Continued from yesterday’s post.
Let’s look at the bamboo…
There are approximately 100 different types and forms of chasen used by various schools of tea. Hachiku (Henon bamboo) produces a smooth and frothy whipped green tea, while shichiku (purple) and kurochiku (black) make a green tea with an island of foam, while susudake (soot-stained bamboo) creates a foamless green tea.
Fine-grained hachiku (Henon bamboo) with its straight fibers is the choice of Urasenke tea school, and this bamboo is best used after aging for three years. First, the hachiku bamboo is simmered to remove dirt and oil – missing this step will result in discoloration of the wood. Then in mid-winter, when Takayama is blasted by icy winds, the bamboo is placed like a tepee in the rice fields to sun-dry. During the month or so of drying, the green bamboo gradually turns blond, just like a tatami mat if you have ever had new ones put into your house! Once the bamboo is dried, it goes into storage for another year or two where it takes on a distinctive amber tone.
One length of hachiku bamboo yields just three to four chasen. This is due to the joints on the bamboo. Each chasen needs to have the joint at a particular distance from the head- exactly 9 centimeters above the joint and three centimeters below it.
After shaving just the outer layer of the bamboo, the section above the joint is split into 16 equal parts. Imagine holding a long dinner candle and carving it from the top down to the middle to make 16 equal cuts! Each section of the bamboo is about 4 millimeters wide, then the inner part of each strip is carved out, leaving a skin about 1 millimeter thick. Each of these strips is then further split into 10! One millimeter is about the width of a needle. This makes 80 outer tines and 80 inner ones, so 160 in total. This will be an 80-tine whisk. There are 100 tines and 120 as well.
The next step, called aji-kezuri, is the shaving of the tines. Remember, these tines are 1 millimeter or less in thickness, yet the master is going to shave them down even further. The tines need to be soaked in hot water to soften them before the inside of the tine is shaved. This is a delicate process where the artisan is working purely by feel.
What follows next is called mentori, or gently rounding the ends of the outer tines, which is one of the most delicate steps and is what prevents the matcha from sticking to the tines.
The artisan now weaves dazzling colored thread in and out to separate the tines (known as shitaami) and wraps the thread twice around the outside (uwaami). He then inspects and removes any stray bamboo chips or dust at the base before gripping the inner tines and twisting them to create this magnificent functional piece of art.
Watching this mesmerizing craft has given new meaning to my morning bowl of matcha. The love Tanimura san puts into his chasen infuses my tea with magic. If you would like to visit Tanimura san in Nara, or would like to be put on the waiting list for a custom-made chasen with thread color of your choice, please send me an email! I encourage you to connect with Wanobi to see more of beautiful artisan Japan.
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