PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — Symbolizing how far the two countries have come, U.S. organizers on Tuesday hosted an ancient and ritualistic Japanese tea ceremony steeped in tradition at the watery grave of Pearl Harbor.
It was the first time the centuries-old art form emblematic of Japan was performed in the USS Arizona Memorial that sits on top of the battleship, which sank in the Japanese attack 70 years ago.
Organizers hoped the highly choreographed 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. Such ceremonies encourage contemplation, reflection and respect for others.
They are also events of peace: samurai in medieval Japanese times would remove their swords and place them outside before entering a tea room.
Urasenke School of Tea grand tea master Genshitsu Sen, who served in the Japanese naval air force during World War II, prepared two bowls of green tea — one each for Pearl Harbor war dead and world peace. He took the bowls to the memorial's shrine room, where the names of U.S. sailors and Marines are chiseled into the wall.
Sen placed the bowls on a wooden table and bowed deeply before the names in a sign of respect. He later said a prayer before the wall, with his hands held together.
It was a nod to both Japanese culture and the strong mutual respect between the two countries, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie said. The tea ritual for peace also came at a timely moment amid war and conflict around the world, he said.
"The United States and Japan may now share a strong mutual respect, but other people and countries are warring with as much enmity and mutual misunderstanding as we once experienced ourselves," the governor told guests.
Three survivors of the Japanese attack attended, along with Adm. Patrick Walsh, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and other dignitaries.
The gleaming white, open-air memorial sits 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 on Dec. 7, 1941.
Sen, 88, said he long wanted to offer a prayer for world peace at the memorial because it was where World War II began in the Pacific and where so many Americans died in the Japanese attack. He also wanted to make sure people remembered the events of Dec. 7.
"People are slowly forgetting that this happened here 70 years ago," Sen told reporters. "We shouldn't forget. It's an important duty for all of us to pass on what's in our hearts to our children and grandchildren so it's not forgotten."
Park service officials said they reached out to Pearl Harbor attack survivors before Tuesday to keep them informed. They acknowledged not all survivors have been able to forgive the attack, and some would have difficulty accepting the gesture.
But Sterling Cale, 89, who was among the three survivors who attended, said the ceremony filled him with joy.
"They had the tea ceremony on the Arizona to honor the men who are still there — those 900-plus men are the heroes of World War II and Dec. 7. Having it there was a good deal. I liked that," said Cale, who was a hospital corpsman assigned to the shipyard dispensary at the time of the attack.
Daniel Martinez, the National Park Service's chief historian for Pearl Harbor, said the ceremony showed him "how far we had come."
"We in the park service and the Navy have witnessed this dynamic change since I've been here, in 1985 — the evolution of the hatred and the hard feelings to now one of consideration for each side," Martinez said.
The idea for holding the symbolic tea ritual at the memorial came from Jean Ariyoshi, the wife of former Hawaii Gov. George Ariyoshi, the first Japanese-American governor in the U.S. She approached top Navy admirals in Hawaii and the National Park Service about the concept.
It also marked the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Urasenke tea school's Hawaii chapter.