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.