Picture of tea ceremony set of dishes and utensils and woman's hands resting on laps.

As conflicts roil nations, a pause for tea gives peace a chance

The notion of ‘tea diplomacy’ is centuries old. Today, a global organization convenes tea ceremonies to promote peace and help bridge cultural and political divides.

“The core spirit of Japanese tea culture is harmony,” says Akiko Kawai. She founded the global group Sakura Cha Meet to convene tea ceremonies that encourage political bridgebuilding.
PHOTOGRAPH BY REBECCA HALE

This story appears in the April 2021 issue of National Geographic magazine.

When Akiko Kawai returned to Japan after studying political management in Washington, D.C., she was convinced that the harsh realm of campaigning and lobbying could learn from the world of tea. “The core spirit of Japanese tea culture is harmony,” Kawai says. In 2017 she founded Sakura Cha Meet, a global NGO specializing in “tea diplomacy,” a concept dating back 400 years that aims to bridge political and cultural divides by the act of sharing a cup of tea. Since then, she’s hosted ceremonies from Texas to Israel—and online, to accommodate social distancing in the time of COVID-19.

A container that holds cold water.

Mizusashi (水指、水サシ、水差)

A container that holds cold water.

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