Buri-chan Anecdotes


2018/3/5 UPDATE: Due to technical difficulties, most of the images on this blog are no longer functional. However, you can download a zip file of the full Kojiki manga series here:

Please feel free to use the images as you please with credit to Brittany Partin.


















Please see visit-Matsue.com for more details~~

Over the course of my four years in Matsue, I put a lot of special effort into art, be it developing my hobbies or learning the ways of traditional Japanese aesthetics. Long-time readers of my blog will probably recall my adventures in competitive kimono dressing with regional contests in Kochi and Hiroshima and a shot at a world championship in Tokyo. However, since 2014, I limited my kimono practice to only occasional refreshers for getting myself dressed for tea ceremonies. Sure, I love the chance to dress up in traditional Japanese attire, be it for strolling around Izumo Taisha during my New Year shrine visit or taking part in Matsue’s early Edo inspired Warrior Parade. However, I chose to dedicate more time to tea ceremony practice.

I still keep in touch with Kimono-sensei, of course. It just so happened that when I called her for advice on behalf of a friend who was getting started with her first kimono that she asked if I happened to be open on May 29th, during the annual kimono show she and her kimono buddies put on at the Matsue English Garden. As luck would have it, I did happened to be open that day, and thankfully there was no prep necessary for showing up on stage as a hanamusubi (folding obi in the shapes of flowers) model.

Knowing this might be one of my last times to wear kimono for a while, Kimono-sensei specifically chose to have me model the tsubaki (camellia), because it is one of the representative flowers of Matsue. It just so happens that I’ve always had a very soft spot for tsubaki, so this made us all happy. After all, Kimono-sensei wanted me to have this as one more memory of Matsue.


Fast forward to June 26th, when I woke up at 4am to get ready for an Asagayu tea ceremony. Because it’s hot in summer, it’s an early morning tea ceremony served with a light breakfast instead of a full fancy meal. Having, yes, even something as humble as rice porridge can be made very, very fancy when you leave the menu to the discretion of an inn that’s been in operation since the Edo period, where even Lord Fumai himself was known to frequent. After breakfast, we had the very formal okoicha (thickly prepared tea) ceremony in a very small, intimate room, and then the more relaxed o’usu ceremony outside in the garden by the banks of where Lake Shinji meets the Ohashi River. The weather was beautifully sunny to the point of being uncomfortably warm, but the tools all had a cool sense to them—the mizusashi for fresh water was made of very clear glass, the dish for the sweets was silvery and reminiscent of the upcoming Tanabata festival, and there was an enormous green leaf across the table to give everything a refreshing hue.

But yes, I mentioned 4am. Because this was a morning tea ceremony, I had to wake up very early to do my hair and make up, and dress in my kimono with room for making mistakes. It was the first time I had used that hydrangea obi since my first tea ceremony in June 2013, when Tea-sensei gave me that obi. I had practiced with Kimono-sensei how to tie a regular taiko obi, but at that time I ended up asking for help after all. Then in June 2016, I had not practiced a taiko obi in forever, and with my busy schedule lately, I barely had tied to do one frustrating practice late the night before. The first shot I took at doing my obi in the morning was a failure, but on the second attempt I tried something else with it which would have made no sense to me before, but somehow trying new things to get the correct form didn’t feel odd. But hey, it worked, and I had about ten minutes of leeway before the taxi came!

Don't mind the snapshot of a laminated photo I received...

Don’t mind the snapshot of a laminated photo I received…

It was also my first time performing the okoicha ceremony. I did really well–almost flawless, with poise and calmness. I’d like to say it was the fruits of over three years of near-weekly tea ceremony practice, but it was mainly due to being so sleepy that I was seriously nodding off in the mizuya (preparation room). I simply was not alert enough to be nervous, so my hands moved automatically. Everyone said the tea was the perfect, too. I know my knowledge and practice of the tea ceremony is still shallow, but hey, I can say that I can practically perform a tea ceremony in my sleep.

This was also my official farewell party from my tea ceremony school. It was very nice to have a formal setting in which many people were gathered so I could express my thanks to them all at once, but I’ll still attend a couple practices before I leave to learn a couple things I should know as an official dues-paid member of the worldwide Omotosenke school of tea. I’ll be able to say a more personal farewell to my regular classmates then. A couple of my other classmates who had taught me a lot arranged for me to go make pottery with a lapsed student of our school who is a professional potter. As of writing this I still have yet to see how they turned out, but it was fun. He helped us make proper tea cups/bowls, and then with the remaining clay he left us to our imaginations. Well……… I’m interested to see how my, erm, very imaginative “flower vases(?)” turn out.


As part of that mid-June day, with off and on rain out in the mountainous area around Sada Shrine, the ladies who brought me along prepared a casual tea ceremony in the display room neighboring the workshop. They borrowed some pieces from the potter, and picked from persimmon leaves to place the summer sweets on, and we casually partook of a couple cups of tea while listening to the alternating sounds of bugs and rainfall and talking about the creativity and craftsmanship of his works and works that he admired other places.

It was one of those “Ah, this is Japan” moments. Or at least, “this is my life in Shimane, when I actually slow down and enjoy it” moments.

My job as a CIR has of course been very demanding at times, with a very wide variety of exciting and challenging work to do. On the flip side, when I haven’t been as busy, I’ve found many opportunities to use my art as part of my work. I made it a point to do this in my first year. I had always loved drawing and had dreamed for years of writing manga professionally, but for some reason it always felt like I had to keep my passion for anime and manga a secret if I ever wanted to be taken seriously. After some self-published manga I made right before I started the JET Program, I knew I wanted to embrace it and let myself put a little more effort into it, which is part of why I started on the Kojiki manga.

Although I saw it as a chance to improve over the course of the years it would take me to write the narrative I had in mind, it turns out I got more and more lazy with it over the course of the project, haha! But I was busy with other projects on the side. Besides the experimental and hastily drawn Tengu manga that won 2nd place in an international contest in 2014, I also fulfilled a long held dream by submitting a short story to a monthly shoujo manga magazine contest last summer. It did not win anything (as expected), but I got professional criticism on it, and was overall very satisfied with the experience. However, I feel it is safe to say that I have worked that dream out of my system—the process of using professional tools and making print-quality manga without assistants and while having a full time job was exhausting. There were many late nights spent on it, and many hours hunched over my work, and the emotional stress of knowing how undeveloped my art skills are due to lack of any practice on the basics. The professional criticism I asked for very aptly suggested I focus on the fundamentals of drawing, and I know myself well enough to know that I’m only interested in doing this as a hobby.

However, it is through actually doing it that I’ve figured this out, which is why I feel very satisfied instead of feeling like I’ve given up. Besides, it already felt I had my “debut” in my 1st year when this article came out in the local Sunday paper about my Kojiki project.


Furthermore, I’ve branched out a lot, and tried out a lot of different styles and subject matters while I’ve made use of here at the office. I’ve become the go-to person for copyright-free illustrations on fliers and newsletters, so much so that when I walked into work one day and was told, “Buri-chan, we need you to draw Matsue Castle real fast,” it was only mildly startling.

A snapshot from my 1st year

A snapshot from my 1st year

I'm really proud of this logo design too. I thought it was only going to be a CIR-made newsletter, but it turns out it's been used in foreign tourism material as well.

I’m really proud of this logo design too. I thought it was only going to be a CIR-made newsletter, but it turns out it’s been used in foreign tourism material as well.

I’m sure I’ll always continue drawing as a hobby, and I’ll likely have opportunities to use my kimono and tea ceremony practice in the future. It may not be quite as regularly as I use them now, but I have attained both deep and wide knowledge to take back with me.

However, the fact that I am leaving Japan soon really hit home when I was putting away my kimono materials after the tea ceremony the other day. I could pack this all up right now, I thought. That was probably the last time I’ll wear one for a while.

Ahhhhh, keigo, the infamously most formal, polite form of Japanese, with different forms of usage within it based on whether you are humbly referring to yourself or using honorifics to refer to anything and anyone besides yourself or whatever group you represent. Considering how many game shows there are in Japan, there’s got to be one around here somewhere about which verbs to use in which settings and with which interlocutors. (After all, even Japanese people need refreshers and instructions on proper keigo use.)

That said, keigo is a very standard part of actively used Japanese, not a separate language. I suppose after nearly four years in a Japanese office this improvement shouldn’t be surprising, but there is a big difference in satisfaction between answering keigo questions correctly on N1 of the JLPT and actually using it in a way that sounds natural in daily life.

Someone sure looks happy to be in paradise.

One of the things that makes me sad about my current lifestyle is that there are not that many opportunities to interact with animals. I can’t have any pets at my apartment, and most of my friends don’t have pets, and although I love seeing the wide array of wild birds that call Matsue their home for all or part of the year, it’s not quite the same as getting to interact with them. Bird feeders are not particularly common here, and when it comes down to it, many people–though certainly all–people raised in Japan are not comfortable interacting with animals, especially birds.

When I studied abroad in the Kansai region many years ago, I was a little starved of animal contact then, too. On a trip to an amusement part with my host mother and 5-year-old host brother I dragged them along to the petting zoo, and they didn’t seem to have much of an idea how to pet the furry critters. They both refused to go through the hallway of birds with me, seeing as she was afraid of them and that fear had spread to him. As I walked through, a parrot squawked at me, and that made the two of them scream on the other side of the wall. Even just now, as I was going through some of these photos of me taking advantage of every chance to interact with the birds at the Matsue Vogel Park, one of my supervisors noticed and asked, “Buri-chan, you weren’t afraid? Not at all??”

Nope! Not at all. And I’m really glad there is a place like the Vogel Park to give people a chance to give birds–and animals in general–a chance.

When I first came to Matsue it was the first outing I took while getting to know the city, and since then when I’ve had people come to visit and just want to hang out with them somewhere, I take them here. It had been a while since the last time I was there, and I had been pining for some animal interaction all winter, so once my schedule opened up, I took a Wednesday off from work to go spend the day there.

I distinctly wanted to go on a weekday as early as I could, because it can get very crowded on weekends and the ibises get sleepy in the afternoon. I love feeding the ibises, and they certainly enjoy being fed, so it worked out well. Not well enough to get a photo of them crowded at my feet and honking (or beeping, more like it?) at me, but I did stand around and drawing them later.

It felt so good to take the day to work on art, too! Birds are so much fun to draw, and the kachou (“flowers and birds”) themed Japanese paintings at the Adachi Museum of Art always make me want to go home and draw birds. Ahhh, but flowers. That’s something people come here for too. There begonias, fuchsia, and other flowers make the center greenhouse a paradise all year round.

On a Wednesday in February, it just happens to be a paradise with no people… which might or might not be a good thing?

It was still a little chilly in the greenhouses, but warm enough to fit in a lot of live sketches throughout the day. Usually, you can take a leisurely walk through the park in about an hour, but I took lots and lots of extra time, and made it to all the daily shows and events this time instead of just one or two. Instead of walking you through each part of the park, it’s probably faster just to see the new and improved English website. I skipped the observation tower overlooking Lake Shinji because it was an overcast day, but I fully enjoyed listening to the birds in the forest while walking between greenhouse and observing the birds.

It was especially fun to take my time while drawing the Banana the Toucan because his cage while right across from the cockatoo whose name I can’t quite remember. She’s usually not very interested in talking to me when I’m there on more crowded days, but today she was really bored, and constantly called out to me with “Hello!” and “Arigatou,” especially while I was facing Banana. When I would face her and interact with her instead, young Banana would start complaining until I’d go back over to him, and he’d quiet down and start hopping around the structures in his enclosure like the show-off he is.

The penguins, although they are one of the most popular attractions, are not quite as interesting to me. Besides their daily march in differing costumes, Sakura-chan has also captured the hearts of millions with this viral video in which she chases her beloved keeper.

For as nervous as many people around birds, the keepers obviously loved them, and birds are generally pretty affectionate with them, too. Seeing as it was a slow day between the waves of kindergartners on school excursions, the keepers were also pretty happy to chat with me about the birds as well, telling me everything from their names to how old they were to their personalities and which ones were raised at the park from the time they hatched. They were also very happy to indulge me in my question get some animal interaction–for 100~200 yen at select times, you can hold and pet many of the birds (and enormous rabbits, but I stuck with birds today). So I did. Let me interact with all the birds!

Owls are really, really, really soft.

This old call duck was enthusiastic and didn’t want to stay still.

This falcon was disappointed that it was a rainy day so she didn’t get to do her usual outdoor flying show at that hour.

The turacos are some of my favorites.

One of these toucans was named “Puri.” We’re a pair.

That was a good bird fix for a while, I suppose I could always go to Mt. Daisen to hang out with cows if I need a wider variety of mammals in my life. In the meantime, there is still a wide variety of birds to look at and listen to on my usual routes around this City of Water (and waterfowl).

Whether it’s slipper table tennis, tug-of-war out on the ocean, or bingo at a big work party, I find I don’t usually share the excitement everyone else has for the big prizes being shelled out.

See, that’s a pun. We get stuff like big boxes or Matsue Iwagaki oysters, shijimi clams from Lake Shinji, or sazae (turban shells) as prizes as well.

Sometimes you get expensive local fruit for prizes, too. I’m usually a little happier about that than I am about sea creatures I have no idea what to do with.

Appare-kun, for reference:

I still have yet to experience wearing one of these things, but having carried one through a backstage area full of expensive equipment to knock over was perhaps experience enough. I run into Shimanekko a lot, but my most recent encounter with Appare-kun, our modern local lord of Matsue Castle who likes to practice tea ceremony and who is married to Shijimi-hime, was when I was emceeing for his paper-rock-scissors competition with a bunch of kids (and then some) at the Irish Festival.

違う: 【ちがう】(CHIGA-u)
to differ (from); to not be in the usual condition; to not match the correct (answer, etc.); to be different from promised
Example: 違う文化について学びたい。// Chigau bunka ni tsuite manabitai. // I want to learn about different cultures.
Example: この漢字は違うよ。// Kono kanji wa chigau yo. // This kanji is wrong.

異なる: 【ことなる】(KOTO-naru)
to differ; to vary; to disagree
Example: 異なる文化について学びたい。// Kotonaru bunka ni tsuite manabitai. // I want to learn about different cultures.
Example: この名前のつづりが異なる。// Kono namae no tsudzuri ga kotonaru. // The ways to spell this name differ.

(Kanji definitions from KanjiDic2.)

I do not claim to be a kanji expert. I can usually read a newspaper without difficulty, but if you asked me to read aloud I might struggle on a few words here and there. I, like many modern Japanese people, have also forgotten how to write a lot of kanji which I used to be tested on in school because I usually type them instead of write them. It’s sort of like how proper spelling in English is said to be a dying art form.

I’ve now been practicing the tea ceremony for three years!

Those are willow branches behind me hanging in the alcove as a New Years decoration, not wires hooking me up to the ceiling. I promise I am not a tea ceremony performing robot.

Those are willow branches behind me hanging in the alcove as a New Years decoration, not wires hooking me up to the ceiling. I promise I am not a tea ceremony performing robot.

Besides my obvious change in how I view tea tools, I’ve also picked up a lot more of the mindsets I’ve admired for a long time, which were the main reasons I wanted to try it in the first place. I’ve long since had difficulty living in the moment, letting my mind wander to times which my memory paints in nostalgic colors, or running ahead either to worries for the long term future to do my to-do list for when I am in an entirely different place from the present. Either way, it robs me of what is right in front of me, be it my lunch or a friend who I assume will always be there.

You can find a lot of meaning in the actions and elements of the tea ceremony. The ritualistic cleansing of the tools is done to show your guests that you are using clean tools, and the peaceful setting cleanses your guests’ senses–the soft sound of water boiling or the clack of the tea scoop against the tea bowl, the subdued decor and subtle harmonizing details, the scent of incense in the hearth, the texture of the tatami under your feet sliding along the floor, the refreshing and deep taste of the matcha. Each silent bow has its own message it communicates, from “I will now begin the ceremony” to “thank you for the delicious tea.” Both social rank and common humility are recognized in the tea room, but ultimately, it is an intimate time which the host and the guests share and enjoy together, never to come again in quite the same way. In both a literal and figurative sense, it is both bitter and sweet.

Indeed, it involves some “ceremony,” but the Japanese term 茶道 (sadou), can just as well be translated as “the way of tea.” It is a mindset, an approach. Perhaps the phrase you hear more often in Matsue, though, is not that it has 茶道 culture, but 茶の湯 (cha-no-yu) culture. This “hot water for tea” implies more than a noun, but something that flows.

If you want to learn about traditional Japanese culture, the tea ceremony has many of the elements you’d look for: pottery and other craftsmanship, scrolls with paintings and calligraphy, flower arranging, kimono, wagashi, and so on. Each one of those elements is its own world to dive into, and the tea ceremony ties them all together with its own depth that keeps getting deeper over the centuries.

Perhaps more important than its depth is its simplicity.

Ultimately, it’s about enjoying tea with your guests.

Right there, in the moment.

On my February 2016 visit to the Shimane Confectionery Training School, I served as the unskilled apprentice–I mean, as the hand model for a video they were taking, and I have the footage to share with you all! The subtitles, editing, and wasted wagashi are all my own unskilled doing, but hopefully this video will be helpful in appreciating the techniques the masters employ.

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