Friday, March 21, 2008

Little Japan in Freetown

On Wednesday we were invited to a Japanese tea ceremony by Kuge san, the head of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Sierra Leone. His mum is visiting him from Japan and very kindly held a tea ceremony for his friends and colleagues. Kuge san's mother has been a master of tea ceremonies for thirty years. This is an art which requires many years of training - there are so many rules in tea ceremony, not only for the master but also for the guests, for example when and how to hold the cup, and where to place the cup and sweets on the table, what to say and so on.

The whole thing from start to finish took around an hour. The actual drinking of the tea took around five minutes - the rest of the time was spent on the preparation and closing of the ceremony. It was really lovely. One thing that struck me when I looked around at Sierra Leonean colleagues was that that this whole thing must seem totally bizarre to them. When 70% of the population live under the poverty line and struggle daily to get food on the table, this way of spending time must appear to be completely bonkers to them - which is understandable.

Another thing I noticed was the amazing attention to detail during the tea ceremony. This is something that blows me away every time I go to Japan - in terms of presentation of food and subtlety of flavors, the absolute focus on the integrity of ingredients and impeccable service. We were just reading the newsweek magazine article about Tokyo now being the new food capital of the world - as if we didn't know that already!

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