Two Cultures United by Tea

Two Cultures United by TeaToday I’m going to write about Peter Paul Rubens, King James I and Britain’s favourite beverage. Along the way there’ll be a telescope, a daruma doll and some scones. What links all these things? An event I went to on Sunday called Two Cultures United by Tea, held at the Banqueting House in Whitehall to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the landing of the first English ship, the Clove, in Japan in 1613. 

The daruma doll sat in the entrance with one of its eyes painted in and the other blank. Japanese tradition holds that if you make a wish and paint in one of the daruma’s blank eyes, it will be so keen for you to paint in the other it will help you get what you want. I wonder what this daruma is helping out with?

Banqueting House

We sat under the magnificent painted ceiling commissioned by Charles 1 in honour of his father James I and painted by Rubens in 1634. The central oval depicts the apotheosis of the late King James, seen being carried up by Jove’s eagle, assisted by the figure of Justice. Female figures of Piety and Religion accompany his ascent amid a swirling cloud of cherubs. Above him awaits the triumphal crown, carried by the classical goddess Minerva (Wisdom) and a woman representing Victory.

Banqueting House

The Clove carried one of the earliest known telescopes, sent by James I as a present to the Shogun. Since the first known working telescope was made in 1608, that was a pretty good present. That telescope has not survived but on display at the Banqueting House was a new telescope, specially commissioned in commemoration.

Banqueting House

The focus of Sunday’s event was the Kencha tea ceremony, performed by Akira Matsura, a descendant of the Daimyo of Hirado, Matsura Hoin, who first welcomed John Sarin and the crew of the Clove to Japan.

Banqueting House

Matsura Hoin allowed the English Settlers to establish a trading house, the English House, at Hirado, not far from Nagasaki. There is a stone memorial marking the place where it stood.

Banqueting House

The Kencha ceremony is a special ceremony in which bowls of tea are offered to the spirits of dead people to honour their memory. On Sunday the tea was offered to King James 1 and to Matsura Hoin.

Banqueting House

Tea was then served to everyone present, some two hundred people. The tea is powdered green tea, matcha, and you drink it with little sweets to counteract the bitter taste.

Banqueting House

These sweets had been specially made with spices from Hirado.

Banqueting House

After the ceremony there was music and readings about tea before everyone decamped to the undercroft to enjoy their tea the English way – with scones and jam.

Banqueting House

Banqueting House

Thanks to the Japan 400 committee, the Japan Society, and all the sponsors for arranging this event.

Banqueting House

15 thoughts on “Two Cultures United by Tea

  1. What a beautiful venue. I love the story about the doll, though it does look creepy with only one painted eye! The sweets to have with the tea are so delicate, almost to pretty to eat. Thanks for another informative and interesting post – I always learn something new when I click on your blog!

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  2. I never thought about both Japan and England being tea lovers — so obvious I missed it. I’ve been to the Banqueting Hall before and it was nice to see the inside again. Beautiful photos. We were told James I’s son Charles had his trial here and execution on the balcony as well. At least he went out in beautiful surroundings!

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  3. Love the idea of countries being linked by tea. I have a photo of a Daruma doll on my iPad. I took it in my Toyota dealer’s office. They get one as a reward for top performance. The story of positivity and family and resilience is inspiring. Worth looking up.

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  4. Pingback: Reviews of Two Cultures United by Tea | Japan 400

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