November was a busy month, as anyone planning a wedding in Japan was probably planning to attend at least a few others as well.

I’ve heard it’s good luck to witness a wedding procession on a visit to a Shinto shrine, but I have never had that luck. Turns out the secret is to go on a weekend in spring or autumn–especially November, it seems! I witnessed my first traditional Japanese wedding on November 1st when a friend of mine was getting married at Izumo Taisha–one of several weddings scheduled back to back in the Kagura-den that day.

Quick reminder for newer readers to the blog: Izumo Taisha is one of the grandest Shrinto shrines of Japan, as it is where the 8 million gods from around Japan gather for their annual meeting to discuss En-musubi, which is often translated as “matchmaking” but it’s more nuanced than that–En is any sort of tie or fated relation or encounter you might have. Like most Shinto shrines visitors are not allowed in the Honden (main shrine where the god resides), but the Kagura-den is decorated with Japan’s largest shimenawa (sacred rope) and is a popular spot for Shinto ceremonies.

Although I did not attend the hiroen (wedding reception), when I got home I received a gift from another Japanese friend’s wedding. I was not able to attend that one because of the distance, but sent an o-shugi with my best wishes anyway, and she returned the favor by sending the gift I would have received if I were attending as a guest anyway.

So how does this work? Let me start by saying that Japanese weddings are expensive to attend. I appreciate the gift-giving culture surrounding bridal registries in the US so that guests have the fun of selecting something while being sure the couple will want it and that no one else has purchased it yet, with the general rule of thumb being that if you attend the wedding reception the value of your gift should exceed the value of your meal, and you might bring along extra cash to pin to the bride and groom to help them out. However, there is also something to be said for the usefulness of straight, cold cash. In Japan, you better make sure that cash is only in crisp, clean, fresh bills in a decorative envelope designed specifically for an auspicious occasion such as a wedding. This is o-shugi.

Although the o-shugi package–which you can find at department stores or in convenience stores–has instructions for where to place the money and where to write your name and address, it doesn’t cover all the finer details. Hopefully you’ve made sure to buy an envelop intended for weddings rather than funerals or visits to sick people (as there is a similar set of expectations associated with those), but the bigger question is usually how much to put in it?

After consulting with Japanese friends and checking around the internet for advice, the basic answer is that if you are a friend attending the reception, 30,000 yen (roughly $300) in an odd number of bills (to imply they can’t be slipt evenly in a divorce) is the safest bet.

Even though I did not attend the reception, I was still served lunch for attending the ceremony. Note all the auspicious symbols, such as the red and white knot, the pine, and the sekihan (rice colored with red beans).

“But what if we’re not really close friends, just co-workers?”
“What if I’m not attending the reception?”
“What if it’s a foreign couple who just happens to be getting married in Japan?”

…you might ask. In those cases, I can only suggest you use your best judgement but to err on the side of generosity. Just try to get an appropriate o-shugi envelope and you’re probably already in good shape! Enjoy the chance to dress fancy, because there will be people dressed very, very fancy. The bride will probably have two or three fancy outfits, complete with wigs. If you plan to stay for the after-parties, plan on very high entrance costs.

In the middle of November I attended an outdoor DIY wedding in the woods overlooking Lake Shinji and Izumo En-musubi airport (probably the most appropriately named airport to have close to your wedding venue), and the following weekend I had to end my morning plans early to get back and meet three people stopping by my apartment.

The first was a friend who had forgotten something the day before while she was in town visiting from western Shimane. She was visiting for a wedding.
The second was an old-coworker who wanted to say hi while he was back in town from Tokyo. He was in a bit of a rush to get to a wedding.
The third was a friend who stayed for tea, and was in the midst of preparing for a trip to Osaka for a friend’s wedding.

What plans had I been cutting short that morning?
A samurai bridal procession and wedding at Matsue Castle.


It’s been a few years since the last wedding at Matsue Castle, but it was something I had already heard of before. When I was studying abroad in a different region in 2008, I saw a brief news segment about a wedding taking place in a castle, complete with period dress for all the relatives, a full procession, and a happy feudal lord and princess waving to the crowd from the watch tower. It left a strong imprint on my memory that they had won a nationwide contest to hold their wedding like that and–being the history nerd and samurai fan that I was and still am–I found it cool, but I did not remember which castle it was. I only found out recently that it was the castle I see from my window every day.

Turns out its been a royal comedy of errors in trying to get pictures of this event, as they were supposed to have two this year but the first one was canceled due to the groom’s injury, and I was only able to see the opening procession for the second one. Furthermore, my camera broke and I lost all my data. I ran into Kimono-sensei as she had been busy all morning dressing the wedding party up, and she sent photos to me later, but I wasn’t able to download the data. Instead of snapshots I encourage you to check out the page of outstanding photographs on Made In Matsue, and the 51 second news clip on this site will give you any idea what the ceremony was like.

What I didn’t stick around for was mainly the wedding ceremony at Matsue Shrine (down a few stairs from Matsue Castle’s watch tower) and the wedding proclamation from the tower itself, which would have kept me there until lunchtime. Thankfully the weather was comfortable for the crowd that gathered to wish them well, and I got enough of my period-dress fill to last me until the next Matsue Musha Gyoretsu in early April, as well as my fill of weddings to last until next year.

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.

I’ve served in an all-day tea event before at Ichibata Yakushi Temple by carrying the tea and sweets (o-hakobi), but the Matsue Castle Grand Tea Ceremony is one of the Top 3 (all three share this title, no one thing is chosen as Number 1) tea gatherings in Japan. Although I had done part of the preparing of the tea (o-temae) for my tea school’s private Hatsugama (New Years tea ceremony), this was my first time doing it in front of strangers–up to 50 of them at a time, though we served hundreds of people in one day.

I’ll admit, the tension was somewhat lower during this last ceremony. We had a decent number of people, but there were all tired and concerned about the wind and rain that was picking up outside the tent. The shoukyaku (guest of honor who drinks the tea prepared in front of everyone instead of the tea prepared in back) this time was a very talkative lady, so I guess that made me feel more relaxed as well. She also recognized me from when I attended the tea ceremony in the tea room floating on the Matsue Castle moat a few months ago, too, so I got to start my o-temae with an extra smile and bow to say, “Yes, that was me. Hello again!”

But really, the lack of tension and the tiredness from the full day of ceremonies, made me more relaxed than I had been during my previous two o-temae. I hate to put it this way considering how a lot of the tea ceremony revolves around caring about your guests having a good time, but to some extent, I didn’t care as much anymore–I still wanted them to enjoy themselves and the moment, but I just didn’t care as much about making mistakes and being caught (and judged) for them, and I was working somewhat automatically instead of running through nental checklists of everything to keep in mind at every step. Perhaps I achieved some state of “no mind” because I wound up unlocking my potential for a smooth and graceful o-temae.

I could tell I did a good job (however unappetizing–but cleaner–the cup of tea I wound up making was), and afterward when I enjoyed a cup a tea I had many people from the other schools who were watching tell me how good it was (after not having enjoyed such comments earlier in the day after my more nervous attempts). While chatting with one of the teachers next to me, I asked about the chatty shoukyaku–turns out she is another Omotesenke teacher, and she had been in charge of the Omotesenke tent the day before! She also had glowing praise for my o-temae, but afterward I made sure to go over and say hello (especially now that I knew who she was), and amid all the praise, I had to ask about the taste of the tea.

Her expression and tone changed a bit when she replied, “Well, I’m used to cups of tea like that…”

For as pretty as my performance was, the core of the ceremony still escapes me–I didn’t manage to make a tasty cup of tea!

Surprisingly, most of my lessons don’t focus very much on the actual preparation of the tea. We’ll address the amount of matcha powder to put in, the amount of water, the angle at which to hold the chasen (tea whisk) and the amount of time to stir, but taste is not really the measure of success. You can tell just by looking at the color and the froth on top whether or not you’ve made a good cup and can be happy to serve that to your guests, but there is something very disappointing about a dark green liquid with some random collections of bubbles on top on visible clouds of powder floating within. If I could hold the chasen more upright and stir it longer I feel I could make much better tea, but I was too concerned about form and the taste and texture were sacrified.

Well, I’m back to regular practice again for a while, and will be moving on to thick tea instead of thin tea soon–I expect to learn a lot more about the tea stirring techinque!

This photo was taken in the Urasenke tent, but the Omotesenke tent in which I served was set up in a similar way, so that the shoukyaku can see everything you’re doing.

Tomorrow I’ll have some photos from the places were I simply enjoyed the ceremonies as a guest–this makes me so glad it’s a two-day event.

I’ve served in an all-day tea event before at Ichibata Yakushi Temple by carrying the tea and sweets (o-hakobi), but the Matsue Castle Grand Tea Ceremony is one of the Top 3 (all three share this title, no one thing is chosen as Number 1) tea gatherings in Japan. Although I had done part of the preparing of the tea (o-temae) for my tea school’s private Hatsugama (New Years tea ceremony), this was my first time doing it in front of strangers–up to 50 of them at a time, though we served hundreds of people in one day.

Although most people only served once–twice if they were lucky–I wound up performing o-temae three times. By the end of the day the guests were dwindling, and we were already running out of the wagashi we had specially prepared and switched to some extras from one of the other tea schools. There was a huge lot of us in back with different jobs to do all day long, but we started the day with a cup of matcha, and made sure to end it that way, too. In the second to last serving there was only a handful of people (the rain and wind from the typhoon really started picking up towards the end of the day), so we had half the people serving go take a break and enjoy being served. Over the course of that seating, though, we had person after person after person dwindling in, which made o-hakobi with half the staff pretty confusing! Even the people who had finally had a break wound up drinking quickly so they could slip back and help make tea for all the late-comers.

After that one ended we figured the other half of the staff would take their break for the last serving, but I didn’t mind waiting until after the official part of things to have my cup–after all, no sense being understaffed when more people might wander in for that last-chance serving. Furthermore, I figured someone else would finally take a turn or have a chance to take their second turn doing o-temae, so I wanted to make sure that would go smoothly for them. But behold, no one felt like it and they were happy to have me do it.

So off I went to do it a third time! I’m afraid I might have exchange work to do next year, so there’s a good chance this is was my only chance–and I certainly got every drop of experience I could out of it.

The back-up wagashi we had (which I enjoyed the day before in the Urasenke tent), called “Unka” (Clouds and Flowers).


Look! The an is pink!

I’ll recap my serving experience a bit first, and then share a little about when I just went around as a guest the day before and tried out some other schools of tea!

I’ve served in an all-day tea event before at Ichibata Yakushi Temple by carrying the tea and sweets (o-hakobi), but the Matsue Castle Grand Tea Ceremony is one of the Top 3 (all three share this title, no one thing is chosen as Number 1) tea gatherings in Japan. Although I had done part of the preparing of the tea (o-temae) for my tea school’s private Hatsugama (New Years tea ceremony), this was my first time doing it in front of strangers–up to 50 of them at a time, though we served hundreds of people in one day.

We had three Omotesenke schools all working together on Sunday (other schools were in charge on Saturday), so in rotating out between a large handle of people performing o-temae, we had arranged for me to go somewhat early so as to have a higher chance of getting a second turn in the afternoon. That second chance just came much, much sooner than expected.

For as many mistakes as I have managed to make in practicing tea, this was the biggest mess I had ever made after having put the matcha in the tea cup. When I poured the hot water in, a bunch of matcha splashed out against the tatami, and there was a thick, paint-like layer of green around the cup above the tea itself–the tea probably was full of clumps, too. The majority of guests are served tea prepared by an assembly line in back, including people wiping the cups to make them look prettier–unfortunately for the shoukyaku (guest in the seat of honor) this time, he probably had the worst of thousands of cups of tea served that whole weekend!

I’ll recap my serving experience a bit first, and then share a little about when I just went around as a guest the day before and tried out some other schools of tea!

I’ve served in an all-day tea event before at Ichibata Yakushi Temple by carrying the tea and sweets (o-hakobi), but the Matsue Castle Grand Tea Ceremony is one of the Top 3 (all three share this title, no one thing is chosen as Number 1) tea gatherings in Japan. Although I had done part of the preparing of the tea (o-temae) for my tea school’s private Hatsugama (New Years tea ceremony), this was my first time doing it in front of strangers–up to 50 of them at a time, though we served hundreds of people in one day.

My debut went really fast. I was supposed to have taken 15 minutes because I was only preparing the cup for the first guest, while all the others were being prepared by a team in the back, but I doubt I even took 10 minutes! I had a couple minor mistakes, but nothing worth fretting over. After all, I can hardly remember what happened.

It was so busy we often had overflow seating just dropping by for some quick tea and wagashi.

I’ll recap my serving experience a bit first, and then share a little about when I just went around as a guest the day before and tried out some other schools of tea!

I’ve served in an all-day tea event before at Ichibata Yakushi Temple by carrying the tea and sweets (o-hakobi), but the Matsue Castle Grand Tea Ceremony is one of the Top 3 (all three share this title, no one thing is chosen as Number 1) tea gatherings in Japan. Although I had done part of the preparing of the tea (o-temae) for my tea school’s private Hatsugama (New Years tea ceremony), this was my first time doing it in front of strangers–up to 50 of them at a time, though we served hundreds of people in one day.

The scroll and flowers decorating the Omotesenke tent (where I was serving). Notice how the hanging vase looks like a boat. The scroll also happens to mention boats, as it is about the scenery at West Lake in Hangzhou, China (which just so happens to be my favorite city in China and one of Matsue’s Friendship Cities).

I’ll recap my serving experience a bit first, and then share a little about when I just went around as a guest the day before and tried out some other schools of tea!

Photo from last year's Daichakai taken by the very talented Bernice. Click for more photos!

Photo from last year’s Daichakai taken by the very talented Bernice. Click for more photos!

One of Japan’s three biggest tea gatherings takes place at Matsue Castle and the surrounding area on the first weekend of October every year, and both tea aficionados and novices come together to taste tea from a various of schools and observe their ceremonies. The Matsue Castle Grand Tea Ceremony, a.k.a. Matsue-jo Daichakai, will take place on October 4 and 5 this year, from 9:00am to 3:00pm–or until wagashi run out!

Speaking of wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionaries), it’s not only the various tea schools that will be making special preparations, but the wagashi vendors will also be preparing specially designed wagashi for this event. Those flavors, textures, shapes, and colors will vary across each tent, as will the tea being served. Although matcha (powdered green tea) will take center stage, some schools will instead serve sencha. The sencha schools might appear to have more of a Chinese twist, but two years ago one of the schools prepared koucha (red tea, or more commonly known in the West as black tea) with a distinctly British-Japanese flair!

There will be 11 schools of tea to choose from, each with their own tent. A ticket for one ceremony purchased at the venue is 900yen, or a ticket for three ceremonies will cost 2200yen when purchased in advance from tea vendors throughout the city (800yen tickets are also available in advance). The schools are:

Omotesenke
Urasenke
Mushakojisenke
Sansairyu
Fumairyu-Fumaikai*
Fumairyu-Daienkai*
Urakuryu
Ogasawararyu
Soshinryu
Hoenryu
Hayamiryu

(Recall Lord Matsudaira Fumai is the father of Fumai-ryu)

Comparing the different ways of preparing tea–be it in dainty ways or in warrior-like ways–is one of the best things about having so many schools all together at once. There will also be some special tea ceremonies held at the Matsue History Museum (just northeast of the castle) on the following Sundays from 9am to 3pm so you can try to catch some later that you couldn’t fit in during the big weekend: Oct 12, Oct 19, Oct 26, Nov 2. As much as I’ve liked the space in the history museum for tea ceremonies, I would hate for any tea lovers–or people curious about tea–to miss out on the atmosphere of the first weekend. This page from Bihada Sabo is in Japanese and a little old, but they have some good photos to give you an idea what the event is like.

My plan? Hopefully on Saturday I’ll get to squeeze in three ceremonies for schools I haven’t tried yet, though I might or might not be fitting in a naginata event nearby for part of the morning! There is always such a big line for the koucha ceremony if they have one, so I might head out early and try to get in on the first one. I’ve tried Soshinryu before, but it would be fun to see another sencha style, and round it out with matcha. Not sure which school to go with, but being in Matsue, I supposed one can’t go wrong with one of the Fumai-ryu schools.

As for Sunday, my time is spoken for–the large schools, like Omotesenke and Urasenke, trade out between different teachers/classrooms for who will take responsibility on what day, and my class will be serving tea in the Omotesenke tent. For me personally, that will mean serving wagashi and cups of tea to the guests for most of the day, but I’ll also have a chance to do the o-temae–the preparing of the tea in front of everyone! This will be my Daichakai debut!

I’m a little nervous, but I’ll do my best! Come and see me, and enjoy whatever other tea style styles your fancy while they’re all rounded up together at your convenience–beginners as well as experts welcome~

Side note: This year’s Little Mardi Gras parade in October 5 in the afternoon. Start your day with tea and end it with jazz.

Although I have the opportunity to admire and savor them on a near weekly basis in my tea ceremony lessons and normal rounds around town, I’ve had the pleasure of handcrafting wagashi (traditional Japanese confectioneries) a couple times here in Matsue, a city famous for this craft since the Edo era (we’ve got Lord Fumai to thank for that, of course). These classrooms are not hard to get in on–Aoto-sensei, from Saiundo, teaches a class regularly at Karakoro Art Studio. This is one of the most popular classes offered there on a near-daily basis. The themes of the sweets change every month to match the seasons, but you can usually expert to learn to make two sweets with two basic techniques (and receive a third prepared by the masters). There is a short video of the classroom experience here.

Although you wouldn’t typically make them there yourself, one of my other favorite places to watch the craft in action is at Kissa Kiharu, the cafe inside the Matsue History Museum. Itami-sensei is legendary!

He’s making a fig themed wagashi in this video, as figs are big around here. I’m having trouble finding pictures that do justice to his Izumo Nankin (a local variety of goldfish). My humble wagashi cannot compare, oh sob! I just have to drown my artistic inadequacies in more sweets, though this is a comparatively healthy way to indulge.

Not a handcrafted Matsue wagashi, but a Matsue craft based on a handcrafted wagashi

Not a handcrafted Matsue wagashi, but a Matsue craft based on a handcrafted wagashi. That said, this is the first wagashi I ever crafted, with more photos of the process and results here.


sakura2

With the exception of the middle one, all of these were crafted and consumed by Yours Truly.

Matsue is often called Mizu-no-Miyako (水の都: City of Water) not only for its place nestled between the 5th and 7th largest lakes in Japan as well four different onsen and border along the Sea of Japan, but especially for the castle canals. Many Edo period castle canals have since been filled in or reduced to only their inner moat, but Matsue retains both inner and outer moats. Many of the streets around the city have been designs around working with the moats to protect the castle and may attacks difficult for intruding armies. Those streets are still the same as well, and though they never needed to prevent an army from advancing an attack, I suppose they are helpful for preventing vehicles from speeding too fast through town.

Pretty typical Matsue scene at Shiomi Nawate, a preserved historic street along the north moat, where the Horikawa Sightseeing Boat always passes. These are some of my favorite pine trees in the world, though this photo doesn’t do them justice.

Another thing that hasn’t changed much since the Edo era is the local people’s love of tea, especially the tea ceremony. Lord Fumai‘s influence remains very present, and not in a gimmicky way. While the Grand Tea Ceremony (大茶会) on the Matsue Castle grounds on the first weekend of October is nationally famous, there are other tea ceremonies and tea events that welcome hundreds of guests throughout the year.

This spring, in a style very fitting for the city of water and tea, there was a floating tea house set up at the northwest corner of the castle mount, called this Ohoribata Chaseki (お堀端茶席, a little clumsy to translate but something like “Tea on the Moat” at its simplest and “A Tea Ceremony on the Banks of the Horikawa” at its most pretentious.)


Held over the course of two spring weekends, anyone could stop in and buy a ¥1000 ticket. It just so happened to be an Omotesenke style ceremony, the style I practice, so I brought my tea-tools to be prepared. This was not necessary, as it was set up for any guest to relax and enjoy themselves, with all the utensils provided and handy explanation from a master as the host prepared the tea. During large public ceremonies that anyone can attend without any previous tea knowledge, usually the host only prepares the first one or two cups of tea while others prepare the rest of the tea in the back so as to speed up the process a bit. In a more private ceremony, the host would prepare the tea for everyone. Another difference is that in a private ceremony the guests would pass along the sweets and come forward to take the tea themselves, but in a public ceremony not everyone knows how to do this, so everything is brought directly to the guests. Therefore, a public ceremony requires a lot more manpower backstage–usually this is a very tiny space, but set apart so as to be non-intrusive to the ceremony.

We started with wagashi right away as we enjoyed the shade and coolness at the water’s edge. This was the first was someone uncomfortably warm days, but the atmosphere inside the tea room was perfect.

As the host wordlessly prepared the tea, another tea master explained the ceremony, decor, and tools to the guests in a way that both practitioners and laypeople could appreciate.

Tea ceremony and the Horikawa Sightseeing Boat. It could only get more Matsue-like if there was En-musubi tied in or something.

After the abbreviated ceremony, we were invited to observe the tools.

The chawan (tea bowl) is Rakuzan pottery. Along with Fujina and Sodeshi, this is one of the three representative styles of Matsue pottery, and it was a favorite of Lord Fumai’s. This particular bowl was made by the father of the current head of the Rakuzan school.

The natsume (tea caddy) is Yakumo-nuri, a local style of lacquerware. One of the characteristics of Yakumo-nuri is that the pattern gets brighter as the piece ages. The chashaku (tea scoop) is also local craftsmanship, and it was made from wood that was removed from the castle during renovations several years ago. Hence, the individual name of this chashaku is “Chidori” (plover) because Matsue Castle is nicknamed Chidori-jo (Plover Castle). For other styles of chashaku, the host can choose from a selection of gomei seasonal names, so a single chashaku can have multiple names. This special type of chashaku, however, doesn’t change identities with the seasons.

They say that the shape of the tea remaining in the tea caddy says a lot about how steady–or unsteady–the hand of the host was.

The ceremony felt very brief, but it was gratifying that the master explaining the ceremony could tell I practice the ceremony–and lucky that he didn’t notice me forget a few bows during the sped-up process, oops! Though this ceremony wasn’t hosted by my school, naturally, everyone knew my Omotesenke teacher by name. There were many other tea events going on that weekend, including a longer, reservation-only ceremony at Gesshouji Temple (where Lord Fumai is buried) that included a meal, but I had other things to do. Nonetheless, my things to do put me on the same route as a few of the ladies who attended the same ceremony I did and who were off to enjoy the ceremony at Gesshouji, and it was fun to enjoy the weather, the spring flowers, and general talk of tea on the way.