In a simple way, the Japanese bamboo whisk, known properly as a “Chasen” is the sublime instrument of the Japanese Tea Ceremony or “Chado”. Using a Chasen during your tea ceremony will enhance your appreciation for the traditional beauty and sober philosophy of the ceremony.
In this article, I will take you through the many aspects of the Japanese Chasen, including its deep history and proper care and use. It is my hope that, in the end, you will incorporate the beauty of this simple wooden tool toward a daily discernment of Ichigo, Ichie・, the Japanese philosophy of each 登nce in a lifetime moment・.
The Chasen is probably the most recognized of the the tea tools or “Chadōgu”. It is a bamboo whisk. Its purpose is to mix the matcha powder and hot water, as well as to coax the matcha into its sweet frothy peaks of miniscule bubbles that is so important in a delicious bowl of matcha, especially Matcha Usucha.
Traditional Chasens are handmade from a single piece of specially chosen bamboo. The bamboo shoot is carefully cut and seasoned for up to two years. Then, the cane tube is sectioned. The string section is peeled and split, then split again into the proper diameter and number of strings. It is then bound with threads. Finally, the edges are shaved and shaped into perfect form.
Does racquetball need a racket? Does a car need an engine? Does a ballerina need pointe shoes?
I suppose philosophically the answer is “no”. That is because, without a racket you can have a good game of hand ball; because, without an engine you can have a good soap box derby; and without pointe shoes there is a dance with form, strength and alignment.
Realistically, however, racquetball requires a racket tool for ball placement. A car needs an engine as the tool for its purpose for speed. And a ballerina needs pointe shoes as a tool to generate the image of weightlessness and floating in the dance.
So goes the Chasen whisk.
The matcha whisk is tool so instrumental in properly blending the matcha powder and water. It is the solitary tool that draws the matcha into the light sweet froth that floats atop the bowl. Without the Chasen, there is no dance.
Many matcha “neophytes” have tried using a blender or fork. But, the Chasen will always enhance and harmonize the philosophy and flavor that is Japanese matcha. It is the tool for a perfect cup of matcha.
The Japanese Chasen was first crafted in the small Japanese village of Yuwa Takayama around 600 years ago. This was during the Muromachi period between 1336 and 1573.
The Chasen story goes like this. Originally, the Chanoyu Tea Ceremony was only for the elite of Japanese society. The creator of “The Simple Tea Ceremony” (wabi-cha) was a man named Murata Juko, who wanted to introduce its beauty and philosophy to the common people.
Murata commissioned Takayama Minbunojo Nyudo Sosetsu to craft Chasens for the ceremony. Being pleased with Takayama's whisks, Murata Juko eventually gifted some of Takayama's Chasens to the Emperor who was astounded by their beauty and craftsmanship.
The Emperor gave it the name “Takaho”. Over time the Takaho Chasen became known as the Takayama Chasen.
The art of crafting Chasens was (and still is) handed down from father to son. Its craftsmanship was a tightly held secret within the family. Made from a single piece of young bamboo with strings measuring only .1mm, the work is so intricate that only a few Chasens can be made each day.
Today, almost 90% of traditional Japanese Chasens are still produced in the area of Takayama by master Japanese artisans who have passed the craft through its generational family artisans. The Takayama Chasens we use today continue to hold true to its tradition and the secrets of the artistry.
It is said that in all of Japan there remain only 15 craftsmen certified to create Japan's Takayama Chasen.
The traditional Chasen is crafted from a solitary piece of young bamboo. It is created in an array of thickness and strings. A Chasen matcha whisk can be found with string counts between 16 and 120 tines. Higher string counts make it simple to whisk your matcha into the traditional froth that gives matcha its sweet texture and airy quality. The reverse can be said about lower string count.
In selecting your Chasen, the highest artisan quality is revealed in the choice of bamboo, as well as the precision cuts and form of each string (as intricate as 0.1mm).
Matcha lovers know that there are two types of matcha: koicha and usucha.
Koicha is green tea matcha made into a thick consistence. So, when making Koicha, a whisk with a lower string count (16 to 48) works well. Consider the following Chasens for Koicha:
Usuchu is green tea matcha made with a thinner consistence. So, when making Usuchu, a whisk with a higher string count (68 to 120) works best to coax the delightful foam we so love. Consider the following Chasens for Usuchu:
If you love both consistencies and want one Chasen to do the trick, your best option is a Tsuneho that is made with 64 strings.
To become a Japanese tea ceremony master takes time and study. Anyone, however, can become adept at properly using a Chasen whisk to make a delicious Chawan (bowl) of Japanese green tea matcha.
Chasens are crafted from fragile strings of natural bamboo. They are delicate and should be protected from direct impact with the Chawan bowl when mixing. So, when whipping your matcha, avoid striking the tines against the Chawan bottom and sides.
Note: For best results, arch your wrist over the Chawan and keep the movement of whisking only by the wrist.
The Japanese Chasen whisk is created from natural bamboo wood and subject to natural wear and decline. However, when you properly care for your Chasen it will last beyond the mass-produced chasens on the market. A healthy Chasen will assure that the natural infusions and essence of your quality Japanese matcha is optimized with each bowl.
When you first open a new Chasen, you will notice that the core of the whisk is tight. But once you begin using it, the core will loosen up and enhance the whisking process. This is called “blooming”.
Follow the steps below to assure that your bamboo Chasen lasts for years.
Clean your Chasen before the first use. This simply removes any impurities that may have occurred during packaging and transit and loosens the core.
To clean the Chasen use either of the following options:
Clean your Chasen the same way after each use.
Note: Never leave the Chasen handle soaking in water as it can crack or fray.
After you have made your matcha and washed the Chasen, it is imperative that you allow it to dry thoroughly. The best way to dry your Chasen is to rest it on a Chasen holder, or 徒usenaoshi・. The best quality Chasens will come with a holder for drying and storage.
If you don't have a Chasen holder, then dry the Chasen by standing it on its handle, never the strings.
Note: If your bamboo Chasen is not properly dried, damp tines can grow mold or splinter due to the natural wood product from which it is made. Additionally, the fragile Chasen strings could become loose or fall out completely and minimize the effectiveness of the whisk.
Proper storage of your Chasen is probably the main way to achieve optimal life. It is best to store your Chasen the same way you dried it, preferably on a whisk holder. Storing the Chasen on a holder helps to maintain the shape of the bamboo strings and will prevent premature damage, as well.
There are three names for Chasen holders: (Even with different names, they are all the same.)
These are mostly made with ceramic and some has nice design on them. In Japan, there are ones made with wood as well, but I couldn’t find them online in USA.
Well, may your beautiful experience with the Japanese Chasen begin. Experience the purpose and essence of the Chasen tradition. Allow the dance that is the Japanese Tea Ceremony be enhanced as you cause this single moment to entwine you with the philosophy of what is Ichigo, Ichie.
Until next time, Enjoy!
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