Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Kimono Season

Tea lessons are done for the year, and we’re on our annual New Year’s break, visiting family and preparing for our first tea of the New Year (Hatsugama), which we hold in late January.

One of the things I’ve been trying to do during this time is get caught up on altering my kimonos. I’ve talked before about wearing kimonos for tea ceremony, how the tea ceremony was designed to be done in kimono, and even today we practice certain moves and hand positions specifically to accommodate the wearing of kimonos. At the Urasenke head school in Japan (either Midorikai, which is for foreigners, or Gakuen, which is for Japanese), even beginning students are required to wear kimonos every day. Outside of Japan, customs vary by tea group; in our group, students are not required to wear a kimono to class (although some choose to), and those who have kimonos will usually wear them to gatherings like Hatsugama. I always wear a kimono when I teach, and of course to gatherings and demonstrations, so I need kimonos for a variety of different occasions.

This is one of those occasions where theory and practice collide. In theory, every kimono I own should be custom-made for me so that it fits properly. In practice, to get a kimono custom-made for you costs anywhere from several hundred dollars (if you have a friend in the business who gives you a huge discount) to several thousand dollars (middle range; of course, a high-quality kimono can cost a lot more). On the other hand, you can buy a used kimono with little or no visible signs of wear for under a hundred dollars.

Now I am – shall we say, a tad cubby? Pleasantly plump? Or, as my sensei never hesitates to remind me, in need of some serious dieting? Let’s just say that my body type is far different from most Japanese women. So while I’m short enough that I have little trouble finding a kimono long enough for me, anything I buy needs to be widened before I can wear it properly. This is actually not difficult at all; in fact, kimonos are designed to be easy to widen, and when they’re made there’s usually plenty of extra fabric in the side seams. However, it’s pretty time-consuming, especially with lined kimonos, because they’ve got an extra layer of fabric on the inside that also needs to be resewn. It’s a good winter activity, with it being so cold and dark outside, and it’s always nice to be able to add another kimono to my “wearable” pile. (I probably have about 40 kimonos at this point, but a lot of them still need to be altered.)

Hope you’re enjoying your winter projects too!

Sunday, November 27, 2011


We had our Robiraki gathering, celebrating the beginning of the winter season, at the beginning of November. (Yes, I’m a little late posting… but look, photos!)

As with previous gatherings, we met at the Horticultural Center meeting room, which is far from being a traditional setting for tea, but in November the weather is so uncertain that we wanted to be sure everyone has a warm and dry place to enjoy their tea. As it turned out, the day itself was beautiful, sunny and warm, and there were still a lot of leaves on the trees, so it made for some beautiful scenery as people were coming in.

We were also very lucky to have a number of friends from different places join us for the gathering, including a group from New Jersey, some students from Penn State who are working on setting up a tea ceremony program at their school, and of course a number of tea people from our local area. We had sixteen guests in all, which made it one of the largest single gatherings we’d ever done! Luckily, we also had some great help in the kitchen, which is really the key to making everything run smoothly.

For this gathering, we served a meal as well as koicha (thick tea) and usucha (thin tea). The main part of the meal consisted of rice, sashimi, and seasonal foods in a bento box, and we also served soup with grilled tofu:

Because we weren’t in a traditional tea space, we had to improvise in a number of ways, one of which was to put the machiai (where the guests gather before going into the room) in one of the greenhouse spaces. Usually the machiai has a hanging scroll and a flower arrangement; there was no place to hang a scroll, but we put a flower arrangement on the path that guests would take to the meeting room, where we had put down tatami mats and set up an alcove space with a scroll:

In the tatami space we had a tana, which in this photo is set up in preparation for laying the charcoal fire. This is a Ryuseidana, and if you look closely you can see that the gridwork on the left side is made from used handles from hishakus (the ladles we use to scoop water). The mizusashi (cold water jar) on the bottom is a black Oribe-style, and on the top of the tana is a feather (used to brush stray ash from the sides of the hearth) and an incense container. The incense container was made by Saeda Makoto, one of the artists who exhibited at the Five by Eight exhibition in Philadelphia last month.

In this picture, Drew Hanson, one of our teachers, is making usucha for the guests:

All in all, it was a wonderful day, and as always we hope that the guests enjoyed it too!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Meeting the Artists

This past weekend our tea group had a gathering with a group of Japanese ceramic artists who are having a show here. So first I need to plug the show, which is called Five by Eight – five featured pieces from eight different artists – at The Clay Studio on 2nd Street in Philadelphia. They all have very different, very contemporary styles… here’s a link to the exhibition, where you can see photos.

On Saturday, the exhibition organizer, Makiko Maki, arranged with Taeko Shervin-sensei do to a tea ceremony exchange of sorts – one of the artists in the exhibition would do tea for us, and we would do tea for the group. They very kindly brought their pieces to use – two or three teabowls from each artist (none of which were in the exhibition, so we got an exclusive look), plus a ceramic natsume (tea container), mizusashi (cold water container), and kensui. One of the most impressive things to me – in a long line of impressive things – was that the brazier that held the fire (furo) and the kettle for the water (kama) were also ceramic. Ordinarily they would be metal, particularly the kettle, and they’re fairly big – the furo was probably about 15 inches in diameter and the kama was made to sit on top of it, so maybe 9-10 inches in diameter. It must have been hard to make something that fit together so perfectly.

The tea was a treat to watch because the person who did it was from the Sohen-ryu school, one that doesn’t have a huge presence outside Japan and one that I’d personally never seen before. The host was very skilled, and it was so interesting to see the differences.

The bowls were amazing, of course. They brought bowls out from the kitchen so that everybody had their own, and once we drank the tea we passed them around so everyone could have a look. The main bowl (the one that the host used to prepare tea) had overlapping geometric shapes that looked a bit like a checkerboard; the second bowl was white with a pattern of autumn grasses in orange. The others varied from a sculptural white bowl to a couple with a highly textured black finish, and probably the most popular one was a bowl with a light blue-green, translucent ash glaze.

(I know, you’re probably saying, “Where are the photos?” I’m so sorry, I don’t have any – if I get some, I will post them.)

It was a beautiful day all the way around, and I’m so grateful to all of the artists involved, and especially Maki-san, who worked so hard to make this and the exhibition itself happen.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tea by Moonlight

On Sunday I got to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time – tea under the full moon.

This is one of a set of three traditional outdoor tea ceremonies: One for cherry blossom viewing in the spring, one for the first snowfall, and one for the full moon in the autumn. Even though there’s a special temae (tea ceremony) dedicated specifically to doing tea during this full moon, and we practice the form, our group rarely ever actually does it for real. The last time I did it, it wasn’t a formal gathering; Shofuso was having a moon-viewing party, and my teacher spontaneously brought a tea set and had tea while the party was going on. It was so beautiful that I decided I was going to do one myself someday, but it’s been many years in the making!

So when my fellow teacher Drew agreed that we should go for it, I researched when the full moon was happening, when the moon would rise, the time of sunset, etc. Sunset time was particularly crucial because Shofuso (which, in case you haven’t seen it yourself, is a replica of the 16th century Japanese house) has electricity but no interior lights, so we wanted to get the bulk of the work done before it got so dark we would need artificial lighting.

I was a little bit nervous the day of because, first of all, I had a minor crisis with the sweets I was planning to make -- one of the key ingredients was nowhere to be found at any of our local Asian grocery stores, and the alternatives I tried weren’t working. Thankfully, my fallback plan worked, and I was able to come to the gathering bearing little mochi bunny rabbits.

The other wild card was the weather. They were calling for thunderstorms that evening, and it was ominously cloudy early in the day, but we really lucked out. In late afternoon it cleared up, and by the time the gathering started at 7:30, the moon was just peeking over the treeline! Shofuso is fortuitously oriented so that the main part of the veranda, overlooking the koi pond, is facing east, so by the time the tea was over the moon was high in the sky and reflecting beautifully off the pond.

The gathering itself was small, and we had a great group of guests. Some of them were volunteers at Shofuso who had seen us do demonstrations and classes, but never had time to sit and drink tea with us, and it was a lot of fun to be able to serve them tea and answer their questions.

In the end, I think everyone had a good time, which in tea is the most important thing. I’m really psyched to do it again next year!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Rain in September

Between Hurricane Irene last week and another day-long storm blowing through today, we’ve been getting hit with a lot of rain lately, and it made me think about rain in the context of tea. There’s the obvious angle, of course – it’s nice to have a bowl of hot tea on a wet day. But there are also a lot of seasonal variations on rain. For example, there are gentle showers in the spring, and afternoon thunderstorms in the summer, and in this area there are the tropical storms that blow up the coast starting in August.

Looking through my tea books, I found a great word – nowake. It literally means “field dividing,” meaning a wind that blows through a field and divides the crops. Here, for your wet weather enjoyment, are a couple of poems:

Inoshishi mo

Tomo ni fukaruru

Nowaki kana

Even the wild boars

Are blown away by the autumn storm

Diligence is needed

-- Basho

Oharame ya

Nowaki ni mukau


Female peddlers from Ohara [Kyoto]

Have hitched up their kimonos

To do battle against nowake

-- Sonojo

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Trying Too Hard?

How Japanese do you have to be to study tea ceremony? It’s a question that pops up from time to time – at least for me, and I suspect for other tea ceremony practitioners as well.

On the face of it, it’s a simple question. There’s nothing about the mechanics of tea ceremony that limit it to any one nationality or ethnicity. Anyone can learn the movements, and I’ve seen people of all ages and backgrounds relate to the philosophy. It’s something that touches all types of people, and that’s a beautiful thing to watch.

But there’s another aspect to it, which is that tea ceremony comes wrapped in Japanese culture like a ball of sweet bean paste wrapped in mochi. The two of them look like two distinct things, but try to separate them and things get sticky. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made some horrible social faux pas because of some aspect of Japanese culture I just wasn’t familiar with. The discussion from my last post about teachers made me think of it – one time, as a tea student, I ran into another student who went to Urasenke New York, and innocently suggested that she should come and take lessons with us, too, which (I now know) is a horrible breach of tea etiquette.

I think that people who tend to be attracted to tea ceremony are very aware of this gap, and for the most part work hard to be respectful and to follow the rules, written and unwritten. I’ve been thinking about that recently, too. At the intensive a few weeks ago, I observed one of the students, an American who had been studying tea for a long time. She was very deferential to the teachers, and very respectful, but as I watched her interact with them, it occurred to me that she was almost too deferential – to the point where she was making the teachers a little uncomfortable. It forms a social barrier that can become a barrier to learning.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that being respectful to one’s teachers is very important, and I’ve also seen situations where a student was being so informal with a teacher that is was bordering on outright disrespect. Courtesy is important, and sometimes being paranoid that you’re breaking some rule that you never knew existed is appropriate, because you are.

I think this instance really struck me because I saw myself in that student – times when I’ve tried too hard to compensate for the fact that I’m not Japanese, like I don’t want to be one of “those” Americans who comes in and acts in a completely offensive and insensitive way. Looking back, I can think of times I’ve probably made my teachers and others uncomfortable because I was overdoing the courtesy to the point that it was a distraction.

The reality is, I’m not Japanese, and I will probably never know all of the rules that are second nature to Japanese people. To a large extent, I don’t think they expect me to, just as most Americans don’t expect foreigners to understand every nuance of American language and culture. But that doesn’t stop me from psyching myself out sometimes, and I think that it’s a problem for many Americans who pursue Japanese cultural activities.

Having thought all of this, the conclusion I came to is that the real lesson is one that tea practice teaches us – don’t spend so much time and energy worrying about yourself that you forget about other people. Relax, focus on what’s right in front of you, be open to your surroundings, and act from your heart.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Getting Intense about Tea

Recently I was at an intensive tea study (koshukai in Japanese) held at the New York branch of our tea school, Urasenke. They have these frequently in Kyoto, at Urasenke’s headquarters, but this is the first time that there’s ever been one in North America. It was a really fantastic opportunity to come together with tea people from all over the country and hone our skills.

Urasenke headquarters sent two high-level teachers (gyotei senseis) to lead the seminar. One of them, Izumimoto sensei, had come to New York twice before to lead seminars. The difference is that in previous seminars, there was a large group of people who, with a few exceptions, were listening to lectures or observing while only a few people participated in lessons. At this intensive, we were broken into groups of five or six, and we were all give multiple opportunities to take lessons, including one session with each of the gyotei senseis. The other classes were taught by the heads of the North American branches of Urasenke, including two of the teachers from New York.

So what do you do at a tea intensive? The first day, all twenty-six of us were in the same room, and the training was in warigeiko, which are the basic movements of tea ceremony – the first thing that a beginner would learn when they start taking lessons in tea. Now mind you, many of the people who were taking part in the intensive were teachers in their own right; some of them have been doing tea ceremony for 20 or 30 years or more. Why start at the beginning?

Someone who studies any type of art knows that every once in a while you have to go back to basics to refine your technique, and that’s especially true of tea ceremony. Even after sixteen years of study, I’m constantly learning new things, even about the very basics, and I’m really grateful to have that opportunity. Because just like any art, there’s no standing still – if you’re not getting better, you’re going backward.

After the first day, we broke up into our separate groups, and for the next two and a half days, we spent each morning and afternoon with a different teacher. We were given a general category for each class – for example, “hakobi,” which is a type of basic temae (procedure for making tea). Within that category, students could choose what they wanted to study; of course, the teacher could tell you to do something different, but in my class that didn’t happen. It was good, because it gave people a chance to study in advance. That may sound odd, because isn’t the point of lessons to learn how to do something? But in intensives like this, the teachers assume that you’re already familiar with the temae you’re studying. The purpose of the lesson is to make sure that you have all the details straight – sometimes, especially with the more obscure temae that we don’t practice very often, there are small details that we forget – and also to check your form. I’ve found that every teacher has a specialty, so to speak – they’ll pick out problems with your movements or technique that other teachers might not notice. And the gyotei senseis, of course, are the best of all for things like that.

Going into the intensive I was really a bundle of nerves, worried about making mistakes or embarrassing myself even more than I usually do. But one thing that surprised and impressed me was that the gyoteis were actually very nice. Not that they weren’t strict, and sometimes they can be harsh in their comments, but for the most part they were very patient, and really focused on helping people learn.

At the end of the day I think the biggest single lesson I learned was that the way you do temae is a choice. There are certain small points that very from teacher to teacher; one person will tell you to do it this way, and another will tell you something different. At the beginning level, this can be really confusing, and it’s one reason why students are not allowed to jump from teacher to teacher. But if you’ve been practicing for a while, going to an intensive like this gives you a chance to see the way that other teachers do things, and to think about your own temae and what works. Sometimes a correction is a correction, and you really need to fix your movement. And in the context of a lesson, no matter what, you do what the teacher says. But sometimes, when a teacher tells you to do something differently from the way you learned it, it’s up to you to figure out which way to go. It’s trickier than a simple correction, but worth the effort.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Great Day for a Great Cause

Yesterday our tea group held a benefit for the earthquake victims of Sendai, Japan. Even though it’s been several months since the tsunami hit that region, the cleanup continues, and the people are still struggling to put their lives back in order. More than 23,000 people died as a result of the earthquakes and the tsunami, and countless more were affected. It’s hard to comprehend the scope of the tragedy, and even though our efforts were pretty small in comparison to what needs to be done, we were happy to be able to do something – particularly for the people of Sendai, who have been so generous to us in the past.

We did six sittings total – three for thin tea (usucha) in the 15-mat room that looks out over the garden, and three more thick tea (koicha) in the actual tearoom, which is 4 ½ mats including the alcove (tokonoma). In my mind, I’m seeing some of the people from the large Urasenke branches who do tea for hundreds of people in a single day saying, “Ha! That’s nothing!” But for us, it was a big day.

The credit for putting everything together goes to Taeko Shervin sensei, who came up with this idea back in March and has spent the past couple of months putting everything together, including making all of the sweets herself (a hundred each of two different kinds of dry sweets for thin tea and 50 moist sweets for koicha; her friend Wada-san also made dry sweets for us). But the staff at the Japanese House, where the benefit was held, also deserve a lot of thanks for all their hard work in making it happen. They really helped to promote it, and of course did a lot of work getting the house ready and managing all the visitors.

People were so generous, it really blew us away. There was one man from a tattoo shop in Philadelphia who raised $2,300 for tsunami victims, but wasn’t sure what to do with it; when he heard about this event he decided to give the money to this fund. There was also a little girl who, on her birthday, asked people to donate for the tsunami victims rather than getting presents; she brought her money to the event too.

At the end of the day, there were about 250 people who came through the house (though not all of them had tea; there was an artist named Aaron Mannino who did an art installation on the house grounds, and there were a number of visitors who came specifically to see that), and the event raised about $7,000, including donations that came in from people who couldn’t make it on that day.

To everyone who helped and everyone who came, thank you so much!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tea Ceremony Benefit for Japan

Apologies for the late notice, but please spread the word to anyone that you think might be interested:

The people of Sendai have had a close relationship with the Japanese community of Philadelphia for many years. Sendai is known as Mori no Mikyo, the City of Trees, because of the large number of trees within its city limits -- something it shares with Philadelphia, which has more parks within its city borders than any city in the United States.

Volunteer groups from Sendai have helped to raise money to repair and maintain the roof at Shofuso, the Japanese House and Gardens in Fairmount Park, and many times have come to Philadelphia to help celebrate Tanabata, the Milky Way festival in July.

In honor of this relationship, and to express our deep sympathy for their suffering following the earthquakes and tsunami in Japan, the Chado Association of Philadelphia is hosting a benefit tea ceremony, with proceeds going directly to the people of Sendai.

Date: Sunday, June 19th (Father's Day)
Time: Seatings for usucha (thin tea) at 12:00, 1:30, and 3:00 p.m.
Seatings for koicha (thick tea) at 11:30, 1:30, and 3:00 p.m.
Location: Shofuso, the Japanese House and Gardens in Fairmount Park
Horticultural and Lansdowne Drives, Philadelphia, PA
Fee: $25 for Shofuso members; $30 for non-members. Additional donations are gratefully accepted.

Reservations are recommended. To register, visit or call 215-878-5097

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Fallen Blossom

I recently read a tea story from the early seventeenth century in Japan. There was a priest at the Daitokuji temple in Kyoto who happened to see a particularly beautiful camellia blossom in the garden, and he decided to send it to his friend, the tea master Sen Sotan. He carefully picked the flower and gave it to one of his disciples, with strict instructions to handle the gift carefully on his way to Sotan’s residence. Despite the messenger’s best efforts, however, the blossom fell off of the stem before he could give it to Sotan.

The messenger wondered what to do, and finally decided to take the flower and its stem to Sotan and offer his abject apologies. Sotan accepted both the apologies and the gift. Instead of throwing the flower away, he placed the stem in a hanging vase on the pillar of the tokonoma (the alcove where the scroll is usually hung and a vase of flowers is arranged), and he placed the blossom beneath the vase as if it had fallen there naturally.

As I read this story, it reminded me of a time when I was in my teacher’s tearoom during a lesson, and I noticed that the head had fallen off one of the flowers in the tokonoma; it was lying there, under the vase. There was something really profound about the visual impact of that. I was still thinking about it after I went home, and I even wrote a little poem about it. But it’s really hard to put that feeling into words.

I think that it says something about the transitory nature of life – it’s not a bud, with all the potential of life; it’s not a flower in full gorgeous bloom. It’s come to the end of its existence; no longer an object of admiration, but something that most people would toss into the trash. The moment when the blossom falls is a moment of transition, and I think Sotan was trying to convey, with his action, that that moment is when we should be paying the most attention. There’s beauty in all moments, in all phases of existence, in endings as well as beginnings. If tea is about noticing things and feeling things, then surely the moment when the flower falls is a crucial moment to capture.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sakura Time!

The past couple of weeks we’ve been caught up in cherry blossom (sakura) time. The weekend of April 9th we had our usual demonstration at Shofuso, the Japanese House, and then the following day was Sakura Sunday, the big celebration in Fairmount Park. The timing was absolutely perfect – the blossoms were just coming into bloom. Here’s a view from one of the main plantings of cherry trees:

We didn’t have a formal demonstration that day, but one of our students, Mary Lynn, set up under one of the cherry trees and did chabako, a picnic-style tea, for anyone who happened to stop by and want some tea. …

The following week, we had another tea gathering, this time for members of the Chado Association. This was something new for us – even though chabako is especially designed to be done outdoors, we rarely plan outdoor gatherings for logistical reasons. Even for a simple tea, when you’re serving a dozen people there’s a fair amount of stuff to carry out to the site, and of course you have to plan for rain or other contingencies. I’m very happy to say that the weather was mostly good. “Mostly” in that it was sunny and reasonably warm, but it was also very windy, which made it a little on the chilly side and caused some complications in making the tea.

There were little things – for example, the tea whisk kept blowing over – and then there were the messy things: every time I opened the lid of the tea container, a gust of wind came up and blew a cloud of powdered tea all over the place. The tray with the tea items was a mess!

However, the really important thing in any tea gathering is that the guests have fun and enjoy each other’s company, and on that score I think it was a success – everybody seemed to have a good time, and we got to see some old friends we hadn’t talked to in a while.

Here’s a picture of us under the cherry trees:

(This, by the way, is the same place Sakura Sunday is held.)

Even though we look like we’re all alone in the photo above, there were actually a fair number of people in the park, and as I walked around before and after I got a lot of questions about what we were doing. That’s another fun thing about doing an outdoor gathering – we get to talk to people about tea ceremony, and maybe share some things with them that they didn’t know before. All in all, it was a good day.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Our Fame Spreads...

Last August, a film crew from a site called Tokyo Pop came to Shofuso to do some filming for a show they were doing called America’s Greatest Otaku. I had never heard of the site before, but I was assured that this was just because I’m very old. They were in Philadelphia looking for Japanese-themed places and events, and their search led them to Shofuso. They did some filming and interviews with the site manager at the time, with a local taiko drumming group called Kyo Daiko, and with us, your faithful tea people.

The filming was fun – they had two young people in the tearoom with us; I made the tea, and one of our students, Mary Lynn, acted as first guest and coached them on how to drink. (She did a great job and actually did quite a bit of talking, although they ended up not using much of her in the final cut.) After the temae was finished, they did a short interview with me about tea ceremony in general.

I thought that the whole thing turned out very nicely, including the tour of Shofuso and the bit on the taiko group. I always cringe when I see myself on film, but they managed to make even me look good. If you’d like to see for yourself, it’s just been posted online:

The Philadelphia portion starts at around 3 minutes and 15 sections into the clip.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

First Lessons of the Season

We got an unexpected warm spell (relatively speaking) for our first lessons in March, so we had lessons in the fifteen-mat room. It was a good thing that we did, because we had a full house – in addition to our regulars, we had an old friend returning for lessons after some time away for health reasons, and a new (to us) student continuing her tea studies after starting with a different teacher. In the morning, we had two people starting to learn tea for the first time, which is always exciting to watch. Definitely an auspicious start to the season!

Here’s a couple of photos to give you the feeling:

This is the steam coming off the kama (hot water kettle) as it boils water for tea…

And this is the garden in Shofuso as seen from the veranda…

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Haru Ichiban

After a cold, cold winter, a week or so ago we had our first real thaw of the season with a warm wind from the south. A Japanese chajin (tea person) I was with called it “haru ichiban,” “the first of spring.” That’s the feeling that’s in the air right now -- the early flowers are just getting ready to bloom, we’re in the middle of plans for cherry blossom season, and we’re getting ready to go back to have lessons at Shofuso again.

Shofuso is a traditional Japanese house, which means, among other things, that it has no heat or indoor plumbing. The indoor plumbing is easy enough to deal with – we just carry buckets of water to the “mizuya” (literally “water room,” it’s the preparation area of a tea room, most often translated “kitchen”). But during the winter the heat is a challenge, because for safety reasons we aren’t allowed to use the traditional solution, which would be to build a fire in the fire-pit of the tearoom. There are electrical outlets around the house, so we can run extension cords into the room to power space heaters, but the space heaters are not match for truly freezing weather. So in January and February we have a long winter break, and come back to Shofuso in March.

There’s a real sense of renewal there, throwing open the doors and airing out the rooms and getting ready for our busy summer season. In early March it’ll probably still be too cold to sit and look at the garden outside while we do tea, but there’ll still be time to appreciate the warmth of our tea and the feeling of the bowls in our hands. No matter how many times I start this process, it never gets old, and I’m never less grateful for the opportunity to stop and really feel it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A New Start for the New Year

It’s been a long time coming, but our little tea group has become an official organization: the Chado Association of Philadelphia!

I don’t know how many of our know the history of our group; it was founded in 1987 by Brother Joseph Keenan of La Salle University. He was responsible for getting a tea house built on campus, and for many years taught tea classes along with Taeko-sensei and Mariko-sensei. After Brother Joe’s death, we kept on holding lessons, but in 2007 the university ended the tea program.

Not that I don’t understand the politics involved, but losing our tearoom really threw us into a frenzy. We wondered if we would still be able to offer public lessons, and if we were going to be able to continue as a group at all. For a tea person, losing your tea room is traumatic; losing your practice is unthinkable.

We were very lucky to be able to continue to offer tea lessons at Shofuso, the Japanese House and Gardens in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia – they’ve been great about supporting us. But the lesson that we learned from our experience with La Salle was that we needed to have an existence as an entity of our own if we wanted to survive as a tea group. Three years later, we’ve finally gotten nonprofit status, and we’re ready to go.

Those of you who are familiar with our tea school, Urasenke, might be wondering if we’re going to apply for status as part of the Tankokai, the official membership organization. We’ve explored that, but Urasenke says we’re still too small. It’s okay. I know that we’re going to grow and succeed.

If you want to know more, check out our web site: We’d love to have you join us!