Thursday, July 28, 2011

Japanese Tea Ceremony on the USS Arizona Memorial

Here is a story that left me thinking. 

Symbolizing how far the two countries have come, U.S. organizers hosted an ancient and ritualistic Japanese tea ceremony steeped in tradition at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. Organizers hoped the ritual will promote world peace and reconciliation between the U.S. and Japan, which were enemies but have been strong allies for more than 50 years. The purpose of the ceremony was to encourage contemplation, reflection and respect for others. The Tea Ceremonies have always been considered events of peace: samurai in medieval Japanese times would remove their swords and place them outside before entering a tea room (one of the very few times a samurai would leave his weapons).

I had the privilege of attending a Tea Ceremony many years ago. It is a beautiful, highly choreographed and ritualized event. I remember coming away from it with a sense of admiration and respect for this ancient ceremony. Holding this in the name of peace and as a symbol of renewed unity between Japan and the United States was a very good idea.

That said, I have to question the wisdom of holding it at that particular site. You have to remember that the USS Arizona is a battleship which was blown up and sunk during a sneak attack by Japanese planes -and taking over a thousand sailors and marines down with her. Those men are still entombed in the ship which rests just under the waves directly below the Memorial. Regardless if the symbolism and the intention to promote peace and reconciliation, I can not help but think that those sailors and marines, killed without warning that Sunday morning in 1941, whose final resting place was used for the ceremony, would not have approved.

If the ceremony had been held at the Memorial Center (just across the bay) or on the USS Missouri (a battleship on which the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II, now permanently moored next to the USS Arizona) I doubt if would have had any objections. In fact I would probably have thought this was a “nice thing to do”. But, holding it on the Memorial itself, a gleaming white, open-air memorial sitting on top of the Arizona's sunken hull, which still holds the bodies of more than 900 of the 1,177 men who died on the battleship (in all, some 2,400 Sailors, Marines and Soldiers were killed in the attack), no, I am sorry, I find that just too disrespectful of those who died so suddenly and without warning.

I can not help but draw a comparison between holding this ceremony on the Memorial and the building of a Mosque at the site of the World Trade Center in New York. In both cases there is no question about the right to do it –but having the right simply does not make it the right thing to do. Building the Mosque just a few blocks further away would show respect for those who died that morning of September 11th, 2001, and holding the Tea Ceremony anywhere except on the Memorial itself would have shown respect for those who died the morning of December 7th, 1941. In fact, holding it just a few yards away, on the USS Missouri, where the surrender ceremony ending the war took place, would probably have been a far better choice to promote peace and unity.

Live Long and Prosper.....

No comments: