Category Archives: Tea

The Tea Crane Introduces the Authentic Rite of Tea

Today we have a special guest post from Tyas Huybrechts, Japanese Tea Trainer at The Tea Crane.

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While visiting Kyoto, you wouldn’t want to miss out on at least one of those cultural experiences now widely available here – activities such as taking first steps in any of Tea-ceremony, flower-arrangement, calligraphy, classical dance and Japanese cookery.

Each traditional Japanese art has come down to us imbued with the pre-modern philosophy and values upon which its founder and his successors drew. When people undertake to render so venerable an art more accessible to those with hardly any knowledge of the culture relevant, one unfortunately-prevalent tendency is irresponsibly to dumb down what is taught. This, however, falsifies the impression with which the learner is left, and withholds from her matters she might otherwise have found sympathetic, revelatory … and even inspiring.

Take, for example, Tea-ceremony. Upon attending a run-of-the-mill Tea-ceremony “experience,” you will be offered a perfunctory demonstration of a very basic service of thin tea (a lower grade of matcha – characterized, once prepared, by its surface of bright green froth), and then be provided with what you need to prepare a bowlful yourself – and for yourself.

Central to the Way of Tea is interaction between guest and host; and yet nothing of that can be gathered, either from a mere demonstration, or from serving only yourself.

Again, what is considered true tea is thick tea, which utilizes matcha of a higher grade, employed in a higher concentration. (Thin tea, on the other hand, is properly served at the very end of a full tea-gathering, as no more than an informal refreshment rounding off the climactic service of thick tea.)

Moreover, ‘Tea-ceremony’ – this term a most-regrettable mistranslation – is neither ceremony nor performance. Rather, a Tea-occasion is best understood as a social event for the success of which its guests have as much responsibility as does its host. Consequently, no “Tea-experience” can live up to that name as long as those attending remain uninvolved in active participation. Only once so engaged can they at least glimpse such a gathering’s true functioning.

If – in order to render it accessible to a wider range of persons – the forms characteristic of a pursuit are abbreviated, or its representation is distorted, what is actually offered will fail even to approximate that to which such treatment purports to afford access. In providing uninitiated persons with an authentic representation of an art, what should be adjusted to those persons’ likely needs is not that art itself but, instead, the means by which it is presented.

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With these convictions firmly in mind, we at The Tea Crane have evolved an innovative and yet authentic workshop, designed for persons visiting Kyoto, and as yet remaining uninitiated with regard to the rite of Tea. What this offers is a full encounter with the core to the art of Tea, along with support for participants in functioning as an integral and therefore indispensable part of a genuine (and enjoyable) Tea-occasion.

Of the guidelines we observe, these following may be those most innovative:

・The workshop’s participants are presented with a shared bowlful of real tea – thick  tea – expertly blended according to a ritual unique to employment of the grand Tea-sideboard (daisu). (Use of this austere daisu is probably the very earliest, and still the most august and solemn, form of service of tea in the presence of guests (rather than elsewhere); and we have selected this service in order to aid our participants in traveling with us – back to that epoch during which the rite of Tea first arose.)

・From the start of each workshop-session its participants, rather than being left merely to look on, are requested to take active part in the rite, and are duly guided regarding so doing. Such guidance enables each participant to exchange respectful salutations with her host and fellow-guests, with the latter share and appreciate a bowlful of real tea, and gain at least an initial understanding of the principles, values and aims embodied in all conduct desirable in the Tea-chamber.

・The rite of Tea must surely be the most syncretic of all Japanese arts – combining as it does calligraphy, flower-arrangement, ceramics, lacquer-work and very much more. Since a competent Tea-practitioner should be well-versed in all of these, we help participants to acquire an initial understanding of what to look for in the utensils employed – these being each hand-crafted, valuable, and worthy of detailed attention – and handled by every participant in turn.

In brief, our aim is gently to initiate participants, during just ninety minutes, into the decorum expected of, and pleasures offered to, any well-mannered guest. In so doing, our dearest wish is that, when they return home, and people closest to them ask them what of Japan has left the deepest impression within them, former participants should at once reply, ‘A fascinating Tea-ceremony workshop! Once it had ended, I found I now understood so much!’

To read more about this workshop and other Tea-related activities, visit our website:
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Tyas Huybrechts is a fully-accredited instructor in Tea ceremony, and in addition a nationally certified Nihoncha Instructor. His heart’s desire is to convey directly, and to as many interested persons as possible, the true essence of both Tea-culture and also Japanese tea.

Matcha Tea & Machiya in Kyoto – Two Articles for GuideAdvisor

Whether you are interested in tea ceremony or traditional architecture, two pieces I wrote for GuideAdvisor earlier this year, offer my top tips for for your trip to Kyoto.

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The first article is on how to find the very best machiya:  the traditional wooden townhouses of Kyoto. After decades of neglect and outright destruction, machiya have been undergoing something of a boom in popularity in recent years.

Climb a hill on the outskirts of Kyoto, and you’ll look upon a city transformed. Fifty years ago, you would have seen a sea of low lying tiled rooftops, and here and there a shrine, temple or villa rising up like islands lapped by baked tile waves. Machiya, the old wooden townhouses most closely associated with the city of Kyoto in Japan, covered the landscape… Machiya were the houses of merchants and craftsmen, designed to be lived and worked in. Long sturdy structures of simple grace, they closely lined the city’s narrow streets, the style of lattice-work at front giving tell-tale notice of the business within. Today that old skyline, with its sweeping sea of tiles has gone, and the cityscape initially presents to the eye a jumble of gray and brown apartment blocks, city offices, and pachinko parlors. If you go and explore the city though, the older more traditional buildings are still there, down amidst the looming towers of modernity, and their dark wooden beams and refined latticework still enchant us with the flavour of old Kyoto.

You can read the rest of the article here: Looking for the Lost Machiya Buildings in Kyoto.

ga matcha

My second piece is a guide to enjoying matcha tea in the ancient capital, whether in traditional tea ceremony, or in the many matcha flavored food products that are on sale here.

Due to the close vicinity of Uji’s tea fields Kyoto has a long association with matcha tea: the powdered green tea used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The monk Eisai first brought this powdered tea from China to Japan in 1191, along with Zen Buddhism, and the two traditions have been closely linked ever since.

In Kyoto, Eisai founded the city’s oldest Zen temple, Kenninji, and on its grounds you can find a teahouse designed by the legendary 16th Century tea master Sen no Rikyu, who is responsible for developing the refined tea ceremony that we know today. Called variously Chado, Sado or Cha-no-yu, this ceremony ritualizes the act of preparing, sharing, and tasting tea into a slow, meditative process that emphasizes simplicity, grace and serenity. Yet despite the simplicity of the ceremony itself, the Way of Tea is intimately bound up with many other traditional arts such as calligraphy, ceramics, flower arrangement, and Japanese cuisine. So if you want a gateway into Japanese culture and philosophy, a cup of matcha tea is where you start!

You can read the rest of the article here: Go Green in Kyoto! Enjoy the Famous Tea Ceremony Then See How a New Generation is Serving up Matcha

And while you are about it, why not check out pro-photographer Paul Crouse‘s piece on the 10 Best Photo Spots in Kyoto.

See also: The Health Benefits of Japanese Green Tea

Talk and tea tasting with Jeff Fuchs @ Robert Yellin’s Yakimono Gallery, July 10th

From Kyoto Journal:
tea horse road

A Kyoto Journal Hosted Event: THE TEA HORSE ROAD
Talk and tea tasting with explorer Jeff Fuchs
10 July 2014 @ Robert Yellin’s Yakimono Gallery
Session One: 1pm
Session Two: 6pm
Maximum of 12 participants per session. RSVP REQUIRED: feedback[at]kyotojournal.org
Entry: ¥1,000

The ancient origins of tea and the present hotbed of the rapidly rising Puerh teas, southern Yunnan was for centuries the remote base from which the green stimulant made its way along the famed Tea Horse Road. A look at the most ancient tea tree forests on the globe and what is left of one of the most daunting trade routes in history. For much of history southern Yunnan’s minorities have cultivated teas that were largely items of trade and tribute. Puerhs from the ancient forests now command enormous prices amongst collectors ironically because of the fact that their production techniques have remained largely unchanged and the raw materials unequalled. Ancient medicine, panacea for the masses, and a fuel and food of timeless vitality.

Award-winning explorer, author and tea procurer Jeff Fuchs presents the origins and routes of Asia’s eternal green. This will also be opportunity to sample Yunnanese tea.

ABOUT JEFF FUCHS:
North Face Ambassador and award-winning explorer Jeff Fuchs, was the first westerner to have travelled by foot the legendary Tea Horse Road over the Himalayas – a journey that took over 7 months. He followed that up with becoming the first documented westerner to journey along and document ‘Tsa-Lam’, The nomadic ‘Route of Salt’ through the eastern Himalayas, a month long foot journey. He subsequently won an ‘Explorer of the Year’ award for “sustainable exploration of the Himalayan Trade Routes”. He most recently completed 36-day expedition along the Route of Wind and Wool through the Himalayas.

Fuchs is a ‘Scholar-in-Residence’ with the prestigious ‘East-West Center’ in Hawaii, counseling and mentoring on the Himalayas’ and advocating a more full understanding of Asia. He is fluent in Mandarin, French, and Tibetan and has counseled PhD students from 22 different countries during his time at the East West Center.

Fuchs’ work has centered on indigenous mountain cultures, oral histories and an obsessive interest in tea. His photos and stories have appeared on three continents in award-winning publications, UNESCO, The Huffington Post, and Outpost Magazine, as well as The Spanish Expedition Society, The Earth, The Toronto Star, The South China Morning Post and Traveler amongst others.

Fuchs has spoken to institutions, universities and schools around the world on the importance of oral narratives and sustainable exploration and tea culture. His work and life have been featured in numerous publications including the Huffington Post and the Financial Times.

He is an admitted ‘tea addict’ who never journeys without an assortment of green leaves to fuel him and is the co-founder of JalamTeas. When he isn’t sipping tea or exploring, he’s based in Shangri-la, northwestern Yunnan, where he’s been for the past 10 years.

Please remember to direct all inquiries to Kyoto Journal at feedback[at]kyotojournal.org!

Camellia Tea Ceremony

Authentic tea ceremony in a beautiful 100-year-old traditional Geisha ryokan near Kiyomizu Temple

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A special guest post for Deep Kyoto today by Atsuko Mori of Camellia Tea Ceremony

The tea ceremony (sado) is a quintessential part of Japanese culture and is considered the height of sophistication. What do you first think of when you hear ‘tea ceremony’? Japanese culture, green tea, geishas, kimonos, tatami rooms, religion? How about movies such as Karate Kid or Last Samurai? I often receive these kinds of answers from my foreign guests. How about if I ask the same question to Japanese people? “Difficult”, “it’s an old woman’s thing”, “too many rules”, “I want to try it but hesitate because it sounds too hard and expensive” etc. Okay, I understand how they feel, but if they gave it a chance, they just might grow to love it as I do.

You can experience sado anywhere in Japan but there are a many advantages to doing it in Kyoto. Matcha is green tea in powder form and the highest quality products come from Uji (a city to the south of Kyoto). As for water, there are several underground rivers bringing fresh spring water from the nearby mountains to some shrines, and this is why Kyoto is also famous for tofu and sake.

Kyoto is definitely the centre of culture, with a thousand years of history as the capital. I have been living in Kyoto for four years and there are still many temples and gardens I have not visited. If a business is less than a hundred years old, it is still considered ‘new’ for Kyoto.

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So here I am, a woman from Osaka, starting my tea ceremony shop in the heart of Kyoto, a stone’s throw from the beautiful Kiyomizu temple. Thousands of tourists walk up and down this beautiful street every day, searching for something Kyoto-ish to do. We’ve only been open for a few months but already we have received hundreds of guests from all over the world.

Something that is difficult to convey, is that the tea ceremony is not just about drinking tea. The tea master and guests are mere participants in a spiritual experience with a basis in Zen philosophy. The ceremony is a meditation. It is a way of connecting to a larger world. We treat the utensils with respect and care, so that they create harmony with us.

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When you enter the tea room, you leave your troubles and worries behind in the real world. Once inside, you hear nothing but the sound of boiling water, which will relax you and put you in a peaceful state of mind. The drinking of tea and the ceremony that surrounds it have been important in Japan for many centuries, so if you really want to understand Japanese culture, you have to experience the tea ceremony at least once. And believe me, you won’t be disappointed.

It is my desire to open a door to this beautiful world for everybody. You can’t learn it all in just an hour, but you can get a feel for the four fundamental aspects of the way of tea, which are: harmony, respect, purity and tranquility (pronounced wa-kei-sei-jaku).

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The shop is located on historical Ninen-zaka street. Here the history of tea and the tea ceremony are explained in fluent English, and then you can see a demonstration. After that, guests get a chance to make a tea by themselves with a bowl and a bamboo whisk.

Thank you to Deep Kyoto for letting me talk about my shop here on your highly-respected and widely-read blog. It would be my honour to welcome your readers and give them a taste of rich culture and delicious Uji tea.

For more information please visit: www.tea-kyoto.com and facebook.com/camellia.kyoto

See also these other tea-related posts:
International Tea Gathering at Urasenke
Sencha – The Chinese Way of Tea
Somushi – Korean Tea-house
Autumn Japanese Tea
Iyemon Salon

A Trip to Inuyama

IMG_6833Here 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.

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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. Continue reading

International Tea Gathering at Urasenke

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]

Carol & izumi

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. Continue reading

Sencha – The Chinese Way of Tea

Ian Ropke writes…

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

Somushi

Somushi is a beautiful Korean tea shop on the north side of Sanjo, a short walk west of Karasuma.

John Einarsen and I have gotten into the habit of meeting up here whenever a new issue of Kyoto Journal comes out. These pictures were taken in the spring. Continue reading

Autumn Japanese Tea

Ian Ropke writes:

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.

Ian Ropke is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Osaka and Kyoto, editor of Kyoto Visitors Guide, and director of Your Japan Private Tours. You can read his previous articles for Deep Kyoto here.)

See also: The Health Benefits of Japanese Green Tea

Iyemon Salon

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.

Telephone: 075-222-1500

Opening Hours: 8:00 – 24:00 OPEN EVERYDAY

Last Orders: FOOD / 23:00 DRINK / 23:30