I’ve had the pleasure of borrowing many different kimono get-ups throughout the years, notably the fancy furisode I wore for the kimono dressing contests (I would put a list of links here, but there have been a lot of entries about those–probably best to click on the kimono tag on this entry to browse through them). I also had the fortune of attaining a very cheap washable kimono that was subdued yet nice enough to use for tea ceremonies, as I knew I did not want to be stuck having to borrow kimono every time I might need one. I still have to borrow accessories to make them seasonally appropriate sometimes, but thankfully finding obi and other items at used stores and then matching them to the kimono is a lot easier than buying the kimono in the first place.

Although they were thought of as a one-size-fits-all item, such that a well-maintained kimono can be passed down from generation to generation and fit everyone just fine, particularly round or tall people might find that they cannot attain the right shape with a kimono meant for someone of more standard size. Thankfully I’m mostly standard size, but my limbs are rather long.

This make my cheap green kimono a little problematic for the tea ceremony, in which you make frequent use of your hands before your guests. Mine tends to show more wrist than kimono, but nonetheless, I’ve use it for three tea gatherings (with three different obi to adjust the overall effect, though I’ve bought two more to match with it while getting lucky at used shops).

However, for the Grand Tea Ceremony at Matsue Castle (aka Daichakai), Tea-sensei hoped that I might find something a little nicer.

I had been looking–how I had been looking! But most kimono simply are not meant to fit my arm length! After many searches on my own or in little shops and bazaars with old ladies to help me, many kimono looked beautiful but still fell too many centimeters short to justify purchasing them. I had also looked into how much it would cost to have one adjusted or even have one custom ordered, but those costs were quite prohibitive as well. I really wanted an iromuji, a kimono with a solid color on quality silk and with no family crests, as that would be the safest choice for tea ceremony use to try to make sure I would always have something appropriate, but also nice enough that someday I’ll have something pretty if the need for a kimono get-up arises.

Kimono after kimono after shop and after shop, I finally found it mixed in with a bunch of other seemingly unused iromuji kimono that been dumped at a chain used goods shop. What’s more, it was a little less than $50! For a kimono of that quality in a color I liked and a length and width that was just enough, it was a stroke of extreme luck. However, that the extent of my luck, as it turns out I was 200 yen short that day.

Nervous though I was about losing it, I still managed to attain it, and when I showed it to Tea-sensei everyone ooh’ed and ahh’ed at how nice the silk and color was. The problem was that I had only one obi that could be paired with it, and it was a little too wintery for a large event in early October, especially one in which I’d be attracting a lot of attention no matter what I was wearing. However, with Tea-sensei and Kimono-sensei’s help, we were able to put together an ensemble featuring a festive pine motif on the obi (quite appropriate given the “Matsu” (松)in “Matsue” (松江) refers to pine, one of the symbols of the city).

Looks like this when you lay it out…

…and it looks like this when you put it on.

And this is what it looked like on the day of my Daichakai debut, the first time I did the full temae (preparing of the tea) in public.

Shortly after things had settled down from the Daichakai, I started the next step in my tea ceremony studies: o-koicha, aka, “the thick tea”, aka, “this is the true way of matcha”, aka, “what is good about this ugh it’s like drinking paint and bitter bitter bitter uuughhh what was that.”

That last title is an amalgamation of many people’s reactions when they first try koicha, though I had some similar reactions the first time I drank usucha seven years ago. I was not even a sencha (regular steeped green tea) drinker back then, so I supposed my lack of taste for it was unsurprising. I never would have expected that I’d someday be able to appreciate the taste, texture, after-taste and lingering aroma of koicha. As I do not typically take breaks in my practices to photograph each cup of tea and adorable wagashi we partake of, I do not have my own photos to share for comparison, but Green Tea Chronicle has a very good article about it, including photos that show how the differences between these two types of matcha and how very, very green koicha is.

Making koicha is similar to making usucha, like I had been doing for a year and a half, but getting the right consistentcy is more difficult, and you use much fancier tools. In general I use Tea-sensei’s array of tools, but there are some personal tools that we have to purchase ourselves. Granted, purchasing them ourselves doesn’t always mean picking them out ourselves–in general, Sensei has picked things out for me, and I bought them from her. Perhaps it’s because of my age, but she picked out a lot of cheerful colors and patterns for my tools when I first started, although all women practicing the Omotesenke school of the tea ceremony, whether they are preparing thick or thin tea, use an orange fukusa, a cloth used to clean tools and handle hot objects during the ceremony. Men use a dark purple cloth, and other schools use other colors according to their own rules.

In preparing the extra special thick tea, though, you have a decorative fukusa to serve along with the tea, which each of the guests use to hold the cup when they drink from it. It becomes one of many pretty objects and classy tools that guests may observe closely and ask questions about, which is why you have to remember a lot the names and makers of the tools you use.

Allow me to introduce you to my fukusa that Tea-Sensei picked out for me. It is called Souka-Tsunagi, “Pairs of Linked Flowers” like the pattern embroidered into it.

Now hopefully I can manage to make some tea that tastes as good as the ceremony looks.