Urasenke Chado Demonstration at Obon Festival in Oakland

Matcha and sweet rice wafer from Kyoto

I felt terrible that I arrived only near the end of the tea ceremony demonstration.

First the bus came late. Then I got off a stop too early because I didn’t know the area and the bus driver wasn’t in her best mood when I asked if she would stop near Jackson Street. Then I didn’t know where the demonstration took place, and against my better judgment, I did not ask. As I walked through the main entrance of the Buddhist Church, I first entered a big hall where many boxes of food were being arranged on the tables for sale, curry, sushi and other savory things on one side of the door, daifuku and some sponge cakes that looked like Swiss rolls with green tea on the other. I really wanted to get some, but like all Japanese food, these were expensive.

So I followed the sign upstairs, where I wandered into another big room where the Buddhist ceremonies and Dharma service normally take place (but not while the festival was going on). I was surprised by how this room actually resembles a Protestant church hall, except for the ornate section where the statue of Buddha and paintings of two of his followers shine in gold light, the rows of benches and the books arranged in front of them are church-like. One in that set of books is a collection of Buddhist hymns, and they’re in English! So I sat there flipping through the pages, so absorbed in the peacefulness of the air that I didn’t think about the tea ceremony. Prior to this absorption, I asked Rev. Harry Gyokyo Bridge where the ikebana exhibition was, and he told me, it was in another room just a few steps away. So I went into the ikebana room, and again, got absorbed in the flower arrangements.

Five minutes later, I wised up and asked a lady where the tea ceremony took place. It was in another building. She led me to the elevator and showed me the way. (This is my first time using an elevator in a Buddhist temple. No Buddhist temple I’ve visited has more than one floor, and say I’m old school, but Buddhist temples and modern technology never appear in my mind together. The elevator is good, though, the elders and the disadvantaged wouldn’t be as comfortable walking the stairs.)

I walked in the last five minutes of the tea ceremony. The sensei are so nice. One sensei introduced me to Kayoko Fujimoto sensei, the advisor of the Northern California Chapter of the Ohara School of Ikebana and Urasenke Chado. She also gave me a bowl of matcha, which another sensei instructed me to drink after eating a sweet rice wafer. The wafer and the cookies come from Kyoto, you cannot find it here, she said. The wafer: airy and exquisite. The cookie has the same mild sweetness and the crunch that melts in your mouth of a Vietnamese banh phuc linh. And you know when things taste the best? When it tastes of home. :-)

August 4th, 2012
Obon Festival – Buddhist Church of Oakland
825 Jackson St.,
Oakland, CA

Kama - cast iron tea kettle for hot water (left) - and natsume - lacquer tea caddy containing matcha powder (right)

Observing the tea ceremony

Sensei whisking a bowl of matcha

Fujimoto sensei (grey kimono, sitting second from the right) and her students

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