Saturday, September 22, 2012

Cowboy Chabako Nears Completion!

The Cowboy Chabako set that I started in May this year is nearing completion. The idea initially started with a glass cowboy boot that I reckoned could be used as a chakin-zutsu and also reflect our Texas location. Since I wanted to use my home-made Cowboy Chabako for tea lessons today, I worked hard this week to finish the main parts. 

As I worked, I thought more about my research for the cowboy theme. There are some interesting comparisons between Japanese chabako and American cowboy life on the trail. Chuck is a cowboy term for food, hence, a chuck wagon is a mobile kitchen. All the equipment is carried on the wagon in wooden boxes with the dual purposes of storing and then folding out to be used as a preparation area. The coffee pot was sometimes hung from a tripod of iron rods over an open fire, similar to the Japanese way of heating water in a kettle hanging over a fire on the ground for outdoor tea gatherings. 

Of course, the big difference between the two activities is that the chuck wagon was essential equipment for feeding working American cowboys on the dusty trail and while chabako was designed by the elite, educated strata of Japanese society as an outdoor aeshetic experience (viewing cherry blossoms, moon-viewing) in a beautiful garden landscape.

This comparison reminds me of my beloved Grandma who taught me to imagine that I was a lady with elegant manners at a tea party, even though we were actually sitting on her little front porch on the edge of a country town, snapping the beans that Grandpa had grown in their garden. Somehow she implied that how we thought about what we were doing turned an every-day job done well into a fulfilling and worthy act. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I now realize that to her a “lady” was someone who behaved with dignity and respect for all things and people, rather than someone with money. I think this is very much in keeping with Sen no Rikyu’s advise in the 16th century: simply boil water, make tea, and drink. This simple act, with mindfulness, can lead to spiritual and philosophical understanding.

In process, on my worktable. 
The process of making:

Since the lidded basket used for the shikishi-date chabako procedure has a sanada-himo (woven ribbon ) closure and is lined with brocade fabric, I took artistic license with this box and added a “cowboy” touch to the outside with a belt made with saddle string leather and brass stars to represent Texas.

The box originally had brass hinges and clasp, but I wanted the lid to lift off, so a flange was needed to hold the lid in place. And because the inside was very rough it seemed practical to use mat board covered in fabric to make the flange and finish the inside.

I was going to line the box with a red bandanna, but then I found cotton quilt fabric that looks "Western" but is actually stylized Far-Eastern motifs of umbrella, vase, peonies, etc. 

My husband helped me build a cedar wood mini-okiro to used instead of the usual binkake (small brazier) that holds an electric heater. It's 8" square x 7" high, lined with copper.

The blue enamel coffee pot is my cowboy testubin.  The metal gets too hot to hold, so I tied a leather knot on the lid and a red bandanna on the handle. Someday I'd like to trace the paisley pattern from 17th c. Kashmir shawl to the American cowboy bandanna of the 19th c.

After tea and sweets are served, the box is passed to the guests for a closer look. For a special surprise I included a postcard from the 1940s inside the lid. It illustrates a cowboy riding for the Pony Express Mail Delivery Service (circa 1850s).
I made the whisk tube of leather laced with waxed red cord, and lined with a plastic sheet to keep the whisk clean. Next to it is the glass boot that started it all.

The natsume (tea caddy) is natural wood. I made the chawan (teabowl) with dark stoneware clay and a shino glaze. The kobukusa (small folded napkin) is a woven stripe pattern with fringe ends that is reminiscent of a saddle blanket.

There are still a few more details to add, or refine, and I will post them later.  "Happy Trails to you..."

1 comment: