In modern times, IMAI Soukyuu is probably most famous for being a student of TAKENO Jouou, but the answer to where he was getting all this money to build tea houses and purchase utensils is… he was an arms dealer. That is, he was a merchant whose main product was the newly introduced rifle and other firearms. That’s how he and Nobunaga got to know each other. In any case, Sokyu was a savvy guy whether predicting new technology on the market or manipulate the social order through pastimes like tea.

Here Sokyu sitting in seiza, making tea with the ro hearth. Remember, using the ro like this is a new development in this time period. Also, check out his awesome mizusashi.

Remember, of course, you can click on the picture to make it giant

Remember, of course, you can click on the picture to make it giant

I couldn’t captured it with screenshots, but the way in which Soukyuu moved was very different from how I have been taught. Much more forceful and with a more varied rhythm. His chasen toshi reminded me a bit of how omotesenke does so though. As an aside, yesterday evening I was chatting with a woman who studies a branch of Enshuu tea. She mentioned that because it is a man’s style, the fukusa is worn on the right side. It is interesting to remember that my own school (Urasenke) became popular mainly as bridal training for young women. I love my own school, but I would like to learn more about the other styles as well.

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Soukyuu making tea.

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And here you can see the tea room with its tokonoma. Note the earthy tones, and the particular style of coats these merchants are wearing.

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Here is the bowl used. It’s a korai seji chawan (Korean celedon bowl). It has lost its popularity in modern times, but I am quite a fan of celedon. In fact, the first bowl I ever bought was celedon.

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Finally here are the two guests. I am forgetting the name of the first guest, but the second guest is HIBIYA Ryougo (Ryoukei) [In kanji⇒日比屋・了珪(慶)]. You might be able to tell from the cross around his neck, that he is a Christian. The three of them are discussing the possibility of war between Sakai and the armies of Nobunaga.

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The Christianity of this era in Japan is extremely beautiful, simple on the exterior, but deep and full of faith and feeling. While there is little historical record remaining from this time, its nice to be able to see its depiction in drama. It makes me want to learn Portuguese.

戦国Mass

Recently I watched the taiga drama, “Nobunaga: King of Zipangu”. It tells the story, obviously, of ODA Nobunaga, the first of three great men who unified Japan. Nobunaga is of course an extremly fascinating character but what makes the drama especially interesting is it is told from the point of view of the Portuguese Jesuit, Luis FROIS.

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That there is Oda Nobunaga looking very gangster in his Nanban hat. His retainer told him he looks like Bishimon, protector god of Buddhist law, in that hat, upon which Nobunaga swore–like Bishimon–to protect Japan. Pretty awesome.

Although actually my favorite character is Lawerence (Lorenzo). Soft-spoken with an iron resolve. (#^.^#) You can see to the left in the above picture.

That said, the days of Oda Nobunaga were also the beginning of tea ceremony as we know it. For example, when the daimyo MATSUNAGA Hisahide submitted to Nobunaga, he presented him the Tsukumogami chaire, saying that next to his life it was the thing he valued most.

Matsunaga, presenting the tsukumogami chaire to Nobunaga

Matsunaga, presenting the tsukumogami chaire to Nobunaga

Nobunaga, country warlord that he is, was rather mystified why a drab tiny jar should be valued so much. But his wife’s friend, a merchant of Sakai named IMAI Soukyuu (if you study tea, that name should be familiar) immediately recognized the chaire. Nobunaga personally seemed impressed that the tiny chaire was, literally, worth an entire country.

The Tsukumogami Chaire

The Tsukumogami Chaire

By the way, the name “tsukumogami” comes from a story in the Ise Monogatari.

Once upon a time, there was a old woman whose hair was already white as snow. But just once in her life, she wanted to be with a charming man. She related this desire to her sons, but the older two merely looked at her like she was crazy. But her youngest son took her desire to heart and set out to search for a charming man. One day, he came across ARIWARA no Narihira, who is indeed very charming, if you have ever read his poetry. The youngest son tried to convince Narihira to meet his mother, but Narihira declined. However, the mother wanted to meet him so badly that she went to Narihira’s house and peeked at him through the gate. Narihira noticed this, so recited this poem:

ももとせに ひととせ足らぬ つくも髪 我を恋ふらし おもかげに見ゆ
The woman with white hair of 99 years (tsukumogami)
Just short of 100
It seems she yearns for me

The old woman felt embarrassed, and fled back home, tearing her clothing on a tree branch in the process. That night, Narihira went to the old woman’s house, but found her sleeping. He was surprised to find her sleeping, clearly she didn’t expect him to come. After reciting another poem, he wakes her and so in the end, her dream could come true.

By the way, the term “tsukumogami”, while literally meaning 99 year old hair, has come to refer to items which upon reaching 100 years of age, become animate. They are now often featured in yokai (ghost) stories.

NEXT!! More about Soukyuu and his friends.

Narihira having fun on the banks of the Fuji

Narihira having fun on the banks of the Fuji. Actually, I think he is just carry the lady Tsubone across the river, so she doesn’t have to get her clothes wet.

SeizaSesshaMany people have difficulty sitting in seiza. While I have hesitated to boldly state my own ignorant opinion on the matter, I have decided to do so with this post. So this is not a translation, but just my own insignificant thoughts.

Seiza and Japanese culture are inseparably intertwined. There are tea procedures that have been created to avoid seiza: The Victorian-flavoured ryuurei style uses specially made tables and chairs affordable to only independently wealthy aristocrats, but lacks the intimacy that is in the heart of tea ceremony. Zarei is a newer temae that is more intimate and allows the host and guests to sit in seiza, agura (cross-legged), or on a small stool as they please. However, it still requires a special tana (tea stand) that has a very good price. By good, I mean expensive. But even with such temae, being able to sit in seiza is an indispensable part of learning Tea! Having been praised by my (Japanese) classmates for being able to sit in seiza for a long time, I hope my limited experience can give my dear readers some good advice.

As an aside, I started sitting in seiza after I became an adult. When I first started, it was not easy. My feet immediately fell asleep to the point I could not stand again. So seiza is a skill, not nothing some people are just naturally good at.

How I learned to sit in seiza:

Practice
When I first started sitting in seiza, I made a deliberate effort to sit in seiza at home, while reading or watching a movie or surfing the internet. I usually did this sitting on my bed, mostly because I lived in a very small room and there was no room to sit elsewhere. Now that I live in Japan, I live a rather “Japanese-style” life, meaning without high tables or chairs. I sit on tatami mat floor when using my computer, when reading, when eating…pretty much all the time. About half of this time, I am sitting in seiza. The other half of the time I sit in agura or tate-hiza (with one knee up). At work, I have a western-style desk and chair, but sometimes I will tuck my legs up in seiza on the chair, because I find that more comfortable nowadays.
As for where you should practice, I personally recommend, of course, tatami (real tatami is softer than foam-core tatami btw), but also other soft surfaces such as a zabuton (cushion), bed mattress, or even carpet. To sit comfortably in seiza, your body should slightly adjust its shape, so practicing while taking a hot bath helps this.

Don’t Sit Still
I can sit comfortably in seiza for hours, but my feet do still fall asleep. To help this, I am constantly moving my feet and weight*. Obviously, I can’t be fidgeting through an entire tea ceremony, but I can wiggle my toes or switch the position of my big toes. If my feet have fallen asleep and I know I will need to stand up soon, I start waking them up by wiggling them about five minutes before. The process of waking my feet up is a little painful, but it means that at least I can exit the room gracefully, rather than falling over when trying to stand on numb feet. I should also mention we sort of shuffle rather than pick up our feet when walking in a tea room. When your feet are in that painful half-asleep condition, this is a great blessing.
By the way, there are many opportunities to encourage sluggish circulation back into your feet. When you bow, fetch utensils, do haiken, and reach for the tana or kettle, these all allow you to move your body and take weight off if your feet.

*Nota bene: At one point I did field work at a Russian Orthodox church. Orthodox churches traditionally do not have pews, so this often included standing as an observer in a formal position for three hour long services. But for participants, this standing is broken every five or ten minutes by bows or even prostrations upon the floor. Standing in the same position was painful, but when interspersed with bows and other movement, it wasn’t so difficult at all. I think seiza is similar to this.

Exercise
I think it was Shigenori Chikamatsu who said that if you are healthy and have good circulation, you should have no problem with seiza. If you consider the sort of people who practiced tea when these forms were established, they had much more active lifestyles. I despise sports and can’t recommend anyone taking them up. But instead, take up another hobby that is more useful. Start a garden, try tai chi, take up charcoal making, or go on nature hikes on the weekend. I myself practice kyudo (Japanese archery) whose focus on “still activity” and etiquette has much in common with Tea.
By the way, when sitting in seiza, I am under the impression we shouldn’t sit all relaxed with all our weight on our feet. Keeping your posture straight and the muscles in your legs active helps prevent the feet from falling asleep too.

Dress “Comfortably”
I find wearing pants makes my feet fall asleep very quickly. If I am wearing kimono, I also try to be careful about not tying it too tight. I think that people, if they are not used to wearing kimono, tend to wrap and tie the kimono very tightly around the body. But there is no need for that and having the kimono bound around the thighs too tightly makes sitting in seiza more difficult.
I’ve also had recommended to me that I leave the upper most clasp of my tabi undone.

The above is just my opinion and based upon my experience, so while I hope it can give some good advice, only use what you find works well and experiment for yourself.

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Here is a screenshot taken from the classic Japanese drama Kodzure Ohkami (Lone Wolf and Cub). Ohgami Itto, an assassin is receiving tea made by a daimyo client while discussing details of the assignment.

Despite the unbelievable martial abilities of the protagonist, the calm, selfless resolve with which he walks along the “path along the edge of hell” (meifudou), makes the story enthralling and deeply moving.

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This screenshot is from another episode. Ohgami’s rival, Yagyuu Retsudou, is making tea for himself while thinking over how he might turn around his badly-going feud with Ohgami.

usedteabowlToday, I did a tea demonstration at a junior high school. The school had no tatami mat room, so we used three rolling platforms set up in the first years classroom. One of the teachers brought in a display of sumi-e that the students had done to hang up in the background.

The theme of the demonstration was international cultural exchange, so I begin with talking to the students about how it was important to know your own culture, so then you will be able to share it with others who are interested. I also explained how Japanese culture has gained some popularity overseas and how the Daisosho and Oiemoto of Urasenke want to use to tea to spread understanding and peace throughout the world.

Next, I performed ryakubon temae. During this time the students just sat and watched, although I had one of the drink the tea I made. When speaking, I used only English, and asked the students to try to see what words they can hear. Personally, if you want to seriously study, it is important to learn Japanese. Even when I first started learning tea and didn’t speak a word of Japanese, I struggled and remembered phrases like “Osaki ni”, and “Otemae chodai itashimasu”. However, learning a foreign langauge is a rather high barrier, so for those studying tea casually, or for those who are just participating as a guest, we should use English, and make it easy to understand. Plus this demonstration was technically an English class.

After watching my temae, the students made pairs. I brought a bowl, chashaku, chasen, and chakin for each pair and kaishi for each student. Using the hot water from my tetsubin and from an electric kettle, they each served a sweet and made tea for each other.

Teabowls for the students to make tea for each other

Teabowls for the students to make tea for each other

The students all enjoyed the sweets. With the poetic name of “Uchimizu” (Scattered Water), I ordered them from a local sweetmaker called Rokkou.

Uchimizu sweets

Uchimizu sweets

Most of them like the matcha too. One of the students used four or five spoonfuls worth of tea in making tea for his partner, which was a little bitter, but over all it was great fun. At the end, the students were also able to make tea for the teachers there. Along with the teachers was one boy of about 6 years of age. His teacher told him the tea was “Karli Soup” (that’s my name), which was incredibly adorable. He drank up all his tea and said afterwards it was delicious. At then end, we had about 15 minutes left of the two hours scheduled for the demonstration, so the students helped wash the bowls, and straighten up.

After the demonstration, the students had school lunch. While originally I hadn’t intended to eat lunch with them, I was able to. School lunch was udon soup, which even when eaten with the utmost care tends to splatter. The science teacher recommended I wear one of the lab coats over my kimono. To my surprise, rather than being at awkward, it worked nicely!

The lab coat fits so nicely over the kimono

The lab coat fits so nicely over the kimono

It was a really wonderful experience, for both me and the students. It certainly wasn’t perfect. The utensils I possess are limited. I don’t have a furosaki and the only kettle I have is the tetsubin. We used a carpeted platform instead of proper tatami. But I feel that although the setting and materials might not be perfect, if you have an earnest love of tea and desire to share and create friendship in the world, you can truthfully communicate tea ceremony.

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And a random kimono anecdote
One of my coworkers today joked he didn’t want to be in a picture with me in kimono. The reason was he wasn’t wearing a suit, only a polo shirt, and the formality of clothing would just be too unbalanced. Even worse, the polo shirt was from Uniqlo (a cheap clothing brand). If you are going to wear a polo shirt next to a kimono, it should at least be by Ralph Lauren.

The cherry blossoms are at last in bloom here in the northern country, so in anticipation of a picnic with my friend, I’ve been reviewing the chabako procedures. The summer procedure, unohana, was specifically named after the duetzia flowers in front of the tea room called Housensai, so here is a little bit about that room.

Housensai (抛筌斎)

Gengensai built Housensai on the 250 year anniversary of the death of Rikyuu Kouji and named it after his funerary title. Within the 12 mat wide room, he built a cupboard and shelf next to the tokonoma.

While important personages can be seated on the two mats with Korean trim in front of the tokonoma, this room lacks a raised dias and can be said to express the simple and rustic aesthetic that the Urasenke tradition emphasizes. Originally, the single mat in front of the cupboard was used as the teamaeza.

Karakane Ryuukyuu Furo possessed by Douchin

Karakane Ryuukyuu Furo possessed by Douchin

I was working on the Nanbouroku today and I ran across Kitamuki Douchin. He didn’t have an English wikipedia page, so I translated the Japanese version for you!

KITAMUKI Douchin (北向 道陳, 1504-1562) was a Muromachi period tea master. He lived in Henomatsu Town in Sakai. He was Sen no Rikyuu’s first instructor.

Biography
His original name was Araki. He took the name “Kitamuki” because his house faced (muki) North (kita), or because he lived in Kitamuki Town in Sakai. He is said to have been a wealthy merchant or philosopher, but more likely his occupation was a doctor. Having retired from the world, he learned Touyama style tea from SHIMA Ukyou (Kuukai), a studen of NOU Ami. He had deep correspondance with TAKE no Jouou who lived in the same area. The story about him recommending the student SEN Soueki (SEN no Rikyuu) to Jouou is famous. He possessed many famous utensils such as fine Chinese tea bowls (Douchin-konomi), a scroll written by Kidou [a Chinese monk], Kou Katatsuki [chaire], Zenkou [a certain tea master] tea bowl, and a tea jar that was later offered to Nobunaga. He transmitted Daisu-style tea and Shoin-style tea rather than the Wabi-tea and Soan-tea of Jouou, but he also influenced Rikyuu’s Wabi-tea more than a little. His grave is at his family’s temple, Myouhou-ji of the Nichiren sect, in Sakai.

Anecdotes
Douchin built a tea house facing West. A certain person said, “You shouldn’t build it facing West because it will get very uneven sunlight.” Douchin replied, “I only hold tea ceremonies in the morning.”

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