Hisashi Yamada-sensei, the former head of Urasenke New York, passed away this weekend. He was a huge supporter of the tea program at La Salle – in fact, without his help, Brother Keenan might never have been able to set up the tea house there. So in a way, it’s thanks to him that any of our group are practicing tea at all.
I’m embarrassed to say that I know very little about his personal history. Mostly I remember him from his visits to La Salle, especially at our New Year’s tea gatherings. Whenever he came, he was always the first guest. I remember that he was always full of funny stories and insights into whatever was going on, and he could communicate equally well in Japanese and English, so that the guests were comfortable no matter what their native language.
I remember that he was the one who taught me the difference between taking lessons and having a tea gathering: in lessons, you work to get every detail right, and you worry about everything; in a gathering, it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake. All that matters is the moment, and that you’re doing your best for your guests. (And, as a guest, if the host makes a mistake, it doesn’t matter – let it pass, and go on to the next moment.)
Yamada-sensei’s warmth, generosity, and tea spirit touched many lives, and did so much to spread that way of tea here in the United States. I hope that he is remembered as he deserves to be, as a truly great man.