MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, residents visited Hirose-Iwakuni High School to harvest green tea leaves in Iwakuni City, May 7, 2015.
Coordinated by the Cultural Adaption Program aboard station, high school staff and students greeted guests with an opening ceremony and baskets ready to be filled with green tea leaves.
The students, guests and even elders from a local nursing home spent the afternoon selectively picking the green tea leaves that would later be fanned, steamed cooled, pressed, rolled and dried for everyone’s enjoyment.
“This was a good chance to get out of the work environment and meet the locals,” said 1st. Lt. Brandon Connelly, division officer with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12. “My experience here in Japan has been wonderful. Work is crazy, but I love to get out and enjoy the culture. When you go out and interact at events like this and see the Japanese here in their environment vice reading about it or watching things on TV, this is better.”
Green tea originated in China during the ninth century, but is now associated with many cultures throughout Asia, including Japan.
Originally a drink of the religious classes, Japanese priests and diplomats traveled to China to learn about the culture and ended up returning with the treasured tea.
In Japan, Shizuoka, Kagoshima and Uji tea fields are the most well known places for tea cultivation and the rise in popularity has made tea a very common drink in Japanese society.
"We have a historic tea ceremony that’s originally for the higher class and is very expensive,” said Mikie Watanabe, cultural adaption specialist. “Drinking tea is all about the health benefits and customs in Japanese culture. When we have a meal or break time, tea is always there as a beverage. Also, handpicking tea leaves ensures high quality tea because it’s more selective and pure. Iwakuni is not famous for tea harvesting, so this is a very unique and special opportunity.”
After collectively picking 37 pounds of green tea leaves, everyone gathered for lunch and attempted to converse in each other’s native language, a unique opportunity for the Americans and Japanese.
“The communication barrier is always something to work through, but it’s interesting,” said Connelly. “Trying to communicate and interact breaks down barriers and instead of sitting in the barracks or playing video games, you can go meet the locals and interact to have better memories.”
Through cultural exchanges like the Tea Harvesting event, station residents can broaden their knowledge about Japan while better solidifying a growing U.S.-Japanese relationship.
For more information about the Cultural Adaption Program and upcoming events, please call 253-6165.