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Drink in Japanese culture at upcoming CCC tea class

Leisure — Margie Yap, of the Issoan Tea School, will demonstrate part of a traditional tea ceremony during this months First Friday Art Walk


The Chehalem Cultural Center will feature a special guest this week as part of the First Friday Art Walk: Margie Yap. Yap, the founder, owner and instructor at the Portland-based Issoan Tea School, will demonstrate a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and explain the significance of its various features.

Whereas in Western culture one’s conception of a “tea party” would likely include a table packed with fancy, delicate and ornate dishes and implements, the tea ceremony in Japanese culture is very different, Yap said. Although there are about as many different tea “schools” as there are schools of martial arts, Yap said that the one she and many others adhere to subscribes to the philosophy of “wabi-sabi,” a Japanese aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.

“It’s very close to the earth; it’s very natural,” she said. “To our Western eyes, it’s very mundane. Like you might look and say, ‘Wow it’s just a brown bowl.’ But if you look deeper, there’s a beauty in that everyday, unpretentious kind of aesthetic.”

Not surprisingly, wood-fired ceramics, which happens to be the subject of the cultural center’s current exhibit, “West Coast Woodfire,” lends itself very well to wabi-sabi, with its muted, earthy tones and often-irregular shapes and forms.

“Wood-fired ceramics are perfect for the Japanese aesthetic of the tea ceremony,” Yap said.

Yap, who has led a similar demonstration at the CCC during the past couple incarnations of the Newberg Camellia Festival, grew up in Hawaii, where she was immersed in a veritable melting pot of different cultures, including Chinese, Portuguese and Spanish. But it was Japanese culture that always fascinated her the most.

After experiencing her first traditional tea ceremony as an adult, she began to realize the form encapsulates virtually all facets of Japanese culture, including its artistic disciplines like gardening, ceramics, calligraphy, weaving, flower arranging, woodworking and architecture.

“They say if you’re going to study Japanese culture, study the tea ceremony,” she said. “It’s kind of like a showcase for all of the Japanese cultural arts, teaching the aesthetics of beauty and etiquette. It’s unlike anything we have in the West.”

Intrigued, Yap began studying the ceremony under a teacher in Portland, before traveling to Kyoto, Japan, to spend a year in a foreign student program, where she learned about various aspects of the ceremony six days a week. She returned to the States and spent seven years in Seattle under the tutelage of Bonnie Mitchell, who is now the director of the Seattle branch of the Urasenke Foundation.

She moved to Portland in 2004, when she founded the Issoan school.

The full Japanese tea ceremony lasts about four and a half hours, Yap said, and includes nine courses, three servings of sake and two different kinds of tea. Her demonstration this week will cover only about the last 15 to 20 minutes of the ceremony.

Her presentation begins at 6 p.m. Friday. For more information, call the cultural center at 503-487-6883.



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