“Akaiwa next reviews the contents of his fanny pack: green tea, water, a flashlight, camouflage work gloves, a Swiss Army-style knife and a change of clothes.”
– “For one survivor, self-help is the only course,” Los Angeles Times, March 17, 2011
In the aftermath of Japan’s devastating earthquake and ensuing tsunami, the coping skills of the residents of northern Japan are being tested. For those lucky enough to have emerged unscathed physically from the tragic events of March 11, there is still emotional trauma to deal with – lost or killed loved ones, destroyed homes, and razed livelihoods. The threat of a meltdown at the Fukushima Dailichi nuclear plant and continuing aftershocks of significant magnitude – not to mention a lack of food, water, and basic supplies – combine to create enormous stress. The Japanese, though, are a resilient people – think Hiroshima – and, as in many tea-drinking cultures around the world, they know the healing power of tea.
That green tea is one of just a few essentials Hideaki Akaiwa of Ishinomaki, Japan chose to include in his emergency kit – his ever-present fanny pack – speaks volumes. Tea is comfort food. Tea is that most remarkable of beverages that keeps us both alert and calm – just what is needed in a time of crisis. In an article from 2000 in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society – Hong Kong Branch, Solomon Bard says of tea in British society:
“It became a panacea for a multitude of ills and support in difficult times. Confronted by an emergency, tea was the immediate remedy. The Army made its own particular brand of strong sweet tea. ‘Let’s have a brew’ was a great encouraging cry during a lull in fighting. Some would go as far as to assert that it helped the people of Britain to endure the blitz during the Second World War.”
This past Sunday marked the spring equinox – a time of new beginnings. The beautiful Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge, California welcomed the new season with a cherry blossom festival that paid tribute to the Japanese and one of their most enduring traditions, the tea ceremony. A long meandering line of visitors waited patiently under overcast skies for the privilege of viewing the gardens’ many cherry trees in full bloom and experiencing a Japanese tea ceremony first hand. Sadly, experiencing a Japanese tea ceremony would have to wait for another day – only a limited number of spots were available and they had all been taken hours before. The beauty of the gardens, though, more than made up for this disappointment. Besides the cherry trees, there were the lilacs, dripping with white and purple blossoms that released an intoxicating perfume. Fields of tulips and daffodils harkened the arrival of spring, while a slight chill in the air reminded visitors that winter was not quite ready to release its hold.
It was an afternoon to admire and appreciate nature’s magnificence and grace in the wake of being reminded of her fury. Although there was no tea to be had at the gardens, the kettle is ever ready at home and a stress-relieving cup is only minutes away.
If you would like to help those affected by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, a couple of our contributors’ companies have launched campaigns to help you do so: