Robiraki: Opening of the Hearth

6 11 2009

On Matt’s first weekend day off in many months on Sunday, we attended “Robiraki” at Shofuso in Fairmount Park. Robiraki, or “Opening of the Hearth,” is like the New Years of Tea Ceremony, so it was fitting that this was how we celebrated Matt’s re-introduction into weekend society.  Always in November, it symbolizes the beginning of tea ceremony season in Japanese culture. The Samovar tea website has a much more thorough description of robiraki–I’m mainly here for the photos.

This particular celebration was organized by students of the tea ceremony school at Shofuso. It was very formal, but intimate and calming, even after sitting seiza for practically three hours.

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A basic rundown of robiraki goes like this, and believe me when I say that tea ceremony and robiraki are more intricate than I will ever have time to learn, let alone explain:

1. Guests gather in a waiting room until everyone has arrived.
2. Guests walk single file to the tokonoma (tea room).
3. As each guest enters, they bow and kneel briefly at the scroll and then again at the fire.

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4. The beginning of the ceremony includes building the fire with special charcoal called sumi and inviting the guests to move closer to watch.

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5. Then food is served–a traditional light meal in a bento box.

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6. This particular bento included green beans, gohan with shiso flakes and edamame, marmalade kabocha and walnuts, and sashimi. It was the perfect comfort food on a gloomy day (I emphasize “gloomy” to explain my poor quality photos sans flash).

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7. After the meal, a sweet is served, and we were lucky to have (homemade, of course) zenzai.  Matt is obsessed with zenzai and very often threatens to try making it himself.  I don’t know what’s taking him so long, personally.

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8. Intermission (10 minutes)
9. Guests file back into the tokonoma for the tea. First, everyone is served koicha, a thicker-style tea.
10. The tea bowls and containers are then passed around to be observed and treated with full respect as each guest bows before receiving the item and bows again before passing it on.
11. A second, thinner tea, is served, called usucha. (This was my favorite–earthy and warm.)
12. Repeat #10.

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13. More sweets are served with the usucha–these were gummy with a thin, crispy layer. The maple leaves were very symbolic of the season.
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The end of robiraki is a bit anticlimactic, but I believe that is the point. After a quiet and calm experience, guests simply stand, wait for the feeling to return to their legs and feet, and go home.

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Shofuso in the rain

22 06 2009

Shofuso (The Japanese House and Garden) is a small part of Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. I visited recently on a rainy day in June and was reminded of how beautiful and peaceful it can be with the steady drops and musty smell of damp tatami. I could have sat on the veranda for hours pretending I was back in Japan.

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Shofuso is located on the grounds of the Horticulture Center, in West Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, near the intersection of Belmont Avenue and Montgomery Drive.

Shofuso Hours:
May through September
Wednesday-Friday 10 am-4 pm
Saturday and Sunday 11 am-5pm
(October open for special events and weddings only)
For questions call 215-878-5097 or email info@shofuso.com

Admission is $6.00; $3.00 for senior citizens and students with ID. Members admitted free.





Shofuso Summer Festival

21 06 2009

This year the Shofuso Summer Festival was moved inside to the Horticultural Center (right next door) due to downpours. The change of venue and weather didn’t seem to deter an enthusiastic crowd of adults and children.

Performances and Demonstrations:
KyoDaiko

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story telling

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Other activities included kimono dress-up and origami.

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And the kids all had fun:

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