Students and teachers gather for a photo after the first session of the tea ceremony class at Whitney High School in Cerritos.

By TOMOKO NAGAI, Rafu Staff Writer

Whitney High School in Cerritos recently established a tea ceremony club as an extension of the Japanese language class.

Twenty-one students, in two groups, took their first practice on the tatami mats installed in the Japanese language classroom. The two professors, Soko Okazoe and Sosa Kawai of the Omotesenke Domonkai Southern California, will continue to provide the full-scale training once a month.

Okazoe said to the students, “It’s called the tea ceremony in English, but please do not think it is difficult. Nothing like ceremony, it is just like entertaining your guest at the home party. Today, everyone will be the guest, so please enjoy yourself.”

The students seemed relieved to hear that.

Students observe as Sosa Kawai performs the tea ceremony.

In the tea ceremony, or chanoyu, the type of tea, method of preparation, flowers, the hanging scroll and tools are all selected carefully. The idea is the same as a host decorating a house with seasonal flowers and arranging table settings at a home party in the United States. The host would care about what to serve and how to entertain the guests. “There is something in common,” said Okazoe.

The students learned how to get on the mat, first taking off their shoes, how to walk, how to look at the hanging scrolls and flowers, and how to eat sweets and drink tea. The students, who seemed confused at first by their first experience, ate the sweets and sipped the tea, smiling and seeming to say “Delicious!” with their eyes.

The students, who have been learning Japanese, seemed to be adapting to conversation very quickly. As soon as they learned a word or phrase, they uttered it with no hesitation, such as “Osaki desu” (Excuse me, but I am having it before you), **”Dozo“** (Please go ahead), and “Chodai itashimasu” (Thank you for serving tea or sweets).

Among Whitney High School’s 1,000 students, 120 learn Japanese at four levels. Kimberly Suzuki, the teacher, says that for most students, it is definitely anime and Japanese pop culture that triggered their desire to learn Japanese. Through the years of learning Japanese, they get to know not only the modern culture but also various faces of Japan.

Students learned about the various implements of the tea ceremony.

Suzuki says, “I am very excited about this opportunity for our students to have an authentic Japanese cultural experience on campus. I want my students to be able to see beyond the modern pop culture of Japan and experience the rich culture. I hope this experience inspires my students to further study the Japanese language and culture.”

The students loved the experience in many ways. Many students commented that sitting on their knees for a long time was difficult, but the matcha tea and mochi were delicious,  and that the details of walking on the tatami mats for a specific number of steps were difficult but interesting.

In addition, some students were attracted by a hanging scroll that read, “平常心是道” (Hei jo shin kore do), which the professors chose for this day.

Madison Plotkin said, “The tea ceremony masters chose the writing on the scroll for us, and the kanji had important words of wisdom for the students.”

Melinda Wu said, “I was able to relate the explanation of the scroll to my experience.”

Kayla Hamakawa said,”The meaning of the calligraphy and the beauty of the flowers were important details for me.”

An important lesson the students learned was the spirit of chanoyu, Japanese hospitality and respect for one another.

Additional comments:

“Personally, the Japanese hospitality was the most interesting.” (David Park)

“It was interesting to learnhow to walk properly.”(Serah Park)

“It was interesting to learn various greetings in the tea ceremony lesson. It was interesting that the greetings to those who sit on my left and were different.” (Isabella Reyes)

“I liked the tea ceremony because it was quiet and calm. What surprised me was that the tea ceremony teacher said, ‘At the tea ceremony you can use the sleeves of kimono to hide trash.’” (Apurva Ravishankar)

“The design of the kimono was very beautiful, so it was fun to watch. I was amazed at the graceful process.” (Alice Song).

And Sophia Oporto commented, “I like the sense of security I felt in the tea ceremony. I don’t have time to think about problems in the tea ceremony, so I can relax.”

Kawai emphasizes the importance of establishing the tea ceremony club: “It is very significant to be able to practice throughout the year as a tea ceremony club, not just a one-time tea ceremony experience.”

Soko Okazoe of Omotesenke Domonkai Southern California teaches tea ceremony to students at Whitney High School in Cerritos.

Through the series of tea ceremony lessons going forward, the students will acquire the traditional spirit of chanoyu, Japanese hospitality and way of respecting each other.

The Japan Enrichment Grant, the program by Japanese Business Association of Southern California (JBA) to support schools and teachers who are providing Japanese language and/or Japanese culture education, sponsored the club. In particular, as many as 15 fabulous tea ceremony bowls made by renowned Japanese ceramist Masuo Ojima of Ojima Ceramics in Los Angeles deliver the true beauty of Japan into the lesson.  

All who put their effort into the new tea ceremony club, including Japanese Consulate, had reason to celebrate. 

Photos by TOMOKO NAGAI/Rafu Shimpo

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