Looking to experience Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony (茶道) on your next visit to Tokyo Japan? We have just the place for you! Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo, one of Japan’s most prestigious international hotels located in Shinjuku provides tea ceremony experience at their “Sho-fu-an” Tea Ceremony Room since April 2016. Guided by an experienced Tea Master, Keio Plaza Hotel Japanese Tea Ceremony is delivered in the English language with in-depth explanations of the various utensils used and traditional practices. The 30 minutes experience will offer you a glimpse into the intricate world of Japanese tea traditions and culture.
When we first arrived at the room, our friendly Tea Master, Yano introduced herself and led us to ritually purify ourselves through washing our hands and rinsing our mouths with water at a Tsukubai (stone basin). It is interesting to note that the placement of wooden ladle after use is dependent on the weather. If it is a rainy day, you are supposed to put the ladle facing downwards. The ladle will be facing upwards during a good weather.
Next, we were asked to remove our footwear and enter the tea room through a small “crawling-in” door (nijiri-guchi). We were told that the tea room is a sacred place where everyone is expected to be unarmed (no samurai swords etc), be humbled and treat all as equals. All guests are expected to respect the host by bowing and slide through the nijiri-guchi into the tea room.
Our tea room is a Koma (small room) with four and a half tatami mat. Our attention was brought to the items placed in the Tokonoma as well as the tea equipment prepared in the room. Yano explained that the tokonoma is an alcove in the room that features a hanging zen word scroll and seasonal flowers. The flower commanded a higher status than scroll because it is a living object. Our hanging scroll reads ‘Once in a lifetime’ and was written by a Zen Monk.
A delicate piece of Japanese sweet was offered at the beginning of the tea ceremony. It looked aesthetically pleasing and had tasted like our familiar snow skin mooncakes.
While we were enjoying our sweet dessert, Yano ritually cleansed each utensil including the tea bowl, whisk and tea scoop. In a precise order and using prescribed motions, she places them in an exact arrangement according to the particular temae procedure being performed. Once the preparation of the utensils was completed, she started work on the preparation of the tea.
She patiently explained that there are two main ways of preparing matcha (抹茶) – thick (濃茶 Koicha) and thin (薄茶Usucha). Koicha is a thick blend of matcha and hot water that requires about three times as much tea to the equivalent amount of water than Usucha. Another key difference between these two tea is that Usucha is served to each guest in an individual bowl while one bowl of Koicha is shared among several guests. Koicha may be too bitter for beginners like us hence Yano served Usucha by whipping matcha and hot water using the tea whisk (茶筅 Chasen).
She presented our tea to us individually and carefully ensures that the key graphics for each tea bowl faced us when we receive it. As a form of respect, we were supposed to admire the tea bowl and rotate the key graphic to face her before taking a sip. The matcha was smooth, creamy and really delicious. It has a foamy and milky texture although no milk was added. That must have come from the skilful whipping of matcha and hot water using the tea whisk.
After sampling the tea, we took time to appreciate the tools used in the ceremony and admire the beauty of the tea bowl that was presented to us as a sign of respect and admiration for our Tea Master. She explained that careful considerations were made in the selection of the tea bowls. We were each presented with a tea bowl which she personally felt best suited us. Mom was presented with an elegant tea bowl with crane (a symbol of longevity) and gold motif as a respect for her seniority in the family.
With that, our Keio Plaza Hotel Japanese Tea Ceremony journey has come to an end. Through the experience, we better understood why Japanese are proud of their traditions. When watching our Tea Master cleansed the utensil and prepare the tea quietly, my mind enjoyed a rare moment of lightness and calm descended for a brief period. To fully appreciate this ‘zen’ effect, it would have to be a silent tea ceremony with experienced guests.
Visitors from more than 100 countries around the world account for over 70% of all guests staying at the Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo. To provide guests with authentic Japanese cultural experiences, the hotel regularly organises traditional Japanese art exhibitions, offers traditional Japanese wedding “kimonos” for rental and events, presents live Japanese harp “koto” music, host traditional Japanese Tea Ceremonies and also other interesting activities. Keio Plaza Hotel Japanese Tea Ceremony is also available for visitors who are not staying at Keio Plaza Hotel because it is one of the only hotels in central Tokyo with tea ceremony facilities.
Sessions: 4 times daily (except Thursday & Sundays). Each session last around 30 minutes | Venue: Tea Ceremony Room “Sho-fu-an,” on 10th floor of the Main Tower | Charge: JPY 2,000 per guest per tea ceremony (Includes service charges & tax) | Guest Numbers: The maximum number of 4 guests per tea ceremony | Tea Ceremony Master: Sentousouei Yano (Professor, Dainihon Chado Gakkai)
Do remember to book in advance to avoid disappointment! If you are a fan of Hello Kitty, you may want to read our post on Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo Shinjuku Hello Kitty Experience in Japan
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