Professor examines ‘The Way of Tea’
November 12, 2019
Walking through the Japan house can be a divine and transformative experience – learning about its roots and culture is even more so.
ARTD 209, Chado (The Way of Tea), is a class on the Japanese tea ceremony, its significance in Japanese culture and its relevance to our lives today.
The class, taught in the Japan House by Jennifer Misuzu Gunji-Ballsrud, has been passing down the teachings of Sen Rikyu – the founder of the Japanese tea ceremony – since the ‘60s and propagates his idea that “one is never more at peace with another person than when they share a cup of tea together.”
“These days, we’re so starved for some solitude and some quiet, but we’re so busy that we don’t think to make time for it,” Gunji-Ballsrud said.
To reinforce this impact on her students, she makes the experience as authentic and derivative of Rikyu as possible. The walls are adorned with inspirational and insightful scrolls that convey philosophies one can incorporate in their lives, such as “Ichigo Chie” (One Life One Opportunity) and relatively simple ones, such as “Everyday is a Good Day.” In addition, the tea is served in traditional tea bowls with a customary sweet on the side.
The class uses traditional practices that immerse the students in the experience. For example, the host never drinks the tea since the host prepares the tea. The sharing of tea and preparation of tea for others is considered an act of giving, and consuming the tea by the host is deemed to be selfish. Moreover, one is expected to rotate the tea bowl three and a half times to show appreciation for the tea and the host’s efforts. All of this is done while sitting Seiza in complete silence.
“ARTD209 has positively changed the way I think and act. I have become more mindful, calm and thoughtful,” said Rony Midya, junior in LAS. “My productivity has also gone up; by focusing on what I can control, I don’t waste my time worrying. While learning about the tea ceremony, I was taught to be considerate of those in my life by always striving for respect, harmony, purity and tranquility. Though this can be difficult at times, the end results make the effort worthwhile.”
Midya also shared that although he isn’t taking this class to satisfy a requirement for his major, he feels that this class is integral to his experience in college and is something he will remember and imbibe for years to come.
Antonio Gonzalez, freshman in Engineering, had another interesting perspective that it can often be frustrating to work on a problem for hours and not come up with a solution. He said this class has helped him develop more patience and take his flaws constructively and in turn, make him a better physicist and a better problem solver.
Gonzalez also shared he didn’t entirely know what to expect out of this class and anticipated a class on tea tasting, at most. However, he is pleased with what the class has turned out to be and looks forward to discovering an ancient Japanese tradition in greater depth and to applying its principles to his life.
While this class helps its students discover themselves better, it might be slightly inconvenient for many due to the Japan House’s location, which is in the Arboretum. Since it is quite far from the Main Quad and the engineering quad, many students find it more convenient to travel by car. However, this isn’t a big issue for many as they find people to carpool with, or they plan ahead and keep in mind the time it would take to reach class.
This course is worth the effort as it can have a profound impact on the student’s lives and helps them feel a greater connection to campus and the rest of the students in the class. Gunji-Ballsrud further explained the kind of relationships people make with the Japan House and campus as a result of this course, saying the Japan House is not a degree-granting institution and hence does not have alumni. Still, she feels the support and the impact classes like these make in student’s lives when they bring their families and friends to the Japan House after graduating.