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Japanese tea ceremony connects master and Ukrainian woman trying to escape war

Masaru Nishikawa, who helped a Ukrainian woman and her son to evacuate to Japan, is seen speaking to the press in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, on April 6, 2022. (Mainichi/Nao Ikeda)

KAMAKURA, Kanagawa -- A Japanese tea master here is helping out a family that fled from Ukraine to Japan following Russia's invasion of their country, after they formed a connection through tea ceremony circles.

    Masaru Nishikawa, 78, who runs a Japanese tea class in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture just south of Tokyo, gave traditional Japanese tea ceremony lessons at Moscow State University and other locations for about a decade from 1991. One of his apprentices taught tea in Kyiv, and a 47-year-old Ukrainian woman who arrived in Japan on April 5 via Poland on a Japanese government airplane was their apprentice. In 2020, the woman visited Nishikawa, and the pair have since expanded their exchanges.

    The woman left Kyiv in early March with her 13-year-old son following Russia's military operation and moved from one friend's house to another near Warsaw. After learning through an acquaintance that the mother and child were hoping to come to Japan, Nishikawa acted to help the family, including approaching the Japanese Embassy in Poland via email about possibly letting them get on a Japanese government plane. He told the press on April 6 that it was "natural" for him to help the woman and her child, saying, "She's my second-generation student."

    Nishikawa went to Tokyo's Haneda Airport on April 5 to pick the two up. He said he was relieved to see them smile at the airport, and said that they finally looked at ease when they arrived at his home.

    The woman and her child talk with Nishikawa in Russian, and started their life in Japan at an apartment in Kamakura. While the family will face many challenges, including finding the woman a job and securing the son's education, Nishikawa says there are many people who are willing to lend them a helping hand. He intends to continue supporting them with help from others, saying, "I want them to lead a normal, ordinary life."

    (Japanese original by Nao Ikeda, Yokohama Bureau)

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