Originally published in The Northern Light

Tucked away in the Social Sciences Building is room 156. What was once a classroom has been transformed into a Japanese cultural and ceremonial center. The Monty Dickson Center tea ceremony room is the first of it’s kind on campus and opened its doors Nov. 28.

The center is named in honor of Montgomery Dickson, a 2009 UAA graduate of Languages with an emphasis in Japanese. After graduating, Dickson went to Japan and taught English. Dickson lost his life in March of 2011 after a fatal tsunami destroyed the Northeast Coast of Japan. UAA fulfills Dickson’s passion for Japanese culture by creating a place where students and community members can learn and appreciate Japanese culture, right here in Alaska.

“This is very special, to commemorate Montgomery Dickson who died in the Tsunami. He loved Japanese culture, he cherished Japanese culture dearly. That was his dream, to create a bridge from Alaska to Japan,” Hiroko Harada, professor and coordinator of the Japanese program, said.

The tea ceremony room is the brainchild of Harada, who has been working on the making the room a reality for over 18 years. With funding provided by the Rasmuson Foundation, Harada was able to accomplish her and Dickson’s dream of bringing a center of Japanese culture to UAA.

“It’s not only a tea room it’s a culture room, so we can have flower arrangements and zen sitting, meditation,” Harada said.

Before the tea ceremony room was created, students enrolled in the tea ceremony class were using a typical classroom to practice the art of Japanese tea ceremony. In comparison, the new tea room has an elevated platform area with eight full-size tatami mats from Japan. These create a more authentic tea ceremony atmosphere.

“The benefits of having a tea ceremony room is that it fosters better connection and deeper understanding of Japanese culture by creating authentic hands-on experiences for the University students. They learn the proper movements, manners and etiquette of Japanese tea ceremony which allows them to learn the key elements which are harmony respect, purity and tranquility,” Yuki Moore, UAA Japanese professor said. “The students are able to apply these tea philosophies to their daily lives and to share and promote these experiences with the public through the tea ceremony events.”

Tess Calvin, a UAA medical laboratory science student, has taken tea ceremony class three times.

“When I first started I could barely speak Japanese, it was my freshman year and I didn’t really have a lot of friends at UAA yet, but the Japanese community has actually been my main community at UAA despite it not being my major,” Calvin said. “The first year it was just a classroom, it still had blackboards and desks in the way, but Moore sensei had a few tatami mats and brought her tea utensils and we just did our best, but now it really looks like a tea room, it’s got that wabi-sabi feel going, wabi-sabi is like a Zen Buddhist appreciation for rustic/simplistic beauty.”

Going from blackboards and desks to a legitimate tea ceremony set-up has given Calvin the opportunity to learn about tea ceremony in a more authentic way.

“It definitely makes it easier to learn, I think. Tea ceremony is really precise in some ways. There’s certain ways you walk in, the tatami mats have to be pointing the correct way, you place the bowls and utensils in certain spots. Before, we did what we could, but now we can actually do things more like they’re supposed to be,” Calvin said.

The tea ceremony room will be used as part of the Japanese program. In addition to the tea ceremony class, the room will also be used for other Japanese cultural events at UAA and in the community.

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