POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 18, 2011
For the first time, one of the most traditional and symbolic of Japan's rituals, the tea ceremony, is due to be performed at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.
The event this week is being planned to honor Americans who died when Japan attacked Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941. Organizers hope it will serve as a gesture of reconciliation between two nations that once fought fiercely but are now close allies.
Genshitsu Sen, the 88-year-old grand tea master of the Urasenke School of Tea — the largest of the three schools of Japanese tea ceremony — is due to perform the ancient rite Tuesday morning within the white structure that sits above the sunken battleship.
Two Pearl Harbor survivors are expected to participate, along with the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. Patrick Walsh. Yoshihiko Kamo, the Japanese consul general in Honolulu, is also due to attend.
"This goes a long way, I think, in reminding people that that terrible war is over and these two countries have been at peace and allies for the last 65 years," said Daniel Martinez, the National Park Service's chief historian for the memorial. "What you're seeing is two nations that have come full circle."
During a Japanese tea ceremony, the person performing the ritual carefully mixes hot water with green tea in a ceramic bowl and offers the drink to the assembled guests. The bowls, lacquer tea containers, wooden spoons and other implements used to prepare the tea are often selected to represent the seasons — spring, summer, autumn and winter.
Sen, who served in the Japanese naval air force during World War II, is the 15th generation of his family to lead Urasenke, which dates to the 1600s.
The impetus for Tuesday's event is the 60th anniversary of the Urasenke School's Hawaii chapter. Jean Ariyoshi, the wife of former Gov. George Ariyoshi, came up with the idea of having it at the Arizona Memorial.
Martinez said the ceremony is akin to other examples of U.S.-Japanese reconciliation, including when the U.S. ambassador to Japan attended an annual ceremony last year remembering the bombing of Hiroshima.
Martinez said the park service, which runs the memorial and the Pearl Harbor visitor center, has been contacting survivors of the attack to explain what is taking place.
"We know this matters to them. After all, it's their history of that time period, and we are very, very careful in making sure that they are briefed and informed of the activity," Martinez said.
Some veterans of the war have been able to forgive the attack, but others have not, Martinez said, adding that it is important to understand both perspectives.
Sen lived in Hawaii in 1952, when he lectured at and took courses at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He has performed tea ceremonies for former first lady Laura Bush, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, among others.