Sunday, January 31, 2010

Chado in the Loop

I enjoyed another demonstration of the Japanese tea ceremony today at a special new year's event (OK, a few weeks late, big whoop) by Urasenke Chicago at the Japanese Information Center. The local Urasenke chapter is a loose gathering of tea teachers, folks (mostly women, it seems) who teach willing students the meticulous but beautiful method of chado.

This demo was much like the one I first experienced in Honolulu, though there the audience consisted of me and one other couple. Here, the crowd was a couple dozen gathered around the teahouse at the JIC, so we couldn't be in the structure itself. Three women (in some gorgeous kimonos, I must say) shuffled through the ceremony, one of them serving the other two as guests. The teahouse is pretty cool, a surprising sight built as it is right in the middle of the JIC's carpeted offices on the 10th floor of a downtown skyscraper. It's authentic and quite lovely, even though it's lit from above by panes of fluorescent light. The alcove was stocked with items addressing the new-year ritual — an about-to-burst camellia bud in a bamboo vase, a tall and flowing willow branch, plus a scroll featuring a hopeful wintertime message: "The beautiful phoenix dances in the scarlet dawn light." The teaware included some beautiful blue-and-white porcelain featuring depictions of new year's treasures.

The sweet offered before the matcha tea was extraordinary, and homemade by some UC members. A traditional new year's sweet, it featured a white rice flour disc folded over a pink one, with lightly sweetened bean paste and miso in the middle, plus two strips of burdock root (!) that I think might have been pickled. Reminded me of this shop in NYC.

Thanks to the UC folks for a fun afternoon (and a great lunch)!


  1. Oh wow! Thomas - you have to tell me when you are going to one of these again! I had no idea!

  2. 'Twas a lovely thing, indeed. They're doing a celebration of Rikyuki at the JIC at 1 p.m. March 28 ( "Members of the Urasenke Chicago Association will present Hirakagetsu, one of Shichijishiki (Seven Exercises); the five participants will prepare and drink four bowls of tea, which are determined at random by the draw of special bamboo pieces." (!!!)

  3. I am so delighted to have discovered your blog, which I saw listed in the new Laura Childs book! I can tell I am going to have a lot of back reading to do, Thomas!

  4. Thanks, Angela! Indeed, I have a copy of Laura Childs' new book, and I'm chomping at the tea cup to dive into it.