Mamma-san’s tea

Establishing family connections when the children are young can be as simple as mamma opening the back door, tea kettle in hand and calling her family in for afternoon tea. As children and mamma chat over a hot cuppa tea (or coffee) the bonds of familial love knit deeply.
All too soon the children leave for college and jobs in far-flung cities. Then the singing tea kettle signals only mamma that it is time to sit down and have a cup of tea while she reads her children’s letters (or e-mails) – written while they sipped a cup of tea made from the bottled water’s hot water dispenser.
For the elder revering culture of Japan, that modern day saga has a new twist. With nearly 5 million households consisting of elderly couples, a third of the households with someone older than 65 and another 3.4 million people living alone, tea for two frequently is tea for one. Alone with no routine for daily contacts verifying that all is well poses a potential problem encapsulated in the 1996 deaths in Tokyo, Japan of an elderly woman and her handicapped daughter. The two died, alone and unnoticed.
Nearly three weeks passed before neighbors found their bodies. Their deaths capture the hearts and minds of many in the island country.
Geriatric physician Dr. Hiroyuki Amino asked Zojirushi Fujitsu Corp. to create a system to check on elderly people living alone, according to a recent story from Knight Ridder Newspapers.
Zojirushi, Fujitsu Corp. and the telephone company NTT developed the I-pot – information pot– an electric kettle which not only boils water for aging mamma’s morning tea, but also records every time it dispenses the water and sends e-mails twice a day to far flung family members letting them know that she is alive and having her morning, afternoon or evening cup f tea. The I-pot is a great monitoring device in a country where hot water for tea and instant miso soup provide an integral part of daily life.
Every time Mamma-San pushes the button to dispense water for a cup of green tea or a bowl of instant miso soup (which many Japanese have at least once a day) the I-pot records the time and a wireless communication device at the bottom of the I-pot sends a signal to a server. For a fee, family members or friends can go to a Website and review the I-pot’s usage. Plus, the sever sends an -mail message twice a day of the three most recent usages f the I-pot. It’s not Big Brother watching an elderly person’s every move, just a little pot of tea telling all the children that Mamma-San got out of bed today and prepared her morning tea and afternoon soup.
Living half a world away in Annandale, Va., Keiko Kubovcik bought an I-pot for her mother in Japan because it terrified her when she called and 76-year-old Kaneyo Takahashi failed to answer the phone. For Kubovcik the twice daily messages give her a sense of security and comfort. Her husband can not read Japanese, but he can turn on the computer note the time ad report to his wife, “You mom is healthy and alive today.”
For Kubovcik, her mother’s cup of tea assures her that all is well; deeply knit family connections are maintained through an afternoon cup of tea and everyone knows how comforting a cup of hot tea can be … even if it is half way around the world.