WALLA WALLA — What was once the printing art classroom in the east wing of Olin Hall is now a room that has all the facilities for an authentic tea ceremony.
Designed by professor Akira Takemoto, the tea room was dedicated with a special tea ceremony, performed by traditional tea masters from Japan.
"There is a discovery in every tea ceremony," Takemoto, chair of the department of foreign languages and literatures at Whitman, said. "Most of it happens because your mind is not busy. Your mind knows you’ll just drink some tea and eat some sweets."
The first bowl of tea was prepared and served by Yabunouhhi Joyu, the son of a 13-generation grand master of the Yabunouchi style. This tea ceremony dates to the 16th century and encompasses the two virtues of Japanese culture: simplicity and elegance.
Takemoto received a certificate to teach the Yabunouchi tradition after training with current grand master Yabunouchi Jochi
The tea room’s name is Chikurakken or "Enjoying the Bamboo Room" and is a reference to a calligraphy scroll that reads, "Bring in some bamboo and enjoy its cool wind and shadows."
A tea ceremony combines the components of calligraphy, performance dance, ceramics, painting, theater, martial arts, flower decorations and sweets.
"Last Thursday every detail in the ceremony, from the flowers to the sweets was all about Oct. 22. Every tea ceremony is unique, it’s prepared with regard to the season, the occasion, who is invited. It’s an opportunity to share a moment with no rush that lasts an hour or two and that seem timeless.
"As I walk in here on the mat, my whole body slows down," Takemoto said. "The first thing I teach my students is how to walk. Learning how to do it is like learning a musical instrument. It becomes simple only with a lot of practice.
"The way I tell them how to carry the utensils is — carry heavy things as if they are light, and light, as if they are heavy," said Takemoto.
Since 1983 when Takemoto first started to teach at Whitman, he has created various spaces for tea ceremonies in different buildings on campus and outdoors. From 2000 to 2009 there was a small tea room in the Sheehan Gallery.
"My first tea ceremony class here in Walla Walla was in my living room, where I could only put three tatami mats. Gradually I created spaces in various buildings on campus that I could use for tea rooms. But the major difference with the new tea room is that here I have the preparation area.
"You can’t believe how happy I am to have a kitchen. Before it was as if I was using the neighbor’s kitchen and now I can use the space in the back to prepare and enter," said Takemoto.
"It is like a little baby," said Takemoto at the dedication ceremony. The flower decorations were courtesy of Ikune Sawada, the prints of Keiko Hara, and Jim and Jane Robison provided the special tatami mats.
The tea room will be open to everyone who has interest and wants to participate in a tea ceremony.
Dena Popova can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.