Handmade

Shichimi turned two years old this week. Though I had hoped to have a more special celebratory post prepared, words have been eluding me lately.

Thoughts swirl around endlessly, but my attempts to verbalize them have been halting at best, incoherent at worst, and usually ineloquent. A simple e-mail turns into a ten minute ordeal, to say much less of one written in Japanese. Perhaps it’s the effect of acquiring new words in a second language; somehow one’s native tongue begins to seem convoluted and nonsensical. At times, relativity takes over – why shouldn’t the verb come at the end of the sentence? Do we really need a distinction between the present and future tenses?

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Tea and Sweets

Matcha and kinako mochi

Matcha and kinako mochi in Kyoto

The ritualized consumption of matcha (i.e. the Japanese tea ceremony) has intrigued me ever since I first read about the practice in a Japanese art history course I took in college. The professor, Hans Thomsen, was particularly interested in the objects used for the tea ceremony. We learned that the tea ceremony originally had its roots in Buddhist practices, which were themselves imported from China. As a result, elegant and refined Chinese ceramics were long considered de rigueur for the tea ceremony.

In the sixteenth century, tastes began to shift toward a more rustic aesthetic, thanks largely to the influence of a tea master Sen no Rikyu. This new style of bowls, plates, and other utensils were crafted to reflect wabi sabi, the concept that there is beauty in imperfection, incompleteness, and impermanence. (For more on wabi sabi, see this page on Japanese aesthetics.) The rough surfaces, cracked glazes, and uneven colorings of these objects were thought to enhance the experience of drinking tea and raise it to the level of a spiritual exercise. Today, the tea ceremony is still associated with elegant simplicity, understatement, and measured refinement, a testament to Sen no Rikyu’s lasting influence.

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