Grand Master

He spent the last months of the war

training as a Kamikaze

pilot. When others set out on

their fatal mission, he would make

their final cup of frothed green tea


in the time-honoured ceremony

learnt from his father. Then they’d fly

into his memory, and the dark.

Afterwards, despite the guilt

of not being one of those to die


hoping to meet at Yasukuni,

he went instead home to Kyoto

to hone his art, and even teach

Americans the time-consuming

ritual of a former foe.


He’s in Shanghai this week, while I

savour the ancient, bitter taste

and though my aching knees complain 

his way can’t be my way, I feel

an unexpected sense of waste 


that it’s taken me so many years

to come to Urasenke where

there is no meaning other than

awareness we can pause the world

we divvy up but should still dare


to dream that we might one day share.



SEN Genshitsu (or Daisosho, as he is now called, signifying his previous status as the 15th Grand Master of the Urasenke tea ceremony school in Kyoto), now in his 90s, trained as a Kamikaze pilot in the closing stages of World War II, but was not sent on a mission. When he went home after the war he was at first disconcerted when his father served tea to soldiers from the occupying US Army. But he then decided to carry the spirit of the tea ceremony to people the world over, including in 2011 at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbour, with the goal of ‘Peacefulness through a Bowl of Tea’.


During the war, Japanese soldiers often promised one another to ‘meet again at Yasukuni’ before going to their deaths. This Shinto Shrine in Tokyo is however controversial because among those it honours are some judged as war criminals by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East held under the auspices of the Allied Powers between 1946 and 1948.

Published in Poetry Salzburg Review No 34, Summer 2019