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Berea Students Take Time for Tea

Kneeling on the bamboo tatami mats; surrounded by the backdrop of the morning mountain mists, students received the opportunity to take part in a Japanese Tea Ceremony, a distinctive way to honor the closing of Berea’s beloved Japanese Exchange Program.

Students gathered in Baird Lounge to witness the guests perform chanoyum, the Japanese art of tea service, together for one last time. Students and guests wore bright, colorful, printed Kimonos . The misty backdrop of Brushy Fork set the scene for the intimate retreat as students prepared to honor the unfortunate closing of the Japanese Program as if it were a brush painting celebrating the nature and aesthetics so central to the Japanese culture. The tea ceremony, which illustrated the grinding, mixing and serving of tea, earmarked the last event held by the Japanese Exchange Program, which will be closing at the end of the spring term. According to Bianca Pau, a graduating Senior and President of the ASA, the purpose of the program was “to honor the closing of the Japanese Program whose culture has brought so much to Berea’s community.”

Pau noted that the month of May marks the beginning of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. The presenters, Dr. Maske of the University of Kentucky, Ms. Mari Isobe and three volunteers; Mike, Nobuko, and Hiroko, elegantly used the ceremony to demonstrate the ritual and process of graciously serving guests tea. According to Dr. Maske, the purpose of this program was intended to teach its audiences another way to facilitate human relationships. He shared, “We are trying to use this to make connections with people, not only as entertainment, but to inform and also get people to think of different approaches to aesthetics, to life, to interactions, and to human relationships”. Each detail of the process, including the laborious rinsing and wiping of the tea cups illustrates the very challenging and mindful manner in which this tradition is observed.

After seeing the ceremony demonstrated, students received the opportunity to take part in tea service in their socked feet as they knelt carefully on the portable bamboo tatami mats. The tea, known as cha tasted much stronger than the green tea that Americans are accustomed to and was accompanied by tasty Japanese sweets. Students were also allowed to inspect the large stone tea grinder and inspect the other utensils; including the long handled ladles, ceramic bowls and bamboo whisks used to make tea.

The event was sponsored by Berea’s Foreign Language Department, Student Government Association, and Center for International Education. This event also noted the final public tea service for Ms. Mari Isobe, the tea instructor and Hiroko, her student who will soon be returning to Japan. The students enjoyed the opportunity to be able to honor and celebrate the beautiful culture of Japan. Admittedly, Berea College will feel a sense of loss when the program closes at the end of the semester. Keiko Kawaguchi, Berea’s current Japanese instructor shared how the students impacted her experience teaching at Berea College this year.

“I really enjoyed teaching Japanese to my students. Every student is very eager to study Japanese. I am very glad to have such students here. We don’t only spend class time together, but we also spend time doing a Japanese activity, like going bowling together; eating, or doing Japanese Ohanami [flower watching], outside on campus. We have a lot of great memories together. I am very happy to have been a Japanese instructor this semester.”

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