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Matcha and Suikinkutsu at Jomyo-ji, Kamakura

Added on by the ikebana shop.

We went to Jomyo-ji (浄妙寺), a Zen Buddhist temple in Kamakura with the express intention of visiting the tea house Kisen-an (喜泉庵).

It is a spacious tatami tea room, with the engawa (縁側) porch looking out to a serene karesansui (枯山水) Zen rock garden.

It is a very peaceful place.

The temple serves matcha and wagashi (Japanese sweets).  There is no better place to enjoy such a treat!

Tucked in the left corner of the garden is a suikinkutsu (水琴窟).  You can't see it because it is underground.  All you can see is the stone basin with a little water trickling on it.  



The suikinkutsu is a domed installation with a pool of water at the bottom and a tiny hole on top to allow water to fall in drops.  The sound of the water drops echo inside creating a very pleasant (or shall we go as far as saying "mystical"?) sound.

The name suikinkutsu literally translates to sui = "water" , kin = "koto" (a string musical instrument), kutsu = "cave".


Next to the stone basin is a long bamboo pole that extends all the way to the engawa.

Put your ear close to the end of the pole and you can hear the melodious and soothing sounds of the water drops.  Almost other-worldly!

We found a video of Jomyo-ji on YouTube.  Enjoy the sound of suikinkutsu at around the 2:48 mark.

Halifax's Little Japanese Secret

Added on by the ikebana shop.

We are often asked: "Where can we find authentic Japanese cuisine in Halifax?"  There are a few places, for Sushi Shige, Daruma Sushi and Ko-Doraku.  Let us let you in on a secret about the latter one, Ko-Doraku...right next to the "fast food" area, a new space has been created meant for finer Japanese dining...and it is not just sushi!

Shuji Manabe, who runs Ko-Doraku, has been in the restaurant business since 1985.  After completing training at "sushi school" in Japan, he was hired by the Suisha Gardens in Ottawa.  A young man looking for adventure but not really knowing much about the world outside Japan, Shuji-san hopped on a plane to Ottawa without really knowing where it was...not to mention that it was the capital of Canada!  But after that, there was no looking back.  Shuji-san was hooked on the restaurant business.  His expertise of course is Japanese cuisine.  

He settled in Halifax in 1992 and went on to set up a number of Japanese restaurants through the years--Daruma Sushi, Momoya Restaurant, Doraku (now re-named Suzuki Restaurant).  Each time he sold a business, he found himself setting up another one later on.  

"Ko-Doraku" means "child of Doraku".  When Shuji-san sold the old Doraku Restaurant on Dresden Row to the current owner, he envisioned a less hectic pace with Ko-Doraku, settling on serving the lunch time crowd at his current location at the basement of Spring Garden Place

But soon, his passion for Japanese cuisine could not be stopped.  He took over the space beside Ko-Doraku and created a full service dining area where people can relax and enjoy Japanese food...not just sushi...and not just what you can find in the regular Ko-Doraku menu.  And therein lies the secret!  More on that later...

The restaurant is called "Dora-Q"....a little play on "Doraku".  In Japanese, "Doraku"「道楽」means "hobby or something one does for fun".  When applied to a culinary setting, it takes on an epicurean nuance, which is very apt.  Shuji-san describes Dora-Q as his "hobby", not conceived for its business potential but more as an outlet for his love for Japanese cooking.

The interior is gorgeous, beautiful obi are draped all over and there is an elegant display of samurai armour and uchikake kimono.  The photo on the left below is the waiting lounge where you can enjoy a drink or two whilst waiting for your table to be ready.  The actual dining area is on the other side of the white curtain.

Shuji-san now runs the restaurant with his young business partner, Erika Tokuyama.  Together, they keep the place humming!  Shuji-san plays the mentor and has this to say about Erika-san: "One of the happiest moments of being a teacher is when we see that the student has the potential of one day surpassing the teacher.  I see that in Erika-san."

This night, we had a sukiyaki dinner...which is not on the menu!

If you must know, sukiyaki is a Japanese meal where thinly sliced beef is simmered in soy sauce, mirin and sugar, along with vegetables, tofu, shirataki (stringy konnyaku jelly), etc.  When cooked, diners take what they want from the pot into their own bowls to eat.  Some people like to dip the sukiyaki in raw egg (optional!)

What a joy to eat there!  Great surroundings and good food on exquisite Japanese tableware.  (Shameless plug: Some of the pottery came from our shop! ^_^)


So is the food authentic?  We ask Shuji-san if he guarantees that the food they serve will be exactly like it is in Japan.  His answer: an honest "no".  

Shuji-san explains.
"It is absurd to think that you can find all the original Japanese ingredients here in Atlantic Canada.  Sometimes it is simply not possible; sometimes it is too expensive to make any sense. What Erika-san and I could offer is the fact that we 'know' Japanese food.  We know it with our minds, our hearts and our bodies.  We don't need to 'copy' anything.  We know how the food should taste like and how it should be presented.  We may lack some ingredients but we prepare our food in the Japanese we are proud to call it Japanese cuisine, even if it won't be exactly like what you will find in Japan." 

Indeed, the sukiyaki was as authentic as it could get!

So, how does one go about it?  The secret is to call a few days ahead and tell them what you want.  A certain familiarity with Japanese food would definitely help but is not necessary.  Dora-Q will help and offer suggestions.  So would you like a yaki-zakana teishoku (grilled fish meal), shabu-shabu or perhaps a proper tempura meal?  Let them know in advance and they will prepare everything with utmost care.  Why are they doing it this way?  The kitchen is not very big enough to accommodate a full-blown menu....for now.  We don't know how long this system will continue but we suspect that when clear favourites are identified, a regular menu would not be far behind.  The key is to first let customers know that there is more to Japanese food than sushi!

Dora-Q is located at the basement of Spring Garden Place (5640 Spring Garden Road).  They also have a direct entrance on Brenton Street. Contact them at (902) 423-8787.

The Kanban And The Gagoh

Added on by the ikebana shop.

As you ascend the stairs to our ikebana studio, the first thing you will see is a small wooden board with Japanese characters carved on it.  This is Miyako's ikebana kanban (看板).  It means "signboard" in Japanese.

In the Sogetsu school of ikebana (we only talk about the Sogetsu school because that is what we are intimate with), the ikebana practitioner is allowed to have her own kanban after she obtains the Teacher's Diploma Fourth Grade.  The diploma also means she can now start teaching ikebana.  In the old days, many people taught ikebana from their homes.  They hung their kanban outside to let people know ikebana was taught in that house.  It is similar to the Western practice of a doctor or lawyer hanging out their shingle when they begin their practice.  In this age of the Internet search engines, the kanban has probably outlived its usefulness but we imagine most teachers would still want to have one...if only for sentimental reasons!  The kanban is not compulsory and you do not need it to start teaching.  You can teach as long as you have the diploma and you are registered as a "teaching" member of the Sogetsu Teachers' Association!  (Note: You can also register as a "non-teaching" member but this means you cannot take on students.)

Let's take a closer look at the kanban.  The big white characters「草月」say "Sogetsu".  The square symbol near the top left is the official seal of the Sogetsu school.  The smaller characters in black on the middle right「師範」say "shihan" which means "teacher" or "instructor".  The characters in light blue on the bottom half「バレステロス虹都」are Miyako's name...or rather her gagoh (雅号).  It says "Ballesteros Kouto".  

Gagoh can be loosely translated as a "pseudonym".  Many people practicing the arts (ikebana, shodo, chado etc) in Japan use a gagoh when they reach a certain level of mastery.  In the Sogetsu school, students who have earned the Fourth Certificate* (1級修業証) can start using a gagoh.  


*Note: The Fourth Certificate is obtained after successfully completing Curriculum 4.  The Fourth Certificate is not yet a teaching diploma. See here for more information about the Sogetsu ranks.


In Sogetsu, the gagoh is a name you can choose for yourself; but more often, it is your teacher who gives the name to you.  In Japan, the study of ikebana is a lifelong endeavour for most people.  Once a teacher has been chosen, students study under that teacher for the rest of their lives, except when their is a special reason to change.  The gagoh is normally given in kanji, where one of the characters is taken from the teacher’s own gagoh.  Miyako's teacher’s gagoh is “shikou” (紫虹 “purple rainbow”).  Miyako's gagoh is “kouto” (虹都 “rainbow capital”).  Incidentally, the character "to" (都) can also be read as "miyako" in Japanese!  

Again, the gagoh is not compulsory but most people like to have one.  The gagoh gives recognition of accomplishment and also a sense of continuity from teacher to student.  If you do elect to have a gagoh, this must be duly registered with the Sogetsu Foundation.  The gagoh appears in official documents like the Sogetsu Teachers' Association Membership Card.

It also appears in your diplomas.

Did you know....?  
The gagoh of the founder of the Sogetsu school is "Sofu" (蒼風).  Therefore, in Sogetsu no one is allowed to use the character「蒼」"so" in their gagoh.  Likewise, the use of characters that will be pronounced as "Sofu" is also prohibited.  



How to Study Sogetsu Ikebana


Cold Brew Sencha Green Tea

Added on by the ikebana shop.

In the heat of the summer, sometimes we just prefer a cold cup of tea.  So we tried cold-brewing some sencha green tea.  It's really easy.  It's basically just putting the tea in cold water and letting it sit in your refrigerator overnight!

We used 3 tablespoons (that's like 6 scoops of the wooden spoon you see in the photo) of sencha green tea leaves and 2 litres of water.  We used a large teabag so that it doesn't get messy in the pitcher later. 

The teabag has a flap that you can fold over so that the contents don't spill out later.  (They're good to use for spices in your soup or stew as well!)

Then we added water into the pitcher and left it in the refrigerator overnight (about 8 hours).  Unlike when brewing green tea with hot water where steeping time is important, you don't need to worry too much about an extra hour or so!  There is no precise recipe for a cold brew. :-)

One sleep later...volia!  

Extra tip: Using a pair of chopsticks, shake the teabag up a bit to release more flavour and colour!

The flavour of cold-brewed sencha green tea is a bit subtler and smoother.   Cold-brewing also results in less caffeine in your tea.  Very refreshing for hot days!

You can use gyokuro tea leaves too!

By the way, if you are wondering where you can get those teabags... We have them right here at the shop! :-)   Or purchase online here.

We also have premium grade Japanese green tea, of course!

Matcha Affogato-Style

Added on by the ikebana shop.

Here is a simple-to-make indulgence for lovers of green tea on hot summer days!

Affogato al caffè is, of course, the Italian treat where a shot of espresso is poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  The name literally means "drowned in coffee" in Italian!

Now, let's substitute the espresso with thick matcha...

Make koicha (thick matcha) by using only half the amount of water you'd normally use when preparing your matcha drink.  If you need to start somewhere, try 1 teaspoon matcha with 35 ml hot water (80℃).  This concoction is good for about 3 servings...but it depends on how "drowned" you want your ice cream to be!  :-)

Pour some of the koicha over one (or two?) scoops of vanilla ice cream.

That's it!  Enjoy!

Halifax-Hakodate Friendship Azalea

Added on by the ikebana shop.

It's that time of the year when the azaleas start to bloom in Halifax.  

Tucked in the southwest corner of the Halifax Public Gardens (near the corner of Spring Garden Rd. and Summer St.) is a special azalea bush.

Here is a closer look at the plaque.

Wish we could find a photo of the bush when it was first planted back in 1986 to see how much it has grown!

May the friendship between Halifax and Hakodate grow and deepen further!


All photos by the ikebana shop.  All rights reserved.

Kan-nyu, Those Lovely Cracks

Added on by the ikebana shop.

Do you sometime see cracks on the glaze of your Japanese pottery?

No, they are not defects.  They are intended accidents.  Those cracked patterns are called kan-nyuu (貫入) and it is actually a desirable feature of the pottery.

When glazed clay is fired, it expands.  The high temperature melts the glaze and fuses it with the clay.  When the pottery is cooled down, it shrinks...BUT, the rates of shrinkage of the clay and glaze are different.  The glaze shrinks more than the clay and so during the cooling process, cracks are formed on the glaze surface.  These crackle patterns are kan-nyuu. 

No two kan-nyuu patterns are ever the same.  This offers uniqueness in each piece of pottery.

Japanese people love kan-nyuu in their teacups and tea bowls.  Tea seeps into the fine cracks, staining it bit by bit.  The teacup is slowly changed with frequent use.  Its character seems to grow together with its user.  It is cherished like an old friend.

On the left, a new teacup.  On the right, a well-used and well-loved teacup!

Check your favourite teacup...yes, the one you use everyday...the one that makes you feel that something is missing if it's not with you at the start of the day.  Do you see kan-nyuu?  :-)

All photos by the ikebana shop.  All rights reserved.

Gohonte: The Pale Pink Spots

Added on by the ikebana shop.

Have you noticed in some tea bowls pale pink spots showing up at random?

These spots are called "gohonte" (御本手).

They appear on the pottery due to the natural reactions from the iron found in the clay when being fired in the kiln.

The origin of the term "gohonte" dates back to the Azuchi-Momoyama period (late 1500's).  Tea masters ordered tea bowls to be made in Korea. Together with their order, they sent samples or diagrams of what they would like made. These  orders were called "gohon" or "gohonte".  When the ordered pottery were delivered, most of them came with the pale pink spots due to the clay used. Soon, this type of pattern came to be called "gohonte."

Originally thought of as imperfections of the glaze, gohonte came to be appreciated by tea masters.  They recognized the implicit beauty in the randomness, unevenness, and naturalness of the patterns.  Thus, the "flaw" was turned into another attractive aspect of the pottery!

Sometimes, we have some gohonte tea bowls available at the shop.  Please come and take a look!  Or see available tea bowls online here.


All photos by the ikebana shop.  Al rights reserved.