Experiencing in Tea Ceremony in Kyoto
Recently I had a chance to experience one of Japan’s most well-known traditional cultural activities: a tea ceremony.
And where else can you do this better than in Kyoto – Japan’s center of tea ceremony. Kyoto was where the tea ceremony was born and remains its spiritual heart.
Having witnessed or taken part in the Japanese Tea Ceremony only once, one will come to understand that in Japan, serving tea is an art and a spiritual discipline.
What is a Japanese Tea Ceremony?
The Japanese tea ceremony is a ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea (Matcha), together with traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea.
Preparing tea in this ceremony means pouring all one’s attention into the predefined movements.
The whole process is not about drinking tea, but is about aesthetics, preparing a bowl of tea from one’s heart.
The host of the ceremony always considers the guests with every movement and gesture.
Even the placement of the tea utensils is considered from the guests view point (angle), especially the main guests called the Shokyaku.
Overall it is a quiet celebration performed with grace and beauty, an experience of mindfulness, respect and a focus on the now.
In reality this prodecure can take up to 4 hours. For tourists the session lasts 45 minutes to one hour maximum.
The 4 Principals of a Japanese Tea Ceremony
The essence of the Japanese tea ceremony is reflected in 4 main principles:
1. Harmony (with other people and with nature)
2. Respect (of others)
3. Purity (of the mind and the senses)
4. Tranquility (peace of mind and appreciation of nature’s abundance).
So what happens during the ceremony?
Before the ceremony begins, guests gather in a special room set up by the host, known as a machiai.
The tea master will explain the decoration of the room and also tell you how to sit. Even though you are required to sit on your feet, you can always change it later in case you gonna feel uncomfortable.
I did, because after a while my feet and legs felt numb….ouch!
Before starting with the tea preparation, you will be given some idea about the tea ceremony (history, and utentsils). You can ask as many questions as you want!
The remaining 30 minutes are split into two parts: 1. Watching the demonstration. 2. DIY – prepare your own tea!
In order to serve one cup of tea, there are certain steps you have to follow, and each has its own meaning.The steps will be demonstrated carefully.
The host/master will prepare the pouring utensils, taking great care to ensure they are immaculately clean and unblemished.
Finally, it’s time for the matcha tea powder.
The host gracefully adds one to three scoops of matcha green tea powder per guest into the group bowl, followed by a small amount of hot water. Using a traditional bamboo whisk, the host rapidly stirs the mixture to create a bright green paste.
When the matcha powder paste reaches the right consistency, additional hot water is whisked into the mix to produce a thick, rich tea.
The master will then hand you your cup of matcha tea and some sweets. Finish all of your tea and slurp the last sip of bubbles. The slup is the sign for the master know that you fisnished.
Then it’s your turn to repeat the steps and prepare your own cup of tea (with help of course).
At the end there is the opportunity to get some photos of yourself preparing the tea.
Note: I was allowed to take pictures during the ceremony – but no flash and no videos.
What is the difference between matcha powder and regular loose leaf green tea?
Matcha Green Tea Powder is a far superior grade of tea containing up to 15 times more nutrients than loose leaf green tea (therefore, also much more expensive).
Because matcha powder represents the ground tea leaf in its entirety, you get the benefits of the whole tea leaf’s nutrients and vitamins.
In comparison, in regular brewed green tea leaves, its nutrients and vitamins such as vitamins C gets left behind in the tea leaf and are usually discarded.
The matcha powder used for the tea ceremonies is of high quality (young leafs, giving a smooth taste).
About Camellia Tea Ceremony & Kimono Rental
Camellia is located right off of Ninen-zaka, one of Kyoto’s most important tourist lanes (not far from Kiyomizu-dera Temple). Nevertheless, it is a refuge of quiet from the passing masses outside.
I was told it is very hard to find, but if you follow the map that is available on their website, it’s not an issue!
Run by a charming and fully bilingual lady, Atsuko Mori, the tea ceremony strikes just the right balance between excessive formality and casual informality.
Participants are encouraged to relax and Atsuko’s history and explanation of the tea ceremony is just right: not too academic but not too shallow to bore the true Japanophile.
Meanwhile, her movements and grace are exceptional.
I opted in for a private tea sesssion for ¥ 4000. You can also join group session for ¥ 2000.
- Opening hours: 10:00-18:00 (open daily)
- Tea ceremony sessions start at: 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00, 17:00, and takes 45 minutes
- Price: Adults – 2000 yen. Children – 1000 yen (under 18 years old)
- Telephone: 525-3238
- Address: Camellia, 349 Masuya-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City
Wearing a traditional kimono was high on my bucket list and of course, it was a perfect occassion
to wear one during the tea ceremony.
When I booked my tea ceremony online, there was an option to add a kimono rental for just ¥3000, which was declared to be a “special” price.
It appeared that there are plenty of kimono rental shops are available across Kyoto’s old town and they all charge about ¥3000. So, not such a special price after all.
The staff at the shop was friendly though. Some of them could speak English. Due to my size (172cm height), I had limited choices of design.
They say online that you can pick from 200 designs, but that’s not the case if you are taller than an average Japanese.
There is also an option to add make up and hair-do, but you’ll have to pay extra for this.
Once you are dressed up (it takes about 15min), you can leave your stuff at the shop and rent one of their small kimono matching handbags (at no surcharge) to take a few things with you such as money and camera.
What I also didn’t know is that you can actually keep the kimono until 6pm (I rented it at 11am). I thought it was only for the ceremony.
Also, you can have a photographer to take photos of you. The charge is ¥1000 per photo, either in digital format or printed (not both). The photo will be send via email on the same day via email.
Overall I loved my experience with Camellia Tea Ceremony. The booking process (online) was very easy and straight forward. My host, Atsuko, was very knowladgable and happy to answer all my questions.
I am not sure I would go for aprivate ceremony though as I am sure you also get an amazing experience being part of a group (for half the price).
Also, next time I would rent my kimono seperately.
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