Consuming Japaneseness in the Tea Room. Between the Ordinary and Extra-Ordinary
A Lecture by Prof. Kristin Surak, PhD. (University of London)
Nations are made real not only through concrete symbols, icons, and institutions, but also through lived experiences. The tea ceremony, tracing a picaresque history from Buddhist temples through high power politics to arrive in homes, and schools today, offers fertile ground for exploring the production and reproduction of nations at a phenomenological level though rituals of eating and drinking. This talk examines how cultural practices can become sites for sensing, enacting, and even embodying the nation through experiences that tread a border between the ordinary and extra-ordinary. A simultaneous familiarity and apartness enables an experience to take on significances — here, national resonances — beyond itself. To explore this process, this presentation takes up the tea ceremony as a practice that facilitates a concentrated experience of Japaneseness within Japan. It examines how the spaces, objects, and practices of the tea ceremony bear both similarities to, but yet are fundamentally different from, mundane counterparts in everyday life. The social ritual transforms the most elementary activities — standing, walking, drinking — into the “proper” or “correct” forms from which commonplace variants putatively derive. The tea ceremony can be interpreted and experienced as Japanese precisely because it is different — but not completely removed – from more mundane life. This disjuncture, as the tea ceremony transforms the ordinary into the extra-ordinary, demands an attentiveness that sustains what many practitioners call a “Japanese experience.”
Kristin Surak is Associate Professor of Japanese Politics at SOAS, University of London. She specializes in international migration, nationalism, culture, and political sociology. 2015 to 2016, she was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Her book Making Tea, Making Japan: Cultural Nationalism in Practice (Stanford University Press, 2013) received the Outstanding Book Award from the American Sociological Association’s Section on Asia. She has published in numerous academic and intellectual journals and received numerous awards and fellowships for her work. She comments regularly for the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera, and Radio France International. Before joining SOAS, she taught at UCLA and at the University of Duisburg-Essen. Currently, her research compares migration regimes and temporary migrant labor programs in East Asia and across the globe.
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