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Tea-nime: Traditional Japanese tea ceremony becomes surprise hit at “Ramene” event

By PHILIP CHAN, Contributing Writer

The UNH Anime Club and the United Asian Coalition’s Ramene (Ramen + Anime) night took an unexpected but not unwelcome turn for the classically cultural on Friday night when a Japanese tea ceremony demonstration stole the show. 

The event, held in the MUB Entertainment Center, began with a brief presentation on the history of Ramen Noodles, followed by a brief but thorough exploration of the history of Japanese animation starting in the 1920s and continuing into the present day.  Afterward, the organizers served ramen and played select episodes of various anime on the projector screen.       

The tea ceremony demonstration was intended to be a brief intermission between showings of anime, but the audience was so interested that the focus never quite came back around to the shows. The rest of the evening was spent discussing the ceremony and tasting the tea.  Professors Sachiko Ikeda (Plymouth State University) and Prentiss Phillips (University of New Hampshire), a husband and wife duo, presented the ceremony. Ikeda performed the meticulous ceremony while Phillips explained the cultural context of the ritual.   

The tea ceremony is a unique Japanese ritual in which a host serves tea to one or more guests in a very precise, formal and specific manner.

“Everything is set. We have to learn every single movement,” Ikeda said as she went through the well-rehearsed motions of cleaning and warming the tea bowls with hot water.  She recalled the process of learning the ceremony and how in-depth it was, stating that she had to spend nearly six months as a guest, once a week every week, learning how to graciously accept the tea before she was allowed to so much as try to fold the napkin. 

Once the bowl is cleansed and warmed, the host mixes a special powdered green tea, known as matcha, and serves it to the guest. The host then repeats the process with the next bowl and the next guest, just as deliberately.  Depending on the number of guests and the degree of formality, the ceremony can take a  long time. Traditionally, neither guests nor host speak during the ceremony, so the ceremony is carried out in complete silence. 

For us here in the states, such an exercise may sound like a test of endurance.  But to the Japanese, the tea ceremony is a meditative and refreshing experience, an escape from the hectic and work-centric Japanese lifestyle.   

“From morning to night, most Japanese are very busy-going pretty fast-paced lives,” Phillips said. “Whether it’s at school or work or taking care of the family. There is no other time built into daily life during which they can become still and really appreciate anything slowly.”

Phillips has spent time teaching in Japan and has extensive first-hand experience with Japanese culture. 

According to Phillips, the stress of Japanese culture is reflected in their animation, which is renowned for being jumpy, chaotic and turbulent. The Anime Club showed an episode of the anime Samurai Champloo at the event, a show comprised of 22 minutes of swordfights and fireworks, a perfect example of the wild, exaggerated energy that makes anime so popular.

“In the anime, the characters tend to be quite frenetic, they tend to be quite frazzled, worried, panicked, depressed, in a state of emotional crisis,” Phillips said. “And that is representative of how many people feel in their daily lives…Anime is a great place to see sort of a symbolic microcosm of Japanese inner life. The wild energy of anime and the determined restraint of the tea ceremony appear to be polar opposites, but in truth the two activities serve much the same function. Anime alleviates the stress of Japanese life by becoming an outlet for it, and the meticulous rigidity of the tea ceremony becomes a safe haven from those stresses.”

“It’s structured, but it also at the same time allows for calm.  Because it’s so structured, there’s nothing unclear or ambiguous or uncertain about ,” she said. “There’s no uncomfortable surprises.  Being able to participate in something that’s so stable is very comforting and centering and grounding.”

Ikeda and Phillips stayed at the event well after the ramen was eaten and the majority of the guests had cleared out, discussing tea and the nuances of Japanese culture. They expressed interest in collaborating with the Anime Club and the United Asian Coalition again in the future. 

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