Photo/IllutrationSen Genshitsu gives a speech after receiving the medal at the French ambassador’s residence in Tokyo’s Minato Ward on Jan. 20. (Takuya Yamazaki)

  • Photo/Illustraion

A former kamikaze pilot who later became grand tea master of a major Japanese tea ceremony school was awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest honor, on Jan. 20.

The French government awarded Sen Genshitsu, 96, the title of “Commander,” the third degree in the five-ranked decoration, for his contribution to cultural exchanges between Japan and France.

Sen is a former grand tea master of Urasenke, one of the main schools of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

“I’ll continue to contribute to maintaining friendly ties between the two countries,” he said.

An awards ceremony was held at the French ambassador’s residence in Tokyo’s Minato Ward that day.

Laurent Pic, the French ambassador to Japan, praised Sen for his achievements, including donating a tearoom in France and holding a tea ceremony with foreign dignitaries.

“He devoted himself to developing France’s friendly relationship with Japan,” said the ambassador, who handed the medal to Sen.

Sen joined the kamikaze corps in World War II when he was a university student but the war ended before he could be sent on a suicide mission. He became the 15th grand tea master of Urasenke in 1964.

Sen has called for peace by holding tea ceremonies in such places as the U.N. General Assembly and UNESCO headquarters. He is currently a goodwill ambassador of both the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the United Nations.