Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sakura Season!

This past weekend was Philadelphia’s Sakura Matsuri, the cherry blossom festival, so of course it was a busy weekend for us. On Saturday, Drew Hanson, one of our teachers, did a demonstration at the Morris Arboretum that was covered by the local news (he ended up on television!), and was attended by 60-70 people. I was helping one of our other teachers, Taeko Shervin, doing two smaller demonstrations at the Japanese House. I don’t have any photos of Drew’s demo yet, but here are some from Taeko-sensei’s:

The demonstrations took place on the veranda of the house, overlooking the koi pond. Here’s a shot that gives you a sense of where everybody was:

And us serving sweets:

And if you’re wondering what they saw as they were sitting there, here’s a photo of Taeko-sensei doing tea (I’m standing behind her). She was doing a type of tea ceremony called shikishidate, a type of tea ceremony intended to be done outside picnic-style.

And, just for the fun of it, a shot of the newly redesigned tsukubai (water basin for washing hands) outside the tea room at the Japanese House:

The next day we all came together for Sakura Sunday, which is the culmination of Philadelphia’s three weeks of cherry blossom-related events. There were Japanese cultural activities, music, and general merriment all around the Horticultural Center, which is the location of one of the major cherry tree plantings in the area. Unfortunately, because of the unusually warm spring, the cherry blossoms were almost completely finished blooming by festival time (except for the late-blooming double-blossom variety), but we were very lucky to have absolutely gorgeous weather for both days.

We were set up in one of the Horticultural Center’s greenhouses, surrounded by plants, underneath a little tent for shade. We had people lining up to get in about half an hour before each demonstration, and due to the limited space we could only fit 50-60 people in the room, but there were more standing in the doorway looking in.

This first photo is Taeko-sensei doing the same procedure again (Drew is sitting behind her):

This is the first demonstration; the first guest (drinking in this shot) is Mary Lynn, one of our students; the other two guests are volunteers from the audience:

This photo is from our second demonstration; the first guest (with the bowl in front of her) is Terry, another of our students, and the other two guests were festival volunteers from Philadelphia University. I’m on the right, acting as assistant (hanto):

In this last shot, Mary Lynn and Drew are serving tea to the Cherry Blossom Queen and her entourage, who flew in from Japan as special guests of the festival:

We’re always grateful to have so much interest during cherry blossom time, and to be able to enjoy the beauty of the season. I hope that you had some wonderful cherry memories too!

Monday, April 5, 2010


I think it’s an almost universal truth that we don’t appreciate our teachers enough – at least, not while we’re students. This is true in a lot of areas, but particularly in a practice like tea ceremony, where you spend so much time learning from a single teacher or (in the case of a branch school) a single group of teachers.

I was thinking about this lately in the context of taking lessons from my own sensei. When I was a student – or I should say, when was a beginning student – I didn’t have a sense of how much I didn’t know, or how lucky I was to have such experienced teachers. I find myself now wishing I’d asked more questions, taken better notes, and most of all, that I’d let myself be in the moment more.

I think the ultimate lesson that students learn, though, is that if you want to be a good student you have to move beyond just being a student and really practice. It’s only when you need to plan your own tea gathering, for example, or teach a class that the holes in your knowledge become obvious. And its only when that happens that you realize how important it is to always keep learning – and be a better student this time.