When we visited Tokyo we were keen to try out a traditional tea ceremony, to soak in all that tradition and observe the preparation and presentation of “The way of Tea”. But upon researching these ceremonial and ancient services we discovered that many were quite expensive and also a little too full on for our particular liking. However whilst taking a stroll in the stunning Hamarikyu gardens we came across the perfect variant. Laid back, inexpensive but also with enough tradition and order to satisfy us!
What is a Japanese Tea Ceremony
Unlike the casual cups of tea us brits sip everyday with friends, whilst having a break from work or just to relax in Japan the drinking of traditional green tea is taken somewhat more seriously. The Way of Tea is a piece of Japanese culture in which the serving and drinking of green tea is prepared and presented in a ceremonial manner following strict patterns, rules and conventions Often called “matcha” (抹茶).
Tea gatherings can varied vastly between more informal occasions which are much simpler and involve tea and a confection course. Whereas more formal events often involve full meals and can last for hours. The nature of the ceremonies have been strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism, one of the main religions on Japan alongside Shinto and dates back to the 9th century.
Our Tokyo Tea Ceremony
When searching for a suitable tea ceremony for us to partake in we were wary of both paying too much as also whether or not we would actually enjoy the tea! Despite being a Brit I am not all that partial to tea but yet seeing this side of traditional Japanese culture was important to me.
Searches for a smaller but yet still formal ceremony came up mostly blank and we worried this would be an experience we had to miss out on as we simply couldn’t afford the larger events. However upon exploring the wonderful and historic Hamarikyu gardens we happened upon a gloriously serene tea house set on the sea water pond within.
One of the great things about this location was that not only was it really affordable but you could just turn up and, as long as there was a free spot, head right in and take part. It was also great for novices or those a little nervous of committing a faux pas at what can be quite serious events as there was even a guide provided!
We began by removing our shoes and placing them into designated boxes, stepping on to the warm wooden matted flooring and making our way to kneel in our given spot. The smell of the tea being boiled filled the air with a fragrant and aromatic scent.
The atmosphere in the tea house was calm and quiet, below the low murmur of the other guests the noise of the tea gently bubbling away, the sweet songs of the birds by the pond and the clicking and clacking of the cups surrounded us.
Women dressed in traditional kimonos seemed to float around the room, collecting cups, dishing out the tea and making sure correct etiquette is followed. We made sure to study the sheet given to use before beginning the ceremony as we were keen to participate as properly as we could!
As our plate was place in front of us with a bowl of tea each and a small piece of confectionary we could begin. Firstly came the eating of the confectionary, you must do this before in order to taste the tea through the sweet and nutty flavour of the “Wagashi”. It must be pulled towards you using the paper provided, cut in two with the wooden stick and eaten one half after the other.
Next was the main event, the drinking of the tea. Of course, we had tried green tea before but this was like no other green tea we had ever seen, It was thick and brightly coloured. Taking the bowl with our right hands and placing it on our left palm we took our first sip, the sweet taste of the confectionary remained on our palettes as we tasted the smooth, rich and refreshing taste of the Matcha.
Despite not being much of a traditional tea fan this thick green variant seemed to go down a little better than the old English version. Although I have to say it might not be my beverage of choice, it was worth the experience to give it a go and in such a special manner and place.
With a silent bow we collected our belongings and explored the rest of the park.
Hamarikyu gardens is one of the many public parks of Tokyo but it’s unique feature is the sea water moat which is filled by the nearby Tokyo Bay. The park was opened in 1946 on the site of the 17th century Shogun Tokugawa family villa. The landscaped gardens include the serine Shioiri pond on which the Nakashima tea house is located.
With a lush green setting, many native Japanese plants and trees but surrounded by the tall buildings of the nearby Tokyo financial district the gardens have a similar feel to that of Central Park in New York…Which was cool was we were on our honeymoon after getting married in the Big Apple!
The gardens are also full of history, from the twisted branches of the 300 year old pine tree to walking in the footsteps on hunting shoguns. The urban oasis is a delight to explore as well as taking a break from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Bridges, hidden ponds, wild turtles and even a small shrine, these gardens are a wonderful inner city paradise.
The gardens are a walk from either metro or JR stations but we did find signs pointing us in the right direction which was helpful!
JR: Shimbashi Station
A small fee is required to enter the gardens themselves: ¥300
Tea ceremony ¥510
Hamarikyu Gardens is open from 9am to 5pm (with last entry at 4:30pm). It is closed at from December 29 to January 1.
Have you ever taken part in a Japanese Tea Ceremony?
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Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.