Way of Tea

Earlham students who study Japanese tea ceremony are learning to brew their experience using the same values that shape Earlham College. Kento Ichikawa '12 served on the Principles and Practices Committee as a junior.

When he began learning the "Way of Tea" he was surprised by how the values overlapped: values such as harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.

"The way of tea is a practice in humility and stillness," Ichikawa says. "Each motion is a sign of respect for the environment and for the people."

The Japanese tea ceremony is a cultural activity that involves the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha, or powdered green tea.

And so, as these students enter the Japanese Room in Mills Hall, they remove their shoes and don white socks to help keep the mats clean and the space pure. They cleanse and fold a linen cloth, sift the fine powder tea into a finer powder and carefully place the sweets on a serving plate.

Ichikawa looks forward to this part of his week. "It is incredibly relaxing," he says. "There is something about focusing on the movements and details that is very calming."

Former Associate Director of Japanese Studies and Instructor Erin Nelson taught the course in Spring 2011. She has studied and practiced tea ceremony since her undergraduate days while in Japan.

"I had been interested in Buddhism, and as I learned more and practiced more, I was so drawn in by the generosity of the teachers. It really grew on me," she says.

She guides these students with great generosity, care and precision too. For this class, Ichikawa acts as the host. He carefully ladles hot water into the serving container. Nelson reminds him to keep the "front" of the container facing toward the guests, and to always place the container with the tea powder closest to his body, to indicate the importance of the tea. As host, he does not partake of the tea and sweets, but is entirely in service to his guests.

Likewise, his guests are equally respectful, bowing to their host.

Nelson says that one student expressed how the tea ceremony provides a real connection to others at Earlham and helps build a feeling of belonging. Ichikawa agrees. He says if you go back far enough, you will always find lineages to a common teacher. "There are connections with people you have never met," he says.

In the spring of 2012, Kento and fellow senior Becca Pruente will earn credit by serving as co-leaders of the now student-run course.

Kento Ichikawa
Kento Ichikawa 2012

Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.

Major at Earlham: Japanese Studies and Human Development and Social Relations

Interests: Co-convener of Japanese Spring Festival, College Meeting for Worship, Lilly Library and the Writing Center

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