Here are some pictures from Inuyama in Aichi prefecture, which we visited last month. By clicking on the spherical images, you can explore a fully immersive 360 degree view.
Inuyama Castle is supposed to be the oldest castle in Japan: the original fort was built in 1440, and the current structure was completed in 1537. However as you can see from the scaffolding in the picture above, it still needs a bit of maintenance from time to time. Despite the metal poles and boards though, the views from atop the castle, of the Kiso river and the surrounding mountains, were wonderful.
At the foot of the castle is an Inari shrine, very reminiscent of Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto. It even has a short walkway of red torii gates like those that climb the mountain in Fushimi – only on a much smaller scale. Because of this, and also because the town has a preserved area of old traditional buildings, Inuyama is one of those towns that has earned the appellation “Little Kyoto”.
The preserved area is called Jokamachi (literally “Below Castle Town”). You can see some nice old buildings there, but not that many to be honest. Inuyama’s other claim to fame is the cormorant fishing (ukai) that takes place from May through to October. Obviously we were out-of season for that, but not too bothered as we also have ukai closer to home in Uji and Arashiyama…
We spent a pleasant afternoon in Inuyama visiting the sites above, and in the evening enjoyed a hot spring bath at our hotel. The outdoor bath was excellent. The following day we visited the nearby architectural museum, Meiji Mura which I have written about here. To be honest, Meiji Mura was the bigger draw for us, an extraordinary place that I highly recommend you see.
While in Inuyama we stayed at the Meitetsu Inuyama Hotel, which was reasonably priced and conveniently located beside Inuyama Castle and the Jokamachi area. Within the grounds of the hotel is the Joan tea house, a designated National Treasure built in 1618 by Oda Nobunaga’s little brother, Oda Uraku. He was a tea master and student of Sen no Rikyū. This teahouse, said to be one of the finest, was actually built in Kyoto, but after several relocations finally found its home in Aichi in 1972. Why this happened I have no idea, but I imagine a teahouse is more easily portable than the schools, banks and churches that were hoiked to Meiji Mura.
Travel time to Inuyama from Kyoto ranges from 64 minutes if you splash out on a bullet train, or 2 and a half hours if you travel cheaply. You can find the train times on the Jorudan website. The Meitetsu Inuyama Hotel is a short walk from Inuyamayuen Station which is one stop from Inuyama Station proper. See also:A Trip into the Past at Meiji Mura
The enduring allure of the Way of Tea is proof of its profound meaning for people — not only Japanese, but people of all cultures… The principles underlying this Art of Living are Harmony, Respect, Purity, and Tranquility. These are universal principles that, in a world such as ours today, fraught with unrest, friction, self-centeredness, and other such social ailments, can guide us toward the realization of genuine peace.
[~from the Urasenke website]
Tea ladies: Carol Begert & Izumi Texidor Hirai
Many thanks to my friend Izumi Texidor Hirai for inviting us to the international tea gathering at the Urasenke Chado Kaikan on Saturday. Thanks also to Carol Begert for providing a commentary as Izumi prepared the tea. Despite my long residence in Japan, this was my first time to witness personally the simplicity and grace inherent in the Japanese ritual of shared tea. I was impressed by the sense of peace I found there.
Following one of the traditional Japanese arts undoubtedly makes life here more fulfilling and can provide an entry not only into the language, and general culture but into the development of true friendships. And whether it be a martial art, Zen Buddhism, ikebana, ceramics or in my own case haiku, we can all find some aspect of Japanese culture that appeals to us. The Japanese Way of Tea is intimately connected with many of these other arts: calligraphy, ceramics, flower arrangement, zen, and Japanese cuisine. However in the calm serenity of the tea ceremony I witnessed on Saturday it was easy to see its own unique appeal, and both Carol and Izumi bore testimony to how it has enriched their lives. If you are interested in learning more about the tea ceremony, the Urasenke school (one of the in Japan) offers special classes in English at its Kyoto headquarters. Please click the link for details: Chan-no-yu Classes in English.
Sen no Rikyu
Urasenke Konnichian is also holding an exhibition of Kyushu ceramics now, with many beautiful antique pieces on show + a genuine letter by the father of the tea ceremony Sen no Rikyu himself! Click here for details: Ceramics of Kyushu
Mention tea ceremony and most Japanese will think of chanoyu, the way of tea based on a ritual for drinking the powdered green tea called matcha, which was formalized by Sen no Rikyū in the sixteenth century. Much closer to everyday life yet unknown to a surprising number of Japanese is the way of tea for sencha, or leaf green tea.
The legendary Shen Nung tasting herbs to check their qualities...
For history, Japan cannot touch China, where the legendary Emperor Shen Nung, said to have lived some five thousand years ago, is credited with first discovering that tea could be drunk. When it comes to ritual, however, Japan probably ranks first in the annals of tea.
The kissa, or tea, first brought to Japan from China in the seventh century was in the form of black tea leaves pressed together and shaped into small balls, which were used to make infusions. For T’ang Chinese, drinking tea was a part of a carefully cultivated atmosphere which embraced writing or reciting poetry, doing calligraphy, and looking at art. The Heian aristocrats of Japan, in their rush to embrace all things new and Chinese, adopted both tea and its attendant cultural atmosphere. Continue reading →
For many tea connoiseurs, autumn is considered to be the finest time of the year to hold a tea ceremony; the stifling hot weather has passed, and the autumn mood is sublime. The basic form and aesthetic of today’s Japanese tea ceremony is largely credited to Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591), who was inspired to develop a form based entirely around natural materials native to Japan—earthen walls, tatami, wood, and bamboo. Rikyu’s way of tea stands as a refined, yet simple, ritual of perfection that incorporates virtually every Japanese art—flowers, ceramics, lacquer, food. At its highest levels the Japanese tea ceremony becomes a spiritual act reaching out with dignified stillness to calm and pacify the heart and mind.
When taking part in the Japanese tea ceremony, first bow (while seated) and then lift the chawan (tea bowl) set before you with your right hand, and place it on the palm of your left hand. Rotate the chawan clockwise 180 degrees with the right hand in three separate movements. Then, after a short pause, drink the tea in two or three stages. After drinking the tea, wipe the part of the chawan you touched with your lips with your right hand and rotate the chawan counterclockwise 180 degrees, and return it to the host. If you are served a sweet during the tea ceremony, it will always be before you are served the tea. When in doubt, observe those around you, or behave as calmly and dignified as you can. Do what comes natural to you, in the end, there are no fixed rules in the tea ceremony.
(Ed:Did Ian whet your appetite? If you want to try the tea ceremony WAK JAPAN and Nishijin Tondaya both offer organised courses. You can also enjoy traditional Japanese tea at the following tea rooms: En, Ippodo, and Toraya.
The delightful Japanese tea emporium Iyemon Salon opened its doors last June and has quickly become a fashionable spot for lunch and dinner despite the competition from nearby Starbucks and Neutron Cafe. Breakfast is a choice between onigiri or a tasty egg sandwich for ￥400. The lunchtime and dinner menu ranges between ￥800 and ￥2000, and if you get a “plate” set you can be sure of a good feed for your money with plenty of rice, soup and side-dishes. However, if you are a vegetarian you may have to settle for tea and cake as the menu is heavily meat-orientated. I am told though, that the desserts are “divine” (I had a big fish plate there and couldn’t manage one I’m afraid). Naturally, all meals are best accompanied by one of Iyemon Cafe’s fine Japanese teas. For me a main attraction is the Chiso Gallery on the second floor which exhibits beautiful traditional Japanese art, crafts and antiques from the Chiso collection. Be sure to take a look after you have finished your tea.
Below are some pictures. For a closer look go to flickr.
To find Iyemon Cafe go west on Sanjo from Karasuma and you will find it on your left. Here is a map.