To foster cross-cultural exchange and understanding, an architect and a gallery owner constructed a portable tea room for an event at the UN General Assembly building in New York, New York.
“Peace is . . .” is a project organized by the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations that highlights peace and togetherness through a series of events focusing on culture and art that are scheduled periodically throughout the year. Hajime (Jimmy) Kishimori of the Permanent Mission invited me to be one of the organizers and producers of the seventh event in the series, titled “Peace is . . . Coexistence,” held at the UN General Assembly building. Kishimori recognized Ippodo Gallery’s activities as a cultural bridge between Japan and the US through the innovation and introduction of traditional Japanese art and craftsmanship.
When Kishimori extended the offer to be a part of the “Peace is . . .” project, I wanted my interpretation to reflect the meaning of coexistence. As a Japanese woman and the owner of Ippodo Gallery, I have known and worked with Kuniji Tsubaki, an architect of traditional Japanese authentic tea houses, for a while now. When Tsubaki designed and produced ZEN-An, a portable tearoom in a suitcase, in August 2017, the gallery quickly became a distributor. Zen-An refers to the ability to meditate and experience Zen through the tea ceremony in a limited space. Tsubaki says, “I would like to convey our Japanese culture and authentic craftsmanship globally through the Zen-An.” By incorporating a tea ceremony housed in the Zen-An portable tea house with audience participation at the “Peace is . . . Coexistence” event, I hoped to synthesize coexistence and innovation.
1–4 Architect Kuniji Tsubaki constructing the Zen-An tea room at the UN General Assembly building in New York, New York. The structure is stored in a suitcase, uses traditional Japanese joinery techniques, and takes 15 minutes to set up. Photos: Tokio Kuniyoshi.
I admire the UN for its ability to connect people and ideals across nations, and, above all, for the work it does for the chance to have universal peace. Working with ZEN-An, I, too, hoped to convey the power of coexistence. By entering a world removed from the pains of poverty and war, no matter how small, together we can aspire to find common ground. As Tsubaki states, “I believe the tea room symbolizes Japanese culture, and I want people to experience this peaceful space.”
As a gallery owner, I am always witnessing the power of art. Beauty is a life force and can provide a bridge between diverse cultures and different values. The history of the tea ceremony and its lineage has always been a source of pride. As early as the 16th century, samurai warriors were obliged to leave their swords outside the tea house, focusing instead on the meditative reflections associated with the ceremony, sharing a bowl of tea in peace and equality in the same space and time.
It is my ongoing wish to share this experience around the world. Here in New York, I have been blessed to find curious, respectful people from all cultures to share in this serenity with Tsubaki and myself through ZEN-An, as well as to cultivate an appreciation of tea ceremony wares lovingly crafted by Japanese artists.
Peace is . . . Coexistence Tea Ceremony
Tsubaki assembled the ZEN-An tea house in front of the audience while the orchestra and singer Mai Fujisawa performed. It created a certain harmony and meditative environment. It takes 15 minutes to set up the Zen-An, the same length of time it takes to burn a stick of incense.
The samurai performer entered the tea house and demonstrated the symbolic ritual of leaving the sword outside.
We chose about ten ceramic artists’ teabowls for the event (Noriyuki Furutani, Ryoji Koie, Kohei Nakamura, Akio Niisato, Nobuo Nishida, Mokichi Otsuka, Ruri Takeuchi, Kai Tsujimura, Shiro Tsujimura, and Yui Tsujimura). The participants really enjoyed the authentic teabowls and quality of ceramic work. One said that through the teabowl she felt omotenashi, which means to wholeheartedly look after guests, and is the heart of Japanese culture.
Speakers explained the process and symbolism to the participants. Rona Tison of ITO EN Green Tea Products demonstrated the method for making the teas. The audience was led through making two traditional Japanese teas, whisking matcha and brewing sencha. After the demonstration, the audience took part in learning to make the tea.
With 250 people in attendance at this event, there were many thoughts and responses on how coexistence was showcased. Many felt it was a tranquil, elegant, and special experience. One person felt that it was “impressive to have music as a way to showcase peace and unity, along with the tea, as well.” Attendees also shared that they felt that Japanese culture was tied into the craftsmanship and traditions flawlessly. This tranquility is something every soul could use.
I have been blessed to remain committed to respecting serenity through the forms of Japanese craftsmanship. The ZEN-An tea room, the calligraphy on the tea room’s hanging scrolls displaying the characters for the word coexistence, and the teabowls used in the tea ceremony and by the audience express contemporary awareness through the innovation of traditional Japanese arts.
the author Shoko Aono is a Japanese artist and art dealer in New York. She is also the owner of the Ippodo Gallery. To learn more, visit https://ippodogallery.com.