Cultures meet over 'green' cup of tea

Descanso Gardens in La Cañada played host to a cultural exchange of East and West Monday as a Japanese Non-Profit Organization, Forever Green Japan, filmed Angeleno high school students performing the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

The nine students, comprised of the advanced placement Japanese Language class at Campbell Hall School in North Hollywood, were instructed by tea master Irene Shiina in the different components of the ceremony.

Kei Watanabe, director of Forever Green Japan, said the underlying theme of the organization is combating global warming and raising awareness of environmental sustainability issues through traditional Japanese culture.

“We look at what can we learn from the past, the old culture,” said Watanabe. “[The students] learn from what is the better idea for the future.”

Watanabe said that they had chosen Descanso Gardens for the shoot because the natural beauty of the location indicated to him that, “We share the same thinking, based off how they crafted the environment.”

Watanabe’s younger brother, Taku Watanabe, said that after living in Los Angeles for the last five years he got involved in Forever Green Japan a year ago. Taku Watanabe said that while it was essential to learn from the tea ceremony, a tradition that stretches back centuries to before global warming was a problem, he liked to incorporate new elements as well.

“I don’t like to just follow the old knowledge, but to combine it with new knowledge and make something new, which is why we have guitar [music],” said Taku Watanabe.

Watanabe said that the ceremony filmed in La Cañada will be sent to two high schools in Japan — in Tokyo and Yamanashi — to foster discussion and learning between the students in the two nations. If this video meets with a positive reception in Japan, Watanabe said that he will take his program to the government to request additional funding and expand its scope and reach.

Through the Japan Foundation, which also helped provide funding, Watanabe was put in touch with Yuriko Sakamoto, who teaches Japanese to around 60 to 70 teens at Campbell Hall.

Sakamoto said that she was glad for the opportunity to teach her students global environmental issues through a piece of Japanese culture. She said her students were excited, but nervous because they didn’t want to disappoint Watanabe or herself.

“They’re thoughtful, caring, students, who want to enjoy the moment, you never find students this sweet,” said Sakamoto.

Frances Freedman and Jessica Min, both 17 and seniors at Campbell Hall, said they were thankful for the unique opportunity, if a little nervous.

“Well, we practiced once before and I kept forgetting things,” Freedman said before the filming began. “I don’t want to mess up.”.

Min said the pair had observed a tea ceremony while visiting Japan last summer, and were excited to participate in one back in Los Angeles.

“Performing in a tea ceremony is definitely a unique moment,” said Min.

Joel Roberts, who was filming the ceremony, said that he got involved through his friendship with Sakamoto. Roberts, like all of the participants, said that he thought Descanso Gardens was a great fit for the shoot.

“It’s a beautiful location,” said Robert. “I’m pretty excited, I’ve always wanted to come here.”


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