" SpiritofSaltSpring:BC:Canada:GulfIslands:SaltSpring:Salt Spring:

July 16, 2012

The Way of Tea via Donna-san

Wouldn't it be fantastic if you could walk through a backyard gate and arrive in another country? Imagine if every backyard on your street was the entryway to an exotic land. Sunday, I was invited by my friend Donna-san to walk into a North Vancouver backyard to experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Donna-san has been learning about "the way of tea" for 30 years.  Not something that too many Gaijan (white folks) can claim. A passion for the ritual and stubbornness has kept her motivated.
In this instance, Lynn Valley in North Vancouver became Kyoto in the backyard. There was no indication from the front of the house that the bamboo gate, complete with a sliding weight to keep it closed, lead into a peaceful, green Asian tranquility. There was a rock garden, Japanese lanterns, tatami rooms, a classic bamboo fountain and a private area with a thick wisteria trunk winding around its wooden sides. Benches surrounded a raised container full of hot coals in the middle and a silver tea pot hung from a wooden black fish, warmed by the coals.   

When we arrived,  two men, (one of them the owner's husband and the builder of the tea rooms in the garden and the house) were cooking Takoyaki. These were small round dumplings sizzling and solidifying into shape inside square black tins. When they deposited the exquisite dumplings onto our plates we sprinkled them with seaweed and squeezed a small circle of mayonnaise on top. Sushi, translucent pickled ginger slices, soy saunce and the beautiful avocado-coloured wasabi paste completed the condiments.
Before entering the house for our 2pm tea time, we deposited our shoes in the wooden box on the wall beside the back door and slipped on white socks. As Donna-san entered the tatami room inside the basement, she bowed in three areas of the room. We kneeled and were joined around the perimeters by four Japanese women, two older, two younger. A narrow scroll with Japanese lettering hung on the inner wall.  "There is something happy in every day." That was the loose translation of what the letters meant. A reminder that in every day there is something we can find that is new, novel, a good thing. Some days might just require better vision to see what that is, but there is always something.
We were there to partake in the ceremonial preparation of matcha, powdered green tea. Donna-san advised there is thick tea (formal) and thin tea (less formal).  As we sat down, a sweet treat of red bean paste was brought to us to eat. You must eat prior to the tea and not during it.
A young woman in a beautiful pink kimono was preparing the tea. She gracefully used the bamboo scoop to transfer the matcha from a wooden container shaped as an apple (purchased by the host) into a ceramic bowl. Each step seemed a detailed dance of hands, precision and timing between the scoop, the curvy-pronged tea whisk, and the smooth wooden apple (pictured in the photo bottom right) with the vibrant green matcha powder inside. Afterwards, we learned our tea maker had completed the Boston Marathon this year. So refined and contained in her pink kimono, it was impossible for me to picture her in shorts and Nikes, sweating and puffing for 26 miles.
A wooden box, that had originally hung with a rope into a well, contained the water. She carefully slid the wooden slats off the top of the box and scooped out the water to place in the kama (left below) to boil it. The bubbling sound is very soothing and is supposed to resemble the wind moving through the trees in the garden.
After she ladled the water into the ceramic bowl, she  used the bamboo scoop to measure in the green matcha then whisk it in a gentle, deliberate circular motion. Notice below how one side is smooth and the other is not. "That's perfect," said Donna-san.
Donna-san bowed and placed her left hand under the bowl and her right hand against the side before taking three and a half sips of the tea, slurping the last sip quietly. Each bowl has a face she said. The face is to be examined. When she was done, she turned the bowl back and used her fingers to wipe the edges before placing it down on the tatami mat. Then it was my turn. And so it went.

Afterwards, we retreated to the garden for more sushi and another bowl of matcha. A few glistening raindrops shimmered on the green fronds surrounding the wooden pavilion in the garden.

Domo Arigatou Donna-san

1 comment:

Lisa Wolfe said...

this sounds fantastic - I'll join you next time. Love the photos, next best thing to being there.