Sunday, February 14, 2010

Setsubun Chakai

This post was originally written for another social media platform on February 14, 2010 and I thought it would be worth sharing with some minor edits here.

I wore a beautiful red tsukesage kimono, borrowed from Ohno-sensei and was going to try out my new obi, but I need more hands-on practice in tying otaiko.  It was an unmitigated disaster.  After trying that out, I put on the pre-tied koken obi and we were on our way.  My friend reminded me that it is Chinese New Year (and Valentine's Day) and thought it was lucky that I was wearing red.

We arrived at the Seattle Japanese Garden a little after the Opening Ceremonies had concluded and met up with more friends.  I even spotted a dance classmate.  I took a few minutes to say hello to the (enormous) koi in the pond before moving along, one of which was white with a blanket of blue/silver scales covering it's back.  The scales appeared like the classical representation of pine trees you see on shoji screens and on the kabuki stage.  What a lucky thing to see!

At the Shoseian Teahouse, I met the other guests and waited in a small, open building called Machi-ai.  When the tea room had been prepared, they called us in and led us on a stone path to the entrance.  There were baskets for coats and purses and an umbrella stand, which is nice to know for the future since my friend was extremely kind to carry my umbrella and purse while I was inside.  We each climbed onto a step at the doorway, knelt inside the entrance and slid out of our shoes and zori.  Then we walked or slid on our knees until we were seated with our backs to the right side of the room, facing the center.  The guest seated facing the entrance was the guest of honor and was given a special bowl to drink tea from that looked rustic with an imperfect shape and metallic tones mixed in with the earthen greys.  I was surprised how the bowl fits perfectly in the hand.  Because the event was more casual, there was an incense holder in the display with the calligraphy scroll and flowers.  In a less casual event with more people, there would usually be a charcoal brazier in the room where the tea is heated.  The Director of Urasenke Seattle greeted us and we were served delicious red bean sweets.  Then the guest of honor was served with the special bowl and it was passed around for everyone to appreciate.  The next guest was also served from a special bowl, smooth ceramic with metallic plum blossoms and a horizon of pink, which was also passed around.  Next, the remaining guests were served in simpler, but still beautiful clay bowls.  The tea used is matcha, a pure powdered green tea and I've heard many people describe it as bitter.  That may be true, but I leave my tea bags or leaves in for too long all the time, so I've learned to really appreciate bitter green tea.  After the tea, we talked about the teahouse and the utensils.  Japanese teahouses are designed to give a feeling of simplicity, so they are traditionally made similar to farm homes or huts.  The corner where the tea is prepared had a 10-12" high white paper border on the wall which lets the guests know where they should not sit.  The areas for guests have a dark blue paper border to protect the shoji from being damaged by feet and obi while the guests are seated.  All beams are exposed.  The space is small by western standards, but we had 9 guests, plus the person preparing tea, plus the Director, plus 1-2 people bringing in sweets and tea and it never felt crowded.

[Shoseian Teahouse 2008]

[Shoseian Machi-ai 2014]

This was a great experience and I'm grateful I had the opportunity, not just for the experience, but also because this was a social situation where I wouldn't have any experience in what we were doing, and I didn't know anyone involved.  I was totally out of my element and felt like a clumsy elephant the entire time I was there.   I now know that I want to take the lessons to improve myself as well as for my love of tea.  While I can sometimes sit for over an hour in seiza, I was having a bad circulation day and couldn't feel anything beyond my knees within 5 minutes.

At the end of the gathering we heard a sudden rushing noise and realized that we were having a rain storm.  Outside under the awning we watched as the rain got harder and harder until it was running like a waterfall from the roof.  Just as we thought it couldn't rain any harder, it did.  Then it turned to hail!  It didn't feel cold enough for hail!  The tea gathering was for Setsubun, a Japanese holiday where soybeans are thrown to ward off evil and everyone says, "Bad spirits out! Good spirits in!"  There was a volunteer dressed as oni (devil) waiting outside the tea garden and we were each given a handful of beans to throw and chase him away, but the rain was so bad that the Director called him back in where it was relatively dry.  "Oni-san! Oni-san! Come back!"  When he didn't answer, it was followed by, "P***, get over here where it's dry!"  Haha!

My friend had been escorted to the entrance of the Garden by the staff because they closed before the tea ceremony ended (earlier than advertised).  They were allowed to come back to me with my umbrella once some of the other tea guests started leaving and we jumped and crept our way through washed out stone paths to get back to the warm, dry car.

I love wearing kimono, but I have to say that the only thing that feels better than wearing kimono is taking it off.  Heaven!

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