Professor serves tea for 20; students partake, drink in

The traditional Japanese ceremony was used to represent peace and harmony.

by Rebecca Bentz

Students had a taste of traditional Japanese culture with their tea Tuesday.

The traditional Japanese tea ceremony was attended by four students dressed in colorful kimonos and about 20 informally dressed attendees from the University and surrounding community.

Offering them a glimpse into traditional tea service, participants knelt around a square grass mat in room 140 of the Nolte Center and were served green tea and dry sweets.

Tea ceremonies are rituals of preparing tea and serving it to a small group of guests.

The host is trained in the arts of preparing not only the tea for the event, but also calligraphy, incense, the kimono, and flower and table arrangements. Both the host and their guests must know the proper gestures and deportment for the ceremony.

But for some participants the ceremony was difficult to endure – not because of the culture clash, but because of the kneeling.

“It was agonizing on the feet,” anthropology and American Indian studies double major Jenny Palmateer said of the 20-minute stretches spent on the mat. “It was enjoyable, but I don’t know if I could sit on my knees like that again.”

Third year Asian languages and literatures major Mai Moua said she attended the ceremony because she wanted to learn the degree of formality in the ceremony.

“I think others should try this,” she said. “It shows how other cultures present things and how they act. It’s a different view of the world.”

Palmateer said learning how formally the Japanese traditionally pay their respects to each other was surprising.

“It’s very different from America,” she said. “Here all we do is say ‘thank you’ in return for a good or service.”

Tea ceremony practitioner Professor Fumio Watanabe was the event’s tea master. Watanabe was visiting from Japan’s Yamagata University.

Tea ceremonies are generally quiet affairs; the tranquility of the ceremony is meant to relax guests. The tradition was originally influenced by Zen Buddhism.

“The time in the tea room, the time you spend having the tea – it will never happen again,” Japanese language and linguistics professor Polly Szatrowski said. “It must be savored.”

Today most tea ceremonies in Japan are performed by clubs or groups of people who want to study tea ceremonies as a hobby.

At the University, one of the goals of the tea ceremony was to represent peace and harmony around the world.

“No matter what your status, everyone bows low to enter the tea room,” Szatrowski said. “Everyone is equal in the tea room.”