So much to write about at the end of the year.  Every year I always think I will have time to get things done, and then December comes and goes so quickly.  2011 is over already.  It's unbelievable.  I started this year looking at fireworks over a snowy landscape in Vaasa, Finland with my Midorikai classmate Mereca.  I will end it here in Kyoto, quietly, reflecting over everything that happened in the last 365 days.  Overall its been a great year, and I am looking forward to seeing what crazy things happen in 2012.  Happy New Years!

To the updates...

2011-12-17 - ICI Keiko Chaji at Shimogamo Saryo

My first chaji experience with ICI, and my third shogo chaji ever.  The chaji was held on a crisp December day, and as we arrived at Shimogamo Saryo and looked out at the mountains in the north we could see they were lightly dusted with snow.  Winter came to Kyoto very suddenly!  Markku and I split the role of shokkyaku and led two different groups.  First in the machiai was a shikishi with a painting of a broom and a poem about sweeping away the dust of the year.  We enjoyed o-sayu before proceeding to the koshikake machiai, and split into two groups on opposite ends of the garden.  The garden was long and narrow, and the location was right along the river so we could hear the water very clearly.  The air was crisp and cool, but it didn't feel cold waiting outside, just very refreshing.  We went into the room and saw the scroll 無事是貴人 which maybe could translate to "He who has nothing, has everything."  First we had introductions, and then shozumi.  I was nervous about speaking properly in Japanese.  I feel like my language ability has gone down lately...if that is even possible.  It's one of those times.  Anyways, I just kept it short and simple.  The shozumi was very nice, the sumi looked beautiful.  The kama was made by Hamana-sensei, and it was really neat to see.  I had no idea he had made a kama!  The kogo was in the shape of a rabbit and impossibly cute.  I couldn't help laughing a bit every time I saw was just...adorable.  I don't even like cute things.  Both of the Sensei in the room with us (Hamana-sensei and Kumada-sensei) are rabbits so it seemed extra appropriate.  

Following shozumi we re-arranged seating for the kaiseki.  Oh the food.  I wish I could eat like that every day.  I wish I was better with food names so that I could write it all down.  The miso shiru was fantastic.  I had almost forgotten how much I love the sweet, creamy texture of shiro miso.  If I had nothing to eat but white miso, rice and pickles forever I would be happy.  I really think so.  The entire kaiseki process was very enjoyable, and I was actually surprised by how much I remembered about how to eat and what to say during the meal.  The one part that I forgot was how to reply to the teishu when they said they would begin eating in the mizuya.  

After a wonderful meal we had omogashi, which were joyo manju.  They had been steamed a bit too long got a bit sticky, but still delicious!  Back outside to the koshikake machiai, and we switched places so each group got to see the opposite side of the garden.  On the far side we could see in the windows to the rest of the building, and it looked like there was a wedding going on.  I wonder if the guests were surprised when they looked outside to see a group of people in kimono sitting on the bench?  

Koicha was prepared next, and it was very delicious.  I am trying to remember the dogu used, but I should have written sooner.  I forgot a lot already.  For usucha there was one very interesting bowl which listed the poetic topic for each year during the Showa period.  Everyone had a lot of fun passing the bowl around to find out what the theme was in the year of their birth.  Mind was "Island" apparently.  Most of us had second bowls of usucha and were very relaxed by the end of the day, although with 15 of us in the room it ended up being a very long chaji.  Well over four hours.  All in all though, it was a wonderful event!  

2011-12-19 - Last keiko at Matsumoto-shachu

As if my legs hadn't hurt enough after the chaji, on the 19th I went to Matsumoto-sensei's place for her last keiko of the year.  It was the first time I got to see this event at Matsumoto-shachu and I was very happy to participate.  I arrived at 1:00 PM, and went inside the chashitsu to find it had been transformed into a Christmas tea paradise!  There were christmas flowers in the tokonoma, candles all around the room, and the miso no dana was set up in the corner with seasonal dogu, including a Russian silver tea set that we used as a furo.  It was like magic.  During the keiko that day sensei asked everyone how their year had been, if it was a good year or not, and why.  It was touching to see everyone come together like a family, talking about their lives and enjoying tea. I got to practice at the miso no dana for the first time in two years, and also hakobi koicha later in the day.  I sat in the room all day and watched the daylight fade away until the only light in the room was the candlelight.  It was incredibly beautiful.  I enjoyed myself so much I ended up staying until 11:00 PM.  My knees were not happy with me the next day.  

2011-12-23 - ICI Christmas Chaji

This was SUCH a fun event.  When I was in Midorikai we had so many amazing experiences and got invited to so many events, but life was so structured that there wasn't a lot of time for us to plan events ourselves.  That is one really great thing about being in ICI, where the students are very enthusiastic about tea, but the atmosphere is more relaxed.  Every year a group of the ICI students plan an informal chaji as a thank you for the Sensei, and this year I got to help out as well.  It was held at the home of one of the students, and everyone really comes together to contribute in their own way.  The guests were Hamana-sensei and Kumada-sensei, as well as one other friend of the group.  First they arrived in the room and we started with an apéritif and champagne.  It had been Hamana-sensei's birthday a few days before, so it seemed appropriate to have a small champagne toast.  This was followed by the meal, which was served bento style.  The meal itself was a collection of Christmas foods from around the world, prepared by the ICI students.  There was turkey and stuffing with gravy, veggies with guacamole, cranberries, and lots more.  Everyone who wasn't involved in serving got to sit in the room and eat together with the Sensei's.  The rest had eaten previously, but were in and out of the room a lot and chatting and listening to the explanations of the food.  The food was served with German hot spiced wine, glühwein, which was very similar to the Swedish glögg that I am used to.  After the meal the group went on a walk while we put up the flowers and prepared for koicha.  

I was given the task of koicha, and we used my Takatori chaire for the occasion.  It was actually the first time I got to properly use it, so I was happy to have this nice memory associated with the item.  As for the koicha, I made one bowl for three and one for five.  I made both bowls with the assumption that people really liked koicha.  Hahaha!  The tea was Chosho no Mukashi from Ryuoen.  I still have this problem when I am making large bowls of koicha that the chasen looks awful afterwards.  I need to work on that.  As long as the tea tastes good though...

Once I finished koicha, another classmate prepared usucha for everyone.  The bowls used for both koicha and usucha were generally ones made by the ICI students at Katsuragama.  The higashi were brought by Hamana-sensei as a gift and were senbei with a Santa design, and little candy canes :)  They were adorable.  Everyone was in very good spirits by the end of usucha, and we sent everyone off with one last glass of glühwein Overall, I think my favorite part of the whole thing was the design in the "tokonoma".  There was a nativity scene display, but through the ingenuity of one of my classmates it was re-purposed as a mini-Rikyu offering tea to baby Jesus.  It was...probably not the most proper thing ever, but it was funny and cute!!  All in all it was a great day.  

After I left I had dinner with a recent friend who I met at the Kokusai chakai and is currently in Kyoto writing her dissertation on Daimyo-cha.  From there I headed to Alcove and met up with Kei-chan and Yu-chan and talked late into the night about all kinds of crazy things.  It was a full day of tea.  

2011-12-24 - Finland Tea

Markku and Mika had organized an event at a tea room in Nara for the Kansai-Finland Association, and I went together with a couple of the Midorikai girls and a lady from Ichinencourse.  Nearly all of the dogu used were made by Markku or other Finnish artists, or made by artists while in Finland.  I was super-excited that the sweets were ginger cookies (which I have loved since I was a kid) and marmalades (which I always associate with Mecca).  The atmosphere was very relaxed, and it was cool to see Markku's work while we were waiting for our seki.  I hadn't had many opportunities to see his work before, so it was fun to go and see in person.  Afterwards I went with Kiki to Sugamachi to get lunch, and then came back to my room to collapse for a bit.  

2011-12-25 - Coneday

Coneday in Kyoto!  The morning was spent running around doing prep, because in the evening I  had a party!  It's rare...but it was a lot of fun.  It was a fascinating mix of people.  It was a nabe party, so not totally traditional Christmas...but there was plenty of wine and Christmas cookies to go around.  It was nice to spend the evening in good company...with lots of food.  :)  We even had Christmas cake!!!  Whee!!!

Since then things have been a little less busy.  I took one Doshisha classmate around the neighborhood to get him the basics, as he will be joining ICI in February.  Lots of cleaning and organizing to get ready for the New Year, and end of year parties.  Hatsugama on the 13th and Matsumoto-shachu Hatsuchakai on the 8th.  Tonight I will celebrate the New Year quietly, at home, thinking about what has been and what will be.   

Happy New Year Everyone!!!