WASHINGTON, D.C. — In Congress, an unanswered question has been who’ll take up the mantle of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye. But beyond the issue of bringing home federal dollars for Hawaii, there was an example Tuesday of a more poetic aspect of what Inouye brought to the U.S. Capitol.
In a simple tea ceremony, there too was an indication of the persistance of Inouye’s memory in Congress.
In the grand, white-marbled columned Kennedy Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Building, Genshitsu Sen, the 15th generation Grand Tea Master of Japan, silently and deliberately prepared two cups of tea. One to commemorate peace and the relationship between the United States and Japan. The other was in memory of Inouye.
Sen, in a simple black kimono, knelt over a small table. With practiced, deliberate and precise motions that have been refined over centures, he painstakingly took a small cloth to wipe the inside of one cup, and then the outside of the cup.
He did the same with a second cup, wiped a spoon to purify it. As he did, senators in a committee room a couple of blocks away spoke about the impending threat of North Korea. Elsewhere, other senators were clashing about doing away with assault weapons after 26 elementary school students and teachers in Newtown, Conn. were gunned down.
But amid the din of national bickering and international crisis, there were a few moments of serenity as a roomful of dignitaries including Inouye’s widow watched in absolute silence as Sen went about the simple and centuries old craft of making tea. In the audience as well was the widow of former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and former Hawaii Gov. George Ariyoshi.
As silently as he prepared the tea, Sen stood and with precise steps, he carried a cup of the tea and then a second to a small table nearby where there was a framed photograph of a smiling Inouye. He placed the cups on the tables and he bowed deeply before Inouye’s photograph.
Courtesy of Sen. Mazie Hirono
Dr. Genshitsu Sen, the 15th generation Grand Tea Master of Japan in the Urasenke tradition, pays tribute to the late Sen. Inouye.
“There is a peace in a cup of tea,” even amid the world’s problems and politics, Japanese Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae observed after it was over.
The ceremony had been 14 months in the making since Inouye’s wife, Irene Hirano Inouye and former Hawaii First Lady, Jean Ariyoshi, had the idea of inviting Sen, who performs the ceremony worldwide to promote peace, to Washington, D.C.
When Inouye died last December, Sen. Mazie Hirono was asked to sponsor the ceremony. And while members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation each vow to take on a piece of Inouye’s work, for the moment, it was Hirono who took on the mantle of trying to promote peace through the simplicity of tea.
Irene Inouye said her husband had met Sen last year and was interested in him performing the ceremony. Her husband had always appreciated the tradition, she said.
At the ceremony, Hirono evoked Inouye, saying the friendship between Japan and the United States “has produced peace in the Asia-Pacific region, security and economic vitality … Sen. Inouye was committed to strengthening that relationship. May we all strive to bring about world peace.”
It was a moment as well for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who followed Inouye as the president pro tempore of the Senate, to remember Hawaii’s former senator. “I never knew a person who could speak so softly but be heard so loudly,” Leahy said.
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