Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In Memory: Hisashi Yamada

Hisashi Yamada-sensei, the former head of Urasenke New York, passed away this weekend. He was a huge supporter of the tea program at La Salle – in fact, without his help, Brother Keenan might never have been able to set up the tea house there. So in a way, it’s thanks to him that any of our group are practicing tea at all.

I’m embarrassed to say that I know very little about his personal history. Mostly I remember him from his visits to La Salle, especially at our New Year’s tea gatherings. Whenever he came, he was always the first guest. I remember that he was always full of funny stories and insights into whatever was going on, and he could communicate equally well in Japanese and English, so that the guests were comfortable no matter what their native language.

I remember that he was the one who taught me the difference between taking lessons and having a tea gathering: in lessons, you work to get every detail right, and you worry about everything; in a gathering, it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake. All that matters is the moment, and that you’re doing your best for your guests. (And, as a guest, if the host makes a mistake, it doesn’t matter – let it pass, and go on to the next moment.)

Yamada-sensei’s warmth, generosity, and tea spirit touched many lives, and did so much to spread that way of tea here in the United States. I hope that he is remembered as he deserves to be, as a truly great man.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sakura Sunday

Sakura Sunday is the culmination of the Philadelphia Cherry Blossom Festival, a day of all types of Japanese cultural events – including tea ceremony, of course! We actually had two days of demonstrations, a private event at the Japanese House on Saturday, and the free public demonstrations on Sunday.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather. Normally, Philadelphia’s Cherry Blossom Festival is held a week after the one in Washington, D.C. In Washington, it’s just enough warmer than Philly that usually the timing turns out perfectly. However, this year Washington’s is the third weekend in April, and the second weekend in April is, of course, Easter. So Philadelphia’s was the first weekend in April, and we were all concerned that it would be too early for the actual cherry blossoms. But the week before we had a nice warm spell, and the day of the festival was clear, sunny, and in the 60s, so the trees were just starting to bloom.

Here’s a photo of the blossoms:

The public demonstrations went really well. We had two demos, and since there was only limited space in the room where we set up, the festival organizers had sign-up sheets. We not only filled up the space, but had people sitting on the floor to get in. The teas were done by Mariko-sensei, with Drew (in green kimono, with his back to the camera) demonstrating how to be the guest, myself narrating, and some help from students Mary Lynn (blue kimono) and Terry (pink kimono), and tea friend Brandon (kneeling to take a photo in this picture).

The guests seemed to really enjoy the tea, and asked a lot of good questions. It was great to be able to connect with them!

After the tea, it was almost closing time for the festival, but we all got to walk around for a little while and admire the day. Along the way, someone snapped a photo of three mysterious tea people in kimono: