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