Event: Omotesenke, Green Tea Ceremony

Japan Society's workshop on the Japanese Tea Ceremony
Screen capture from event page for Japan Society’s workshop on the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

The Japanese art of tea ceremony is a time-honored tradition still widely practiced today, but with so many tools and so much etiquette, learning this beautiful practice can seem daunting. At our workshop, an instructor from the Omotesenke Domonkai Eastern Region USA school of tea ceremony will guide guests through the delicate steps of a traditional tea ceremony in a casual setup.


I forgot to write about this event I attended, from way back on 26 February, 2020. Given the number of world events that occurred since then, it kind of slipped my mind. It’s something I would write about, so I’m going to include it now.

History

We’re usually given pamphlets at most Japan Society events. I kept my mine, so here are a few basic facts:

Chanoyu is the green tea ceremony and Omotesenke is one of the schools of green tea ceremony. Members of the Omotesenke school taught our course. The other two schools are Urasenke and Mushanokojisenke.

“Sen no Rekyu established the basics of Chanoyu as it is practiced today.” Rikyu (1522-1591) was a tea master during the Momoyama period, and was a tea master for both Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi who were shoguns during his lifetime.

The Metropolitan Museum has a detailed essay, Japanese Tea Ceremony, that provides an overview of the history and culture surrounding this ceremony, and the development of “the simple and quiet form of Chanoyu called Wabicha”. This led to the wabi aesthetic, and there are examples of beautiful, wabi artifacts related to the tea ceremony on the Met website.

Tea Utensils

The pamphlet listed all the tea utensils, and we also had our own at our individual place settings.

  • tea bowl
  • Chaki, the container that holds the powdered tea
  • Chashaku, the tea scoop
  • Fukusa, the silk cloth for wiping the tea container
  • Mizusashi, container for holding fresh water
  • Kama and Hishaku, kettle of boiling water and ladle, respectively
  • Kakemono, a scroll hung for guests
  • Tokonama, alcove where scroll is hung
  • Chaseki, the tea room

Overview

For the ceremony, first they demonstrated, then we got to try. They provided us with a little tin of matcha to take home. I didn’t take any photos this time, but there are a few on the Omotesenke website. Given the time that’s passed, don’t remember as much, but  here are a few things I do remember:

One thing at a time. Something that gave the tea ceremony a more ceremonial feel was that there was no multi-tasking. For instance, no holding the tea cup while pouring the water. Put down the scoop before picking up the whisk. It was more meditative and slowed things down a bit.

A place for everything and everything in its place. We had little placemats for our tea settings showing where items should be placed before and sometimes after being used. It was very organized.

Very sweet desserts! There’s a type of sugary sweet that is served before the tea ceremony. To me, it tasted like a block of pure sugar! This was something I did not expect. We were told the reason is because green tea is kind of bitter and the sugar helps it taste nicer.

A few more questions

How does matcha differ from sencha, hojicha, or other green teas? From attending another event on green tea, I am much more informed about tea. All tea is made from the same plant. It’s only in the processing that determines if it’s black tea or green tea, etc. Most teas are steeped. Matcha is the actual tea leaves, that have been finely ground into a powder. So where green tea has many health benefits, it’s still only steeped in water. In matcha, you actually consume the leaf itself. But matcha has caffeine, so we were told to be careful of how much we added to our cups.

What do people talk about at a tea ceremony? I asked one of the two presenters if people talked to each other at the tea ceremony. She turned the question around and asked the group what they thought. People guessed that the ceremony was quiet and there was no talking at all. She said there can be some discussion, but usually only one person asks the questions to the host and talking is kept to a minimum. The focus is on the ceremony and the meditative atmosphere.


The actual tea ceremony didn’t last that long. I suppose I assumed it would be longer or more elaborate than it was. Maybe other activities like putting on a kimono or selecting the scroll would add to it.


PS – I didn’t take any photos, but one of the people from the tea school took one and I found a picture of me.

Tea Ceremony at Japan Society
Me sitting right by the screen at the tea ceremony presentation.

Event: Lecture on Sake Etiquette

I recently attended an online lecture on sake etiquette. Here are a few notes from the lecture.

In 2020, the Japan Society’s Annual Sake Lecture & Tasting was held online. View

Normally the Japan Society holds an annual sake lecture and tasting, which I’ve missed in previous years. Due to the restrictions on large groups, they didn’t hold an in-person event but they still held an online lecture on sake etiquette.

The lecturer was Timothy Sullivan, founder of UrbanSake.com. He was very knowledgable about sake etiquette and sake. He had a long sake list, with tasting notes, which you can find on the Japan Society website.

Here are a few tips from the lecture.

Sake Etiquette Tips

Here are eight tips for enjoying sake, if you want to have proper etiquette:

Tip 1: Don’t pour for yourself. I’m not sure if this is bad luck, or bad manners, but this was the Number 1 tip our lecturer made sure to share with us. He later explained that “O-shaku” is the manner of pouring for others.

Tip 2: Keep the Wa. Wa (和) is a Japanese concept of peaceful unity and conformity in a group. It focuses on harmony. In general, it’s rude and/or impolite to disturb the wa – including in sake etiquette.

Tip 3: Use 2 hands when pouring for others.  Our lecturer compared pouring sake with 2 hands to the way business cards in Japan are received with 2 hands, too. I think this practice holds true for more formal situations, but it’s considered more polite.

Tip 4: Don’t “slam” your sake when drinking. Although the small sake cups resemble Western shot glasses, that’s not why they’re small. The smaller cups allow you to pour for more people.

Tip 5: When pouring for other people, only fill the glass about 80% full. It’s considered rude to do this. When it’s full to the brim, it makes it difficult to actually drink from the cup without spilling.

Tip 6: Offer to pour for someone else, to get someone to pour for you. Getting back to the first tip, if you want more sake and your cup is empty, offer to pour for someone else.

Tip 7: When receiving sake, use 2 hands to hold your cup. One hand holds the cup, while the other supports from below.

Tip 8: Don’t drink before the kanpai. Kanpai is like the group cheer and it disturbs the wa to drink before the kanpai. At formal gatherings, often the sake will be already poured so that they can do the kanpai quickly and no one has to worry if everyone has been served.


Drinking Styles

Kenpai/Henpai

This is a style of drinking and sharing sake in which two people of unequal social or professional status actually share the same drinking cup. The junior person pours for their senior, who drinks the sake. Then there’s a large dish of water that the sake cup gets rinsed in. Then the senior person pours for the junior person. This style of sake etiquette is apparently restricted to only one region and discouraged when anyone might be sick (like now).

Mokkiri, overflowing style

This is more for casual drinking settings. In this situation, a taller clear glass is set inside one of those wooden sake boxes. The sake is poured into the glass until it overflows into the wooden box. The lecturer recommended lifting the glass and drinking from that, first. Then when the sake level has gone down, pouring some liquid from the box into the glass.


Finally, one last tip…

In casual settings, the rules relax a little. But, even in a casual setting, it’s polite for everyone to drink the same drink. For example: don’t ask for sake if everyone else is drinking beer. Remember: don’t disrupt the wa.

Isolation on Film

When we all started isolating, I immediately thought of a few films that captured different aspects of social isolation. If you find yourself with a desire to reflect on isolation, here are 3 movies and a tv series to watch.

Physical Isolation: The Wall

In German with English subtitles — 2012

In this movie, a woman on a weekend retreat to the country finds herself suddenly and inexplicably trapped by an invisible barrier that separates herself and everyone else. She learns to adapt and cope with her isolation. I saw this movie in the theater, I think at the IFC Center. It’s a movie I think about from time to time, and try to think about the invisible barriers I put up for myself.


Domestic Isolation: Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

In French with English subtitles — 1975

Jeanne Dielman is a single mother who goes through her days completing repetitive and mundane domestic tasks. Although many scenes were choreographed, the director filmed many of these scenes so that they appear real-time, slow, deliberate. Jeanne chooses her daily activities, from shining shoes, to making meatloaf, to turning the lights on and off, but she is essentially trapped in her domestic life of repetition. It’s clear she puts in focused effort as she carries out these tasks, but does she enjoy it? Does it matter?

And there’s something about watching this older movie, which came out in 1975, with no cell phones, no internet — you just feel the pressure of domesticity closing in on Jeanne. There are definitely some surprising plot twists in this movie, though.

I think about this movie often, like when I’m washing the dishes or cleaning the bathtub. I believe I saw this movie on Hulu, back when a Hulu subscription came with access to the Criterion Collection. I hope to watch it again.


Cultural Isolation: Walkabout

In English and an Australian indigenous language (not translated) — 1971

Title card for film Walkabout, 1971
Opens IMBD in a new window
In this movie, a white adolescent girl and her younger brother find themselves abandoned in the Australian outback. Eventually, they meet an Aboriginal adolescent boy, roughly the same age as the girl, out on his ritual Walkabout. The rest of the movie tracks their physical journey together.

This film is a masterpiece. It stars Jenny Agutter, and was the film debut for David Gulpilil.

Despite the sister and brother being thoroughly dependent on the Aborigine for their physical survival, the sister, in particular, remains unable — unwilling, really — to break out of her cultural frame of reference and the trio remain alone together. I suppose the Aboriginal boy also seems to lack the sense to realize that sticking to his cultural traditions alone isn’t enough to connect with this sibling couple.

Rogerebert.com has this to say:

“The movie is not the heartwarming story of how the girl and her brother are lost in the outback and survive because of the knowledge of the resourceful aborigine. It is about how all three are still lost at the end of the film–more lost than before, because now they are lost inside themselves instead of merely adrift in the world.

…there is a wide range of experiment and experience that remains forever invisible to us, because it falls in a spectrum we simply cannot see.”

Despite the pessimism of this film, I really love the soundtrack for this movie, which was made for the film by composer John Barry. The song, Who Killed Cock Robin is set to a minor key and slow tempo, with orchestra and a chorus; a beautiful effect. You can hear it toward the end of the video.


Marital Isolation: Scenes from a Marriage

Swedish with English subtitles — 1973

Scenes from a Marriage is a 6-part, Swedish miniseries. The series follows a husband and wife, starting from what seems like marital bliss and over time their marriage slowly falls apart. It’s been a while since I originally saw it, but I remember wondering if these two were every really connected or if they were still in their own world but together. They do argue, but it still seems somehow measured.

Anyway, this movie was directed by Ingmar Bergman, and stars Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson; good reasons to watch.

 

The Escalator

An attempt at a plot development technique called “The Escalator” — from an online creative writing course, focused on plot.

Many years ago, I took a continuing education in creative writing at Rice University. I never took another one, until recently when I got it in my mind to try again. This time, I wanted to look for an online course.

Despite most online courses these days centering on coding or engineering, I found an online creative writing course, focusing on plot development, on Coursera from Wesleyan University. Because I’m not a paying student on Coursera, I cannot submit my writing, so I’m going to share it here.

The assignment from Week 1 is called “The Escalator”. The instructions are below, but the goal is to move the plot along by the use of certain words, like ‘tiger’ and ‘appliance’. It feels a little contrived, but actually these action words really help move things along.


Assignment: The Escalator

Write a scene of 250-350 words featuring a character with one concrete want (a table, a moose, a toothbrush, anything physical is fine!) and one weakness. Use these two features to drive the action of the plot. Set up the story where every other sentence is a rising action. To help you come up with rising actions, use one word from the following list of twelve words in each sentence that has a rising action. In other words: Write your first sentence introducing your character. Make the next sentence a rising action using one of the following twelve words. Write your third sentence, which may introduce the weakness, then write your fourth sentence with a rising action that includes one of the remaining eleven words you haven’t used. And so on.

  • trick
  • memory
  • aboard
  • tiger
  • pretend
  • carrot
  • appliance
  • cage
  • rings
  • crow
  • filthy
  • explode

You must use at least 6 of the 12 words, but you are encouraged to challenge yourself to use as many of the words as possible while still meeting the word count.


Submission: Gold Ring

Abby had recently started a new job after a long period of unemployment. As she found herself in the jewelry department of Bloomingdale’s, she could feel a small part of her explode with pride that she had finally secured full-time work and start living again. 

In the past, Abby had purchased earrings or a necklace to celebrate a new job, but since she wouldn’t get paid until the end of the month, she didn’t have the money to buy anything new. She tried to pretend eagerness in buying the set of pearl earrings the sales girl was showing her and smiled when she looked in the mirror.

As she looked around she noticed the jewelry department wasn’t that busy, but it wasn’t that crowded. She had an idea to somehow trick the sales girl and get the jewelry — by stealing. 

She’d never stolen before and could hardly believe she’d formulated this idea on her own. But after those many months of unemployment and self-doubt —- pinching every dime, and eating rice and lentils every night —- she finally felt like she’d escaped her cage.

Well, she told herself, if she was going to possibly get caught stealing, she wanted to make sure it was worth it. She moved around the glass cases like a tiger stalking prey, making notes in her head of pieces she liked and didn’t. 

Finally she came to a case of rings and asked to view them closer. When the rings were placed in front of her, she cocked her head like a crow, this way and that, trying to eye both the sales girl and the rings. 

The ring she chose to try on was a simple ring of rose gold and opal. She admired how it looked on her finger and tried to remember the moment to form a memory in her mind. 

She hadn’t figured out exactly how she was going to steal it and began to feel her confidence waning. Suddenly, what had been a loud murmur at the other end of the jewelry case exploded into a commotion. A well-dressed man and woman began to yell and scream, hurling filthy insults at each other.

All of the sales attendants immediately hurried over to the couple, including the sales girl who had been serving Abby. 

Like a tiger, Abby pounced at her lucky opportunity. She put her ringed hand in her pocket, picked up her bag and began quickly walking, almost running, towards the door.

Just as she reached the door, she heard a voice call out to her, “Oh, Miss! Oh, Miss!”. But Abby didn’t stop.

Week Notes, May 3

A written accounting of the week’s activities. (Or in my case, about a month.) These are my week notes for the final week in April, plus May 1.

Work

  • Work on new features related to product detail pages (PDP) and finishing work from profile pages
  • Held a retro with team members
  • Had check-in with clients on new work for PDP
  • Welcomed a new member to the team; I will be rolling off soon 🙁
  • Large amount of work scheduled, so team coordinated who would do what
  • Presented my wireframes to client – we have been working on these concepts since the beginning of the sprints
  • Discussed review wireframes with client in the same meeting
  • We discussed a tricky problem, requested on the product pages with new members of the client team
  • Provided feedback to supervisor/team members on work to be presented at a client meeting
  • Cleaned up some files on computer, using an Automator workflow

 

Personal


Image credit: The Letter Writer, Frans van Mieris (I), 1680, oil on panel, h 25cm × w 20cm – View original at Rijksmuseum.nl

Week Notes: April 2020

I wrote last month about Week Notes, and in the following weeks I forgot to share what I’d been noting. So here are some week notes, work and personal, from the past few weeks: April 5, April 12, April 19, and April 24.

 

Week ending April 24

Work

  • Another client meeting that reviewed work and ended on-time with no outstanding feedback
  • Redesigned mobile wireframes for a section of account preferences, presented updates, and created desktop versions after receiving feedback
  • Presented desktop wireframes for mobile wireframes from previous sprints
  • Incorporated client feedback into wires and sent updates
  • Included a table within the wireframes to map processes between systems, for better messaging for the customer
  • Added arrows between wireframes that are part of workflows
  • Took notes from a final client meeting to document decisions and status

 

Personal


Week ending April 19

Work

  • Had a very successful client presentation of overflow work from a previous sprint – (4/13)
  • Reflections on why the meeting had such a good outcome
    • My thoughts: We had at least 3 requirements meetings for our sprint, and we really got into the detail of the features. We also reviewed workflows and made adjustments in real-time. I think all of that helped create accurate designs, which led to few/no questions
    • Another team member: Everyone was on the same page because the client team finished up their requirements and walked everyone through them. The client team knew exactly what they were looking for from the creative team.
  • Virtually met new team members located in Minneapolis and Dallas, (4/14)
  • Presented additional wireframes and workflows to client but wasn’t able to present all work during the meeting
  • Took screenshots from GAP account pages to explore messaging, and noticed extra options

Personal


Week ending April 12

Work

  • Updated wireframes for massive review session
  • Created new walk-through flow for different stages a workflow
  • Attended a meeting to walk-through new product requirements (4/6)
  • Presented wireframes reflecting new requirements (4/8)
  • Attended an internal presentation, where other team members presented their work on the discussion of development of a design system
  • Created new reference material of newsletter sign-up by taking screenshots of competitor websites (see below)
  • Reviewed new product requirements against existing designs
  • Worked one-on-one with manager on a client presentation to help her get caught up with work new and existing work needed for an upcoming sprint
  • Found new list of competitor websites, including Dune London , Clarks, Reebok, Timberland, Country Attire, Adidas
Screenshot from Dune London account sign up
Dune London account sign up

Clark’s Newsletter modal

Personal

 


Week ending April 5

Work

  • Reviewed requirements for payment method sections of account profile, for in-scope and out of scope functionality
  • Updated workflows for payment method sections of account profile, to accommodate removal of out of scope functionality
  • Collaborated with internal project team on which updates and recommendations to share with client
  • Held a design share with client and presented workflows on order tracking
  • Presented workflows on how to reset password, for different user flows
  • Updated shared notes regarding changes to previously approved designs
  • Uploaded screenshots taken with Simulator to inform discussion of designs using 3rd-party, plug-in, for address completion.

Personal

  • Wrote a blog post on last month
  • In-between books…started one, but didn’t finish
  • Created a spreadsheet to help track my deliveries and shopping lists

Personal (undated)

I can’t remember when it was, but I rearranged my furniture in April. My desk is now in the living room, behind the couch. The TV is back in the living room. The sofa is angled to face the living room and divide the desk area from the TV area. And the bedroom now has a little reading nook. Although, most of the books I read are audiobooks and I listen them all over my apartment.


Image credit: Schrijvende vrouw, Willem Wenckebach, 1870 – 1937, brush, h 321mm × w 248mm – View at rijksmuseum.nl