Cultural Collections

Tea: The Global Infusion

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Opening Speech by Mr Shisei Kaku, Consul-General of Japan in Melbourne

Tuesday 20 March 2007 18:30 pm
Baillieu Library, Melbourne University

Chancellor Ian Renard, Professor David Holm, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
Good evening.

It is my pleasure to be in attendance tonight to welcome you to the opening night of 'Tea: the Global Infusion' exhibition. As a lover of Tea and considering my Japanese heritage and the long history of tea in Japan, the exhibition holds great interest for me.

I would like to congratulate Michael Piggott and his team of curators in Tracey Caulfield, Pam Pryde, Andrea Hurt, Morfia Grondas for their laborious efforts involved in consolidating the pieces on display from such an obviously large content pool which from what I hear was a real team effort.

I would also like to thank all presenters and participants alike in making today's earlier symposium a most lively and interesting event. My sincere gratitude must also go to the Melbourne Urasenke Foundation and Scott Rogers for their most informative demonstration of the renowned Japanese Tea Ceremony.

I believe the pieces contained in the exhibition have been drawn from approximately 10 different collections owned by the University such as the Rare Medical Books Collection and the Cultural Collection and this highlights the degree to which tea has spread across many facets of our lives. From speaking with the curators I have learned that one of the exhibition's aims was indeed to highlight this fact.

On a recent trip to Japan I had the occasion to visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs library and came across a short story titled 'The Tradition of the Tea-Plant' by Lafcadio Hearn. Lafcadio Hearn was a writer of Anglo-Irish/Greek heritage and was highly successful in explaining Japanese culture to the West at the turn of the century about 100 years ago. As I was greatly impressed by the story, I would like to share with you the final passage.

A Buddhist monk from India was on a pilgrimage to China with his firm resolve to be a faithful follower of the teaching of Gotama and to not be tempted by worldly things which may have caught his eye. However, one day he glimpsed the beautiful face of a woman when he was offered food. His inner struggle thus began. He prayed, recited holy verses, but the vision of the woman would not leave him.

One night he was haunted by the illusion of the woman who came to him in his dream.

'Their lips touched; her kiss seemed to change the cells of his blood to flame. For a moment Illusion triumphed; Mara prevailed! ... With a shock of resolve the dreamer awoke in the night - under the stars of the Chinese sky.'

Humiliated, penitent, but resolved, he took his knife and severed the eyelids from his eyes and flung them from him.

'O Thou Perfectly Awakened!' he prayed, 'thy disciple hath not been overcome save through the feebleness of the body; and his vow hath been renewed.' With that he resumed his meditation.

Dawn blushed. Mara had tempted in vain. He arose in the morning glow. In amazement he found that he could see with his own eyes as if nothing had happened. Then there where he had cast his eyelids he saw two wondrous shrubs growing with dainty eyelid-shaped leaflets, and snowy buds just opening to the East. He named it 'TE'. Allow me to quote what he said to the creation.

'Blessed be thou, sweet plant, beneficent, life giving, formed by the spirit of virtuous resolve! The fame of thee shall spread unto the ends of the earth. Verily, for all time to come men who drink of thy sap shall find such refreshment that weariness may not overcome them nor languor seize upon them; neither shall they know the confusion of drowsiness, nor any desire for slumber in the hour of duty or of prayer. Blessed be thou!'

Again I would like to offer my congratulations to all concerned in the successful realisation of this exhibition and would now like to declare 'Tea: The Global Infusion' officially open.

Thank you.

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