SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The trees have grown tall and the chartreuse-colored moss has filled in between the stepping stones of the Sokiku Nakatani Tea Room and Garden at California State University, Sacramento.
The landscaping lends to the serenity of the calm oasis amid the campus bustle of students rushing to their next class.
Hidden in the lower level of the library, the tea room and garden provide a place for meditation or a quiet spot for a few deep breaths of tranquility.
Created more than six years ago, the tea room and garden is one of only a few found on a U.S. college campus.
“The Sokiku Nakatani Tea Room and Garden are jewels on the Sacramento State campus,” said Tim Fong, professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies, CSUS. “It is without doubt the best tea room on any university campus, and is arguably the best demonstration tea room in the U.S.”
CSUS students are the chief beneficiaries of the cultural center, but the community also gains from the accessible site.
“Our main goal is to service the professors and students,” said Sally Hitchcock, coordinator for community outreach for the library. “My main goal is to introduce it to enough professors so they can integrate it into their programs.”
Asian studies, literature, philosophy, anthropology, history, education and design arts classes are some of those which have visited the tea room and garden, Hitchcock said. One instructor brought a ceramic class to the tea room, which houses items from the Sokiku Nakatani Collection. Tea bowls were inspected carefully as the students’ first project was to create a tea bowl, Hitchcock said.
But the generous gift from an anonymous donor is also shared with the community. Local high school and elementary classes have watched demonstrations in the tea room. And various groups and individuals make appointments to visit.
“We like retirement groups, church groups, AAUW (American Association of University Women), interested individuals,” Hitchcock said. It’s a place to “drop the dust of the world, get rid of your stress, to enjoy ordinary moments of life.”
During a recent demonstration of a traditional ceremony, kimono-clad students of the Urasenke Foundation of San Francisco performed the ritual on an eight-tatami raised platform. Guests saw the garden to the side as the ceremony unfolded.
Chado — the way of tea — is a Japanese practice of preparing, making and drinking matcha, a powdered form of green tea. The deliberate steps used to create the centuries-old experience are designed to help develop the ideals of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. Students of tea learn to appreciate the beauty of humble, common actions.
During the hour and 15 minute long demonstration, one Urasenke student explained the kanji written on a scroll hung in the tokonoma, a raised alcove, and asked guests to meditate on its meaning. Another poured hot water into a century-old container. A quiet, serene and respectful atmosphere filled the room. Each step was explained so that a first-time viewer could understand what was taking place.
In a methodical process, the students cleansed the tea bowls, measured the green powder with a bamboo tea scoop and added hot water, then whisked the tea in each bowl before it was served. Each bowl was made individually.
Later, several volunteers were chosen to participate in the demonstration. After each of the volunteers finished his or her tea, other guests were invited to enjoy a bowl of tea and a sweet cracker.
“I like tea ceremony,” said Yumiko Osaki, a Sacramento resident and recent CSUS tea room visitor. “It can make the heart settle down. I think that the operation, the movement, and behavior performed in the tea ceremony are great.”
Osaki, who has studied the tea ceremony in her native Japan, said, “The CSUS tea ceremony was marvelous! The tea room was good. (The) structure of the yard was also wonderful and explanation was also intelligible. I was impressed.”
The CSUS Tea Room and Garden was funded by an anonymous donor and named to honor Sokiku Nakatani, a dedicated student of chado and long-time Sacramento and Los Angeles resident. She was born in Hiroshima and immigrated to California at age 17. After marrying Kinjiro, the couple farmed in the Elk Grove/Florin area before being incarcerated in the Tule Lake Segregation Center and Minidoka concentration camp during World War II.
It was after the war that Mrs. Nakatani (1903-1990) began her long-time formal practice of chado in Los Angeles. Although the study of chado is never completed, she earned numerous licenses from Uransenke Headquarters in Japan.
The tea room was designed by local architect Ed Kado and is located on the lower level of the University Library. Visitors are welcome to tour the site by reservation or can sign up for a demonstration. Seating is available for 40 guests.
Upcoming demonstrations by the Urasenke Foundation of San Francisco are scheduled for:
Wednesday, April 10 at 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 11 at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Tea ceremonies last approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.
For reservations or questions, call Sally Hitchcock at (916) 278-5954.