On a perfectly sunny day in April, members of Arcadia University’s ASIA Club led fellow students on an excursion to the Shofuso House and Garden, a traditional Japanese dwelling in Philadelphia. The setting was so calm and serene that the day’s worries seemed to melt away. But as refreshing and breathtaking as the wood and paper structure proved to be, nothing could have prepared newcomers for the pristine rock garden and pond—home to a number of colorful Kai fish.
While exploring the property's elegant spaces, students were treated to an impromptu tea ceremony. Sarah Gdula, an instructor at Shofuso House with an interest in preserving traditional Japanese culture and values, led the ritual. “A lot of people, even Japanese people, are kind of losing touch with the traditional things,” she said. “We need to educate everyone because people are moving ahead and losing touch with all these just simple aesthetics.”
Brian White, another instructor, spoke about the connection between traditional Japanese architecture and nature. “Japanese architecture especially from this period really prioritizes the interaction between the man-made and the natural,” he said. “It’s meant to have the house kind of flow into its environment and as a way to make people feel like they are a part of nature and a part of their surroundings.”
Talal Butt ’13, who went on last year’s trip to the tea house, was impressed by the simplicity and beauty of the structure and wants to return again. “There will only be a few chances that I will get of going to an authentic Japanese house and experiencing a tea ceremony like this. Every time I come here, there are new things I get to see and get to learn from this tea house and if I do get a chance I will hopefully come back again next year,” he said.
The trip, which Jessica Akbar ’12, vice president of the ASIA club, helped organize, is an example of how the student group promotes Asian culture. Last year, the Shofuso tea house excursion fit perfectly with the club’s fundraiser to aid Japan after the devastating tsunami. After the success of the trip, Akbar wanted to make the outing an annual tradition permanently associated with the ASIA club. “The place itself is unique. Everything is very Asian-like and there is nothing Americanized, so it gives students a real version of another Asian country,” she said.
The students agreed that the experience was fantastic—a great example of how global experiences can be had locally. As the instructor White stated, “I think that it’s really just kind of a way to step outside of what you’re use to and into something a little more extraordinary.”