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Brewing Friendship Between Singapore and Japan - Interview With Sojitsu Kobori (13th Grand Master of Enshuryu Tea School)

In this edition of Kizuna Story, JCC speaks to Sojitsu Kobori, the 13th Grand Master of Enshuryu Tea School. Learn more about how he maintains a close relationship with Singapore even though he is based in Tokyo, Japan.

Can you tell us more about how you started your activities in Singapore?

The 12th Grand Master (of Enshuryu Tea School) Sokei Kobori, who was my father, was invited by the previous Ambassador of Japan to Singapore, His Excellency Wasuke Miyake, to attend the Japanese Culture Festival in 1989 to promote cultural exchange between Japan and Singapore. He was also present at the inauguration of the Ambassador’s residence. On this occasion, my father was also asked to instruct Sado (tea ceremony) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) by the Head of the Japanese Studies department. As a result, we have kept on having tea occasions there from October 1991 until today. Currently, I visit NUS once a year, and would like to continue this program by myself for a while.

Over the years, what are some things you have wanted to impart to your students? Please share with us any interesting stories that you've experienced during your time teaching.

What I have tried to tell students through my teaching is the importance of communication with people, and they have understood it well. I have been impressed with their courtesy and kindness ever since my first visit to NUS; whenever I visit NUS, the students always kindly wait for me on the way to Tatami room to greet me. I have been also impressed with their diligence in their studies; I often see them studying seriously around the campus.

Regarding tea ceremonies, they can master it so quickly. Though it takes about 3 months for ordinary people to master certain performances, they can master it in just one day, which is amazing! Some students end up working at Japanese firms after their graduation, and they continue learning Sado in Japan (some are in Tokyo and others are in rural areas). In addition, some alumni kindly contribute to events that foreign guests attend in Japan.

What is your impression of Singapore? Are there certain food and culture that you enjoy?

I like chicken rice and chilli crab; their simple taste is nice. My impression of Singapore is very favourable. Everywhere in Singapore is so clean and I think that effective regulations are adopted in public. Of course, I make sure to follow their regulations when I visit Singapore. (laughs)

Can you introduce your family to us?

My family consists of 6 members. Including myself, there is my mother, my wife, my son, and two daughters. My son is now in a Zen temple for spiritual practice. The first daughter is working as a teacher at a kindergarten, and the second one is an instructor at Enshuryu Tea School.

With the NUS Sado Club

Talk event at JCC © JCC

Local students experiencing tea ceremony at NUS © JCC

Tea ceremony demonstration at Kranji Secondary School © JCC

Please share a message to your students in Singapore, and your thoughts about the future relationship between Japan and Singapore.

It is been 32 years since we started visiting Singapore, and it is regrettable that we are now facing difficulty because of the COVID-19 situation. I really hope that we get back to our free and peaceful daily life, and that I can visit you soon. I would like our students and alumni to be people who contribute to the global society, while keeping what they learned through Sado in their minds.

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