The first day was a dinner with tea preceding. The event was held in a private club in downtown Philadelphia, and because they normally aren’t open on weekends we had the whole place to ourselves. We had usucha in one of the meeting rooms prepared ryurei style, which means that the host and assistant were seated at a low table (one designed especially for this purpose) and the guests were seated at tables with chairs. Here are a couple of photos of the tea setup. The first one is Drew Hanson, one of our teachers, sitting behind the table (misonodana), and the second is Azusa Matono, one of our senior students, making tea there:
In an adjoining room, the Living Room, we had cocktails and sushi. Like the rest of the club, the Living Room is decorated in colonial style, with beautiful paintings, mahogany tables, a piano, and other period furniture. For this event we had a touch of Japanese in that a koto player, Motoko Yost, very generously donated her time to play for us.
The dinner was held upstairs in the dining room, where Kayoko Hirota Sensei, of the Urasenke Tankokai North America Head Office in New York, presented our president, Dr. Frank Chance, with a certificate showing our new status and also a gift of money from the Sen family – that is, the grand master of the Urasenke School, Oiemoto Sen Soshitsu (Zabosai) and the former grand master, Daisosho Sen Genshitsu (Hounsai), and the rest of their family.
We had a full house for the dinner, a mix of new friends and old, including some former students we hadn’t seen in years, two teachers from the very beginning of our tea group’s establishment at La Salle (Yumiko Pakenham and Janet Ikeda), and a group of students from the newly established tea institute at Penn State University.
On Sunday, we had more formal tea gatherings at Shofuso. Because the space is fairly small (being a Japanese house!) and we had around fifty people to accommodate, we broke the gathering up into three separate groups: Two smaller rooms with koicha (thick tea) and the largest space with usucha (thin tea). The guests would start with either usucha or koicha and then switch. Taeko Shervin Sensei was doing koicha in the actual tea room of the house (also the smallest space); Drew Hanson was doing koicha in a ten-mat room off of the veranda, and I was doing usucha in the fifteen-mat room, also just off of the veranda.
Here’s a picture of the usucha space:
We were incredibly lucky in terms of weather. In November the weather in this area can change very quickly, and of course we had Hurricane Sandy coming through just two weeks before. It was very cold the previous weekend, but the weekend of the tea it was not only sunny but in the 60s! The only downside is that the pond off of the veranda, the centerpiece of the garden, had been drained for maintenance, but the garden was still beautiful.
I won’t attempt to describe the utensils we used, because with three separate rooms going there was so much! But for the sweets, in the koicha sittings we had kooringiku mochi – red bean paste covered with yuzu-flavored rice dough (mochi), covered with a flaked type of mochi that looks like large flakes of snow. For usucha, we had a type of sweet that’s made of sugar and agar-agar with a jelly like consistency (kangoori) in two shapes: red maple leaves and yellow gingko leaves (which also had white bean paste in them). The third sweet was made from a green soybean flour (suhamako) and shaped like chrysanthemum leaves.
We were very lucky to have so many people coming out and giving us their good wishes, and hopefully they all had a good time!
(And a big thank you to Miyo Moriuchi, who took all of the photos above except for the first one, which was by Keijiroh Yamaguchi.)