Friday, March 14, 2014

10% of Tea & Book Sales to be donated to 3/11 Japan Relief.

Waves at Matsushima, one of a pair of screens, by Tawaraya Sotatsu, early 16th C.

It has been three years since the Great Tohoku Earthquake & Tsunami of Mach 11, 2011. Today, there are still an estimated 270,000 people who have yet to be able to return to their homes due to either physical damage of radiation evacuation. And this number doesn't even begin to touch the multitude of individuals, communities, and industries affected by this event. In truth; the physical, emotional, and financial health of the entire nation is in jeopardy. It's overwhelming to think of what can be done to solve the crisis, but grassroots groups of many kinds are making efforts to create solutions as best as they can on a small scale, and these tend to add up. One such group is Watari Ichigokko; a non-profit, volunteer group that provides assistance to those still displaced individuals, especially the elderly who make up a large portion of those affected.  I was introduced to this organization at the recent Smile for Japan fundraiser where I served and sold tea.

I'd like to continue to donate 10% of my retail tea sales (leaf tea and matcha) from Charaku Fine Japanese Tea and also 10% of book sales from WaSabiDou Antiques & Folk Crafts from March 11 to May 11, 2014 to Watari Ichigokko. Please help to support the cause. Hopefully, small changes can lead to big solutions.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Soma-yaki, Fukushima

Soma-yaki Tea Bowl. This Matcha Chawan (Tea Bowl) is one of a pair in my mother's house, and has an extra special significance to me this time of year. It's a souvenir bowl with the writing "Byakui Daikannon Sanpai Kinen" (Great White Kannon Pilgrimage Commemoration) written on the outside and an image of the Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) on the inside. It was probably made in the early 1950's. It's not the type of bowl that I would typically use for tea myself, as it is quite busy and decorative. It does, however, have great sentimental value in my family as a collectible of my grandmother's in Sendai, and most likely as something that my late uncle Yukio got in Soma County, Fukushima, where he worked. We don't know the whole story, but imagine that my uncle went on such a pilgrimage to the Great White Kannon statue (there's one in Sendai now, but back then the closest would probably have been in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture.) The group, maybe fellow coworkers in Fukushima, had these commemorative bowls made as a momento of the trip. This is a common practice even today for groups to commission a ready-made craft item to be engraved or painted with details of a trip or meeting (the equivalent of T-shirts here in the U.S.) My grandmother was a devotee of Kannon-sama and she was likely gifted with these bowls by my uncle. When my mother came to the States, she was given these by my grandmother. One of the pair was broken and has been poorly repaired by my father. No one remembers for sure, but Mom think it may have been my carelessness as a baby that broke it (the first of many!) Due to the nuclear radiation, the potteries of Soma are no more, the village of Namie, where Soma-yaki was primarily made, badly damaged by the earthquake and evacuated by the radiation. When I hold this bowl in my hands; I feel great respect for a folk pottery tradition over 300 years old, deep sadness for the continued plight of those effected by the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, but also warm compassion from the image of Kannon-sama that gives us hope for the future.                                       

Smile for Japan

On March 9th, I was privileged to take part in "Smile for Japan," a 3/11 (Japan Earthquake - Tsunami) fundraising benefit in Seattle. The event featured some wonderful music by a great variety of performers; from latin marimba, to jazz, to classical, to folk, and some Japanese tunes thrown in as well. There were also hand-made craft items and food (sushi & donuts, who doesn't like both of these?) sales to benefit the cause. I served and sold tea, donating a portion of the proceeds to the event. The recipient of Smile for Japan donations is Watari Ichigoco, a NPO in Miyagi Prefecture, which supports those dislocated by the earthquake & tsunami. It's been 3 years, and many (especially elders) are still in temporary shelters. Here's their FB page (Japanese)
For more info on Smile for Japan, and some photos of the event, here's their FB page,

I've decided to continue to try and raise funds by donating 10% my retail tea sales proceeds to Watari Ichigoco for the next two months, until May 11th.

Monday, February 03, 2014

New Pots from John Benn

We are pleased to announce that the work of a fine Pacific NW potter, John Benn, can now be found on our WaSabiDou website, and in our showroom. The work is all wood-fired and we recently posted about 30 pieces, which includes Tea Bowls, Sake Cups, Sake Bottles (tokkuri,) and a large Vase.
Here's a bit about John and his wife, Colleen Gallagher, who is also a wonderful potter, and some images of a few of the pots:

John Benn studied with F. Carleton Ball and Ken Stevens at the U. of Puget Sound in Tacoma, and with Howard Shapiro and Sandra Simon in the MFA Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1976, he built his first wood kiln. Now, he and his wife, Colleen Gallagher, make wood-fired pottery among the pristine forests of Harstine Island at the South End of Puget Sound in Washington State. John and Colleen have been professional potters for 27 years and currently fire two wood kilns, a salt kiln and a 25-ft hybrid-anagama  kiln, on their property.  The pots are formed from locally dug native clay clays, and their kilns are fueled with wood from the surrounding forests; such as fir, alder, madrona, cherry, and maple.  Typical firings are three or more days, creating works that are truly a combined result of both man and nature. Wood-firing gives both accidents and blessings, and it is in this imperfection that the beauty of their work is found. Their commitment to wood firing is obsessive and non-intellectual. In John’s word, “We discover our pots in addition to creating them.” Regarding his Chawan, Tea Bowls, John states, “More than the sum of its parts -- line, color, weight, texture -- it is hoped that the Chawan possesses something of the potter who made it. In use it may find life and allow others to feel the awe and mystery that I felt during its creation.”

Matcha Chawan - Tea Bowl

Matcha Chawan - Tea Bowl

Guinomi - Sake Cup

Guinomi - Sake Cup

Tokkuri - Sake Decanter

Kabin - Flower Vase

Matcha Chawan - Tea Bowl

Year-End Sweets from Tokara

This is a late post, but hopefully better late than never. We were fortunate to be around when Tokaragashi in Seattle was selling "nenmatsu wagashi" (year-end Japanese sweets.) Although they don't last long in our house, I fended off the family long enough to take a few pictures to share here.
Image these with a nice bowl of Charaku Matcha!

George Gledhill On-line Exhibition

We're pleased to be showing an on-line exhibition of nearly 200 pieces of the work of Pacific Northwest potter, George Gledhill.
Many of our WaSabiDou and Charaku friends have collected George's pots over the years through our two websites and through our Seattle showroom. The large collection will only be available to view at, or in the showroom by appointment. It features over 40 Tea Bowls, 60 Tea Cups, 25 Sake Cups, Vases, Dishes, Plates, Incense Containers, and more. Here's a preview of some of the items. Please have a look and let me know if you have any questions.

Black Raku Tea Bowl.
 Tall, WInter Tea Bowl with Crawling Shino Glaze.
 Shino Glaze Footed Sake Cup.
 Set of Small Dessert Dishes with Ladled Glaze.
 Porcelain Sake Cups with Engraved Buddhist Knot of Eternity.

Hotei-sama, God of Contentment and Happiness, Sculpture.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

FIrst Bowl of Tea 2014

       Happy New Year 2014 (C.E.) / 2556 (B.E.) / Heisei 26 
                                     Year of the Horse 
                 Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!

Appropriately, my first bowl of matcha this year was made in a bowl with an image of galloping horses (hashiri goma.) This horse painting in the style of the Kano School has a long history of adorning the wares of Soma in Fukushima Prefecture.

Best wishes for a Happy, Healthy, Peaceful, and Prosperous New Year.
From Tatsuo Tomeoka
Charaku Fine Japanese Tea / WaSabiDou Antiques & Folk Crafts

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Toji (Winter Solstice)

Yesterday, December 21st, was the Winter Solstice here (it's the 22nd in Japan.) We had our first snow this week, which seemed appropriate. Known as "toji" in Japan, the winter solstice is a time for traditional practices that are typically meant to ward off disease in the coming winter season. The most common is that of putting yuzu fruit into the bath to prevent catching colds in winter. Yuzu are a small, yellow citrus fruit that are unfortunately not available here in the Pacfic NW United States. Growing up here, my mother used to always put in the Satsuma Mikan (Satsuma Oranges, like a Clementine) that were imported from Japan in those days, specifically from Kagoshima Prefecture, whose pre-modern Provincial name was Satsuma. Although whole yuzu are used in Japan, we used to just throw in the peels and eat the oranges themselves. I try to keep this tradition going with my children. The Mikan these days are most likely grown in California, and we can also purchase yuzu shibori (yuzu juice) at an Asian market. I add a few drops of this just for the fragrance (and possibly for whatever magical powers these possess that created this tradition in the first place.)

I don't think anyone really knows where the tradition actually comes from, but a natural connection to Vitamin C certainly comes to  mind. Although this is done is many Japanese households still today, it is a somewhat dying tradition. In the past, when communal bathing was a public necessity, hot springs and public baths also dumped loads of yuzu into their baths to attract customers. I'm sure it's still done in some places. Another practice is to put azuki beans in the bath, for the same purpose. This one I haven't tried yet. If anyone has, and if it works, let me know. Happy Toji to all of you!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hatsu Yuki (First Snow)

Hatsu Yuki (First Snow.) Yesterday, we had our first snow of the season here in our corner of the Pacific Northwest (south of us in Oregon, they were already dumped on in record amounts a few weeks ago.) It was only a few inches, and gone too soon for the kids' liking, but snow at all is still magical. It transforms the landscape, and our emotions. I try to make it a tradition to take a bowl of matcha outside whenever we have a new snow.
On rare occasions when we have lots of snow, we try to build a yuki kamakura (snow hut) in which to light candles and take tea.

The bowl used yesterday was a Black Raku Chawan by George Gledhill. I thought the stark contrast of black on white would be interesting. I hope you are enjoying tea wherever you, are and in whatever weather.
Warm wishes for the holidays.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Charaku Fine Japanese Tea at Tokara Japanese Confectionery - Dec. 15, 2013

   Once again I had the privilege to serve tea at Tokara Japanese Confectionery in Seattle, one of just a few professional wagashi-ya in America.  Once each month, on the third Sunday, Chef Tokara opens her shop to guests to enjoy a traditional Japanese sweet of the kyogashi variety and a bowl of freshly whisked Matcha. She also prepares a monthly selection of sweets for customers to order and pick up. The monthly set includes three seasonal wagashi.  This month's selections included: Suomi Mochi (pictured at top), a snowball-esque pillow of delicious sweet white bean paste enveloped in a blanket of soft mochi. Rice flakes decorate the outside, along
with a holiday-themed holly leaf made of bean candy.

-2nd image: Tea Bowls at the ready. - 3rd image: Charaku Teas for sale.

-Images below show sweets served with Charaku Teas.

-The next sweet was "Hatsu Yuki" (First Snow,) made from Black Sugar and Azuki Bean Paste, and topped with rice wafer flakes to      create an image of the first snowflakes on the ground. Hagi Ware Tea Bowl with Craling Glaze.

-The third sweet was a "Soba Manju." Soba is Buckwheat, and the Red Bean paste is covered in a flaky crust of buckwheat cake. Black Raku Tea Bowl by George Gledhill.

For those guests wishing to partake of a sweet with a bowl of matcha, the featured sweet this day was a Castella Cake, the sweet introduced by Portugal in the 17th Century. It was revolutionary at the time to use eggs and flour in sweets, and this treat has since become a Japanese standard. Shino Tea Bowl by John Miller, Sweet Plate by Mika Sullivan.
 On this day, Chef Tokara also created a line of "Casual Sweets" for a fund-raising even at the Taoist Studies Institute down the street. These sweets were more of the "manju" type of sweet.

Here is a "Dorayaki," chunky red bean paste sandwiched between two mirin-sweetened pancakes. Mashiko-yaki Kyusu (Tea Pot,) Sweet Plate by Mika Sulivan.

"Kuri Manju" (Chestnut Bun) with chestnuts & white beans in a chestnut-shaped bun.  Tea Pot and Sweet Plate by Mika Sullivan, Kyo-yaki Guinomi (Sake Cup.)
 "Bolo de Chika" is a creative fusion of a Shortbread Cookie filled with Azuki Bean Paste mixed with Cream Cheese.  Yummm.
White Shino Yunomi (Tea Cup.)

 This last sweet is Chef Tokara's Miso Mochi Bar, a sweet rice flour bar flavored with savory miso and topped with pine nuts, sesame and poppy seeds. Porcelain Mug by Hanako Nakazato. Sweet Plate by George Gledhill.