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Re-discovering The Tea Ceremony

Tea Ceremonies Brewing up Good and Calming Business

Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 3, 2006
Michiko Hirai and Tetsuro Kyoya / Staff Writers

Companies and business leaders are turning to the tea ceremony for its calming effect and to entertain foreign guests as its simplicity and tranquillity are a good symbol of Japanese culture.

Matsushita Electric Works Ltd. has a tea ceremony room on the 24th floor of its building in Shiodome, Minato Ward, Tokyo, an area with many modern skyscrapers. The building and its tearoom were completed in 2003.

The main tea ceremony hall has a small room with a narrow gateway, called nijiri-guchi, and a hall in a Shoin (Buddhist priest’s study room) style, where tea ceremonies are held.

At sunset, the advantage of the tearoom’s location stands out best, with participants afforded an excellent night view of the city, including prominent office buildings and Tokyo Tower.

The company uses the room to entertain foreign guests, but it also is open to employees. Employees belonging to the company’s tea ceremony club learn from Soko Kojima, a teacher from the Urasenke School.

“Tea ceremony teaches basic manners and a sense of modesty that working adults must have,” Kojima said.

Sompo Japan Insurance Inc.’s building in Chuo Ward, Osaka, also has a 760-square-meter tearoom.

The predecessor of Sompo Japan, former Yasuda Fire & Marine Insurance Co. had connections with the Urasenke School.

The room is used to entertain guests and has a guidebook on tearooms and tea ceremony in English and Japanese.

Since the end of World War II, many prominent business leaders have found use in the tea ceremony. Yasuzaemon Matsunaga, who had great influence in the postwar realignment of the electric power industry; Kaichiro Nezu, who established the predecessor of the Tobu Railway group; and Ichizo Kobayashi, who created the Hankyu Toho group, were all tea ceremony masters.

There are many current company executives who also are fond of the tea ceremony. One of them is Obayashi Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Takeo Obayashi. In 1999, a tearoom was completed at the company’s Tokyo headquarters in Minato Ward. The 51-year-old executive sometimes makes tea by himself there.

Obayashi began studying the tea ceremony in order to learn more about Japanese architecture. “We can learn not only about Japanese architecture, but also many other things,” he said. In learning the tea ceremony, one must also learn about tea sets, pottery, scroll paintings and flower arrangements in the tokonoma alcove, and, of course, manners.

“Having a tea ceremony starts with writing invitations. The ceremony includes all the elements of entertaining people,” Obayashi said.

He seems to cultivate managerial balance by calming himself with tea ceremonies on busy days.

There also are foreign business leaders who are attracted by the tradition. Larry Ellison, an aficionado of Japanese culture and CEO of the U.S. software company Oracle Corp., has built a tearoom in his spacious house in California and is currently constructing a garden around the tearoom.

Tea ceremony masters entertain people, and the ceremony creates a moment and feeling that is different each time, which in turn appears to be a great asset in the business world.

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