Students can capture a Japanese experience minutes away from their American lifestyles on campus. The recent earthquake in Japan has brought more attention to the Japan House located at the University of Illinois. Visitors can authentically drink matcha green tea attending one of the popular tea ceremonies. Students can take courses on Japanese culture, art, the history and aesthetics of Zen, oriental floral arrangements and Chado, the way of tea. It's a place of calm and quiet, an escape from the busyness of campus life.
"People like coming here because it's very peaceful," said employee Lindsey Stirek. "It honors the peaceful aspects of Japan. It's just a very beautiful place."
Stirek is a teacher's assistant for one for one of the classes offered in the small building. In addition to academic courses, it offers lectures and community outreach programs.
"We offer culture enrichment seminars on the variety of topics once a month," said Stirek.
Recently the House hosted an international musical group as well as a representative from Sony.
"It was really educational and interesting," she said.
The biggest attraction is the tea ceremony. It's offered on Thursday afternoons throughout the year.
"The tea ceremonies are very unique. They are different than what many visitors are used to," said Nancy Probst, secretary of the Japan House.
Stirek agrees, "They are definitely the most popular thing we offer."
The traditional ceremony involves the important components of tea. It is one of the most honored traditions of Japanese art encompassing the aesthetics, philosophy and forms in the ceremony. The 400-year old tradition was started by Sen Rikyu, the greatest master of tea. The four ideals of the Way of Tea include harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. Visitors receive a bowl of matcha powder tea with respect, honor and sincerity.
"It's the whole art form of the tea ceremony that is something different for people to learn about," said Probst.
The facility isn't just known to locals. People from across the country visit the Japan House, attracting all kinds of folks.
"It's open to the public for all to enjoy. Not just Japanese students come here. We have students from kindergarten through college," said Probst. "Seniors and different community groups visit, too."
Many of the visitors aren't Japanese either.
"It's a place where someone can come and practice Japanese culture whether they are Japanese or not. It's pretty balanced between students and community members, but they come from all over," said Stirek.
The authentic Japanese garden is also an important aspect on the site. It's created to establish peace and quietness while honoring nature.
"Here we want to offer a place for meditation. It's not necessarily relaxation, it's more for an inner reflection, offering time for self reflection," said Stirek.
Probst mentioned that the garden honors all of the elements of a traditional Japanese garden, while also working with harsh Illinois winters.
The rocks are raked, the inner garden is shaded with a leafy area, the outer garden is distinctly different than the inner garden and overall, it truly is peaceful and calm.
Visitors seek this peace away from their everyday lives. The recent earthquake in Japan gave the House an opportunity to reach out.
"We set up a donation with a Japanese foundation so people can give a donation to the Japan Relief Fund. It's been very successful so far," said Probst.
The director of the House has family in Japan, but none were affected. Recently there was a tea dedication to honor the victims and contribute to the donation foundation. Overall, the Japan House is a truly authentic experience honoring traditional art in culture in the middle of soybean fields.