson (Steph’s Cup of Tea).  We answered questions posed by Cinnabar Wright (Gongfu Girl) relating to our tea review policies and processes as well as questions from the audience.  This was a great opportunity to finally meet fellow tea bloggers in person and interesting to learn how much our blogging styles varied.

Taiwan Formal Small Pot Ceremony with Betsy Meyer

Betsy explained the history of this form of tea ceremony, walking us through the steps while preparing tea.  

From the festival program:
This ceremony is based on traditional Chinese Gong-Fu (literally “making tea with skill”) dating back over 400 years to the Ming Dynasty. 40 years ago Grand Master Tsai of the Lu-Yu Tea Culture Institute realized that Gong-Fu brewing was headed for extinction as Taiwan society modernized. In response, Master Tsai modified traditional Gong-Fu service to create a formal ceremony that was not only elegant and relaxed but also neat and practical.

  • Everything is in a state of preparation.
  • Enter and bow to the guests.
  • Turn over the cups.
  • Pass around the dry tea (optional).
  • Prepare the leaves in a canister.  This is usually a green tea, but for the purpose of this workshop it was a Mao Feng black tea.
  • Warm the teapot and chahai (fairness pitcher) and add the leaves.
  • Warm the cups.
  • Pour water into the teapot in a circular motion as a greeting to the guests. 
  • First rinse.  "First cup goes to enemies"  Rinsing is not as important in modern days with the quality of tea.  
  • Dry the base of the teacups on a towel and place on coasters.
  • Save a cup for yourself and an assistant.  This is a good opportunity to verify if the tea is too strong.
  • Rearrange the cups so it doesn't look like you're getting the remainders.
  • If you are serving tea from the front, the guest and host will bow to on another.  If you are serving tea from behind there is no need to bow.
  • Drink with 3-6 sips.
  • Prepare the next round within a minute so the leaves don't get too warm.  The second brew will be 30 seconds and the third brew will be 45 seconds.

Aged White Tea with Char Gascho (Oolong Owl)

In this session, we tasted and compared white teas aged for different lengths of time.

2017 Turtle Dove (White2Tea)

2006 Shou Mei (Chinese Tea Shop)

2000 Fuding Baicha

All About Oolong Tea Baking with Thomas Shu (JT & TEA Inc.)

During this workshop, we learned about the reasons and methodology for tea baking.  We also tasted and compared a non-baked tikuanyin (floral, astringent, butter), a baked tikuanyin (floral, cocoa), and a master baked oolong (buttery, light roast/toast, moderately floral).

Oolong is partially oxidized and still contains polyphenols which makes it a good candidate for baking. Don't bake green tea or it will no longer be green tea. Black tea is already fully oxidized, so baking would be a waste of energy with no change in flavor or aroma.

Thomas advises professionals in the industry is to bake their own tea before trying to grow their own tea. The purpose of baking is drying, touching up (removing unwanted aroma and moisture), and enhancing (bringing out a toasty flavor that might not come through in the first roasting). It changes the taste and character of the same tea, providing retailers with a custom flavor. Baking greener oolong will add more value.

The FDA doesn't require an expiration date on tea, so the expiration dates are there to create faster sales. If your tea picks up moisture, bake it.

Bake at 212°F/100°C for a toasty aroma. Baking at 176°F/80°C will provide some development with not much color change and 248°F/120° will burn the tea.
  • Understand the process of baking. 
  • Understand the methodology of drying versus baking. 
  • Select the appropriate tea to add value. 
  • Create a schedule and plan for baking specific teas. 
  • Limited supply means you set the price.
  • Understand the history of the tea estate. (It may be known for specific characteristics.)
Most of the workshop attendees are tea consumers rather than professionals in the tea industry, so Thomas provided tips for oolong baking at home.
  • Heat a sauce pan over low heat, add the leaves and stir. If you see smoke it means it's getting rid of moisture and the tea will be like new.
  • Expose the tea to room temperatures for up to three days.
  • Keep the tea in the original foil pouch, squeezing out the air, and store the pouch in 1-2 ziploc bags.

Day Two

Yellow Teas: Seldom Explored, Nebulous, Tasty with Joshua Brock

During this tasting event, Joshua introduced us to three yellow teas, discussed the rarest Chinese yellow tea, Jun Shan Yinzhen, and the differences between Chinese and Korean yellow tea.

Mo Gan Huang Ya (Mo Gan Yellow Buds) from Zhejiang Province

Meng Ding Huang Ya (Yellow Buds) from Sichuan Province

Korean Yellow Tea Balhyocha (Hwangcha)

Rare & Artisan Teas of China with Catherine & Ned Heagerty (Silk Road Teas)

All teas for this tasting session were harvested and minimally processed before April 5th.  They are unblended and meet the local standard rather than the market standard.  

Wild Green from Fujian Province

Gardenia Fragrance (Huang Zhi Xiang) from Fenghuang Shan (Phoenix Mountain)

Black Fragrance made from the Mei Zhan varietal in Fujian Province

Thanks to all the volunteers  and presenters for making the 10th anniversary of the Northwest Tea Festival a success!  I hope to see you there in 2018!