This was a busy weekend for our entire tea group, but an exciting one.
At Shofuso, they’ve just celebrated the opening of the Sakura Pavilion, which consists of two outbuildings that date back to the 1876 Centennial celebration. One of them was renovated into a classroom, and the other will be a storage room. They’ve been working hard to get the area ready for the dedication this weekend, and the classroom is still missing some finishing touches, but it looks lovely. On Saturday they had a sake cask-breaking with the mayor in attendance. The weather took a turn for the colder and it was rainy, but there was still a really good turnout.
Today, however, was the big tea day. Based on the early cherry bloom times and the weather, we’d figured that this would be a good weekend to hold our sakura hanami, our cherry blossom viewing tea. As it happened, the cherry trees around the Hort Center hit their peak last week, but there were still a lot of blossoms holding on in the area. It wasn’t as cold today as yesterday, but we decided to hold the gathering indoors at Shofuso, since the ground was still wet.
We did, however, try to position the guests so that they could still see some cherries. This is the view from the spot where the guests were sitting:
The gathering itself was very simple. I did a temae called hana chabako, which is intended specifically for sitting outside under the trees for a flower-viewing, especially at cherry blossom time. It’s a “picnic-style” tea where all of the utensils are smaller than usual, and they’re packed into a little box that can be carried around easily.
Chabako is a casual type of tea ceremony, so you can only prepare thin tea (usucha), which is less formal than thick tea (koicha). Because this was a special gathering, though, we had a couple different types of sweets. Brandon Forsht, one of our association vice presidents, made a sweet that looked like cherry petals on the grass (it was very beautiful!), and I made a dry sweet (kangoori, which is jelly-like on the inside but has a crunchy exterior) that was also cherry blossom-shaped.
The chabako set I used was a combination of old and new: The box itself, along with two of the lacquer pieces, were ones that I had never used before; they were a present from my mother, and I was saving them for a special occasion. The ceramic pieces, however – the bowl, the sweet container, and the container for the wiping cloth – were all from a set that I had gotten from one of my teachers, that had originally belonged to her grandmother. It was an honor to have the set, and to be able to share it with tea friends.
But that wasn’t the only tea event to happen today. Only a few days ago, Taeko-sensei was asked to prepare tea for a member of the Japanese House of Representatives who was in town visiting. It turns out that he went to Drexel University in Philadelphia, and so he comes back every once in a while.
As one of my fellow tea people said, we’re beginning to feel like an official Urasenke chapter already!