Sunday, May 16, 2010
She is Sawanaka Sousui sensei. 澤中宗水先生。
先生 means teacher. 先 means ahead, and 生 means live.
The sensei is a master of chanoyu. We call chanoyu, simply ocha. She is my current ocha teacher. I asked her how she began her study of ocha.
“My first teacher was very strict,” Sawanaka sensei says. “She was an old female teacher in my neighborhood. After our marriage, we moved, and the owner of the house in front of our new home happened to be an ocha teacher. So, I jumped right in. The teacher was a man.”
Sawanaka sensei’s story is similar to my mother’s. They both practiced ocha even during WWII. Can you imagine that ocha artists were serving bowls of tea under B29 bombers flying over the sky? Well, maybe those artists carried their ocha utensils with them and retreated to a foxhole during a raid, but as soon as quietness returned, they came out of the hole with their pottery bowls pressed against their chests. That’s a scene I’d like to write.
“During the war,” Sawanaka sensei says, “when we could no longer buy or make sweets, we made our sweets out of yarns.”
“Out of yarns?” I say.
“Yes, sugar wasn't available,” she says, “We untied a used knitted sock and made our sweets.”
I just love listening to this kind of stories. I cannot express how much
I appreciate to be struck by the passion of an artist. So, I asked her if I could write about her and show her photos on my blog. She replied yes.
May is close to June, so Sawanaka sensei is wearing a single layer weaved kimono and a light green Nagoya obi. I look at her obi closely and touch her sleeve. The coolness of the kimono texture warms my senses. I imagine how I feel if I were wearing her kimono.
The obi and the band are darker green than they appear in the photo. Her coat is also very light greenish silk, and it is a classic design called yagasuri. Ya means arrow. Ocha performers depict the way to handle an arrow as in the Japanese archery when we pick a bamboo ladle or put it down.
Maybe, you haven’t worn a kimono in your life, so I will describe how I feel about it. When I’m wrapped in a gorgeous silk with a few proper undergarments and snuggly tied around in a long obi, I feel peace and beauty. For sure, my life becomes slower because I don’t want to soil my expensive kimono.
A good kimono has a therapeutic value. Either to wear one or just to look at it, it is enjoyable. I often stop and compliment the people who wear a gorgeous kimono. They are treasures, and if we wear one, we become treasures.
By the way, eight is the lucky number in our culture. This year is the luckiest year for Sawanaka sensei. She is 88 years young. It’s my lucky year, too, to meet her. She accepted me to her class even though I cannot sit down with my leg folded underneath. I have bad knees. Because of her kindness, I hope to learn as much as I can and as long as I can, and spread all her grace and sense of humor to the rest of the world.