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.