If you come to Japan you probably want to experience tea ceremony, which is one of the best things that you can do and you should not miss it; there are many places where you can experience it from temples or cafe shops to performances like the ones in the Gion theatre, however, I recommend that you choose a temple so you can have a more immersed experience.
Choose a place where they will give you the full ceremony, where you can watch them make tea and not just handing you ready-made tea.
It is so much more than drinking tea.
I decided to write this article because the first time I came to Japan I was so excited to be in a tea ceremony and when I experienced it I felt it was lacking, I didn’t understand what it was about, it was too simple and it left me thinking, why the fuss?
Tea ceremonies came to Japan in the 9th century and they are so much more than drinking tea and chatting: it is a performance, a form of art which incorporates many teachings from Buddhism. During the ceremony you don’t speak, you watch and enjoy. There is a whole protocol to it – how to take the cups, when to bow, when to eat, and some places will explain it to you and others don’t but don’t be afraid of making mistakes.
There are many things to enjoy from a tea ceremony but they are all so subtle that they can easily be missed and the whole point of the ceremony is precisely to enjoy the simple things in life, so I will give you a few hints that you should pay attention to.
If you decide to go a temple for tea ceremony you will be in a traditional Japanese room with tatami mats. The tea maker will be there and he or she will make the tea in front of you.
The tatami mats are the traditional floor that was commonly used in Japan throughout the history. It is made using rice straw and soft rush (igusa) straw. Enjoy the feeling on your feet.
Take a closer look at the decoration in the room, especially how it is carefully thought and placed. Everything that is there was chosen having the season and the guests in mind. You will probably find ikebana as well, which is the Japanese way of flower arrangement.
You will be served the tea in a cup. Take a good look at it and appreciate the details of its decoration. It was chosen to match the theme of the room and it’s probably handmade. When you drink the tea, rotate the cup to avoid touching the decoration.
Smells and sounds
As the host makes tea, he or she will wash all the necessary items, boil the water and make the tea. You don’t speak during the ceremony. The whole room will be in silence giving you the opportunity to enjoy the sounds of nature. They are really pleasing.
Also you can enjoy the smell of recently made tea.
They will give you a sweet before the tea. Don’t eat right away, wait, for the tea is bitter.
And of course don’t forget to enjoy the flavor of the tea itself.
So, where to experience it?
There are many places, but I recommend these three places in Kyoto:
In this place, you can enjoy several performances of different types of Japanese arts and culture, one of which is tea ceremony. They choose two participants from the audience to drink the tea. You can watch how it is made but the sounds and smell are lost in the theatre.
It is a set of temples in the north of Kyoto. You can enjoy drinking tea inside a room in the temple. In addition to tea ceremony, don’t miss their beautiful zen gardens.
It is a tea house. Although somewhat expensive, you can experience a private tea ceremony. The good thing is that they provide explanations in English, so if you can afford it this will be my first recommendation.
Live Japan to the fullest!