Section: Arts

Tea master Yumiko Passalacqua hosts traditional ceremony

Tea master Yumiko Passalacqua hosts traditional ceremony

PHOTOS: Students had the opportunity to make their own tea. | BRITTANY LIN

On Tuesday, Assistant Professor of Japanese Kai Xie hosted a full-length Japanese tea ceremony. Tea master Yumiko Passalacqua and her two students, Keiko Shinoka and Steven Brown, demonstrated the tea ceremony and then helped students make their own tea at the end of the event. Passalacqua has been a professional tea master for 30 years and can trace the line of tea masters preceding her to the 16th century. 

The ceremony was performed in the Horn Gallery, which proved to be a fitting place for the event considering the large windows that look out onto the trees behind it. Traditionally, the Japanese ceremony contains some connection to the current season, whether with a flower cutting or a sprig snipped from a tree to indicate the time of year. Among the aristocracy, minimalist tea houses were built with fusuma — sliding panels made of opaque cloth or paper. Despite tremendous wealth, these tea houses were kept fairly simple and allowed for the climate or weather conditions to affect the atmosphere within. For Tuesday’s ceremony, a Japanese folding screen and a vase of daffodils were present to complete the atmosphere. A scroll with four Japanese words hung from the folding screen. In an email interview with the Collegian, Professor Xie translated these words as: “和 (wa) 敬 (kei) 清 (sei) 寂 (jaku), representing ‘harmony, respect, purity and tranquility,’ respectively.” 

Steven Brown explained that the essence of the tea ceremony is wabi-sabi, which is the Japanese value of finding beauty in imperfection. While the ceremony itself is very precise, the important thing is to remain present and attentive to the current moment — even with all its flaws. “Wabi-sabi is an aesthetic that is difficult to translate into English, but they are rooted in the Buddhist concepts of ‘transience’ and ‘emptiness’ and refer to an appreciation of things that are simple, quiet, austere, modest, asymmetrical and imperfect,” Xie said. In the basement of the Horn, a student practiced guitar, which could be heard at times throughout the ceremony, reinforcing the importance of wabi-sabi even during such a serious and silent event. 

The audience was divided into two groups. The first group, seated closest to the ceremony, were students studying Japanese. They were given their own set of instruments to make tea with during the ceremony, including a unique ceramic bowl, bamboo whisk and tea towel. There weren’t enough instruments to involve everyone, so the outer group — students and professors not directly involved with the department — were given pre-made matcha tea lattes and Japanese bean-paste sweets. 

Passalacqua hosted the tea ceremony, and one of her students, Brown, performed as the guest, responding at intervals with the proper Japanese recitation. The ceremony involved an extremely precise set of rituals: washing the basin with hot water to clean and heat the cup, folding the tea napkin, measuring the green tea powder, pouring the hot water into the cup in a manner reminiscent of a waterfall and vigorously whisking the tea with a bamboo whisk to create a froth. Brown graciously received the tea and drank the contents in three consecutive sips, the final one accompanied by a ceremonial slurp that indicates enjoyment. Afterward, he turned the bowl around in his hands, admiring the imperfect yet unique beauty of the vessel. 

Following the tea ceremony, the students studying Japanese were taught how to make their own cups of tea. Passalacqua went around the room helping students use the proper technique, often instructing them to whisk the tea more briskly to create the perfect amount of bubbles. The observing students were given their tea lattes and sweets at that time, which, while not as traditional as the matcha used for the tea ceremony, were still quite delicious.

Though the event only lasted 50 minutes, the tea ceremony cast a mood of serenity over those who attended. Amidst the bustle of work and social life, the painstaking ritual of the tea ceremony and the principle of wabi-sabi is a pertinent reminder to slow down and pay attention to what’s around us.


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