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Strengthening Bonds: Creighton event highlights friendship between Japan and U.S.

The floor of the Ahmanson Ballroom in Creighton University’s Harper Center on Thursday afternoon became the site of a centuries-old ceremony helping to highlight a two-day celebration of the friendship and cultural exchange enjoyed between the United States and Japan.

The tea ceremony, a solemn and serene ritual that came to Japan from China more than 800 years ago, was observed by nearly 40 people as part of Japan 360, an event culminating with a lecture delivered by Koichi Hamada, PhD, an internationally renowned Japanese economist and one of the leading architects of Japan’s present economic infrastructure. Along with demonstrations of sushi making, music, dance, ikebana floral arrangement and martial arts, and a panel discussion on economics, the two days were a hit for Creighton faculty, staff, students and members of the larger Omaha community.

The events were sponsored by Creighton’s Asian World Center, the Heider College of Business, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Institute for Economic Inquiry, the School of Law, the Anna and Donald Waite Endowed Chair, the McGrath North Endowed Chair and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“It’s nice to be able to have an event that highlights Japanese culture and we to spend some time talking and appreciating a different encounter like the tea ceremony,” said Emiko Unno, BA’75, an instructor of Japanese in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures.

In Thursday’s tea ceremony, Unno assisted tea master Yukiko Shimono of Hiroshima, Japan, as she performed the exacting, deliberate movements involved. Unno explained how each gesture and motion in the ceremony, each utensil and bowl has meaning.

“It is a quiet, beautiful ceremony,” Unno said. “It’s not just the tea, it’s the mindfulness, the preparation involved.”

Before demonstrating the ceremony, Unno and Shimono asked for volunteers to participate. Isaac Ortega, resident director at Kiewit Hall, and Elaine Wells, of Omaha and a one-time adjunct faculty member in the Department of Psychology, stepped forward.

Right down to the manner and proper foot used to step into the space where the ceremony unfolded, Ortega and Wells were off on an odyssey.

“I was honored to be a part of it and grateful for their patience with me,” Ortega said. “It was definitely an interesting experience and one that’s central to Japanese culture. And the sweets weren’t bad either.”

Each tea ceremony begins with a small morsel called wagashi that participants are invited to eat. Then commences a series of moves by the tea master and the participants, culminating in the preparation, serving and enjoyment of the powdery green matcha tea around which the ceremony is built.

As Unno stated, the ceremony is quiet and beautiful. It’s also painstaking in its precision, something Wells, who has visited Japan and knows the tea master Shimono, said was refreshing.

“It was powerful and so emblematic of the precision and perfectionism you see in Japan,” Wells said. “Americans, we wouldn’t do this. We gobble everything down, we keep the conversation going. It was nice to stop, take a few moments and really think about what’s happening.”

More than 200 people also turned out for Thursday evening’s lecture with Hamada, a talk focused on growth in the global economy and the sustained economic relationship between the U.S. and Japan. More than 500 people took part in all event programming.

“This was a wonderful demonstration of Creighton’s global reach,” said Maorong Jiang, PhD, professor of political science and director of the Asian World Center, who organized the event. “We were honored to host Professor Hamada and also the many people from Japan and around Omaha who came to celebrate the friendship between the U.S. and Japan. Talking with delegates from the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago, they were delighted at this event and said they plan to use it as a model for future cultural exchanges between American and Japanese people.”

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