Tea; from the ever present green varieties that line shelves in the convenience stores here, to the black varieties that my English and Australian room-mates preferred when I first arrived, living in Japan has been an learning experience. As an American, and especially one from Seattle, it is hard to see past the espresso machine, but I have managed to overcome that to an extent and have opened my mind to other possibilities.
You can buy and drink it without much thought, but tea is complex enough to warrant dedicated study. I first discovered tea through my interest in Japanese culture and the tea ceremony. I took a class at university where I thought I was signing up to learn how to pour tea, but ended up learning about tea as a way of life.
The technical details of growing, harvesting, and producing tea, the varieties of tea, the art and architecture of tea houses and gardens, and finally the act of producing the tea were all presented with nearly equal importance. In the end, I found that I actually preferred tea gardens to making tea, but that is a subject for another day!
Today, we will cover a few basics of tea and the tea ceremony, and suggest a few places where you can experience a Japanese Tea Ceremony.
From Captain Picard’s Earl Grey on Star Trek (yup, I’m a geek), the English Breakfast from countless movies, to my mother’s Sleepytime herbal tea, Tea is tea. It all comes from the same plant; Camellia sinensis. The different types of tea, excluding additives like herbs, are classified using the techniques used to produce and process it. Fermentation seems to be the most important factor in classifying teas.
It might be assumed that black tea became popular in the west due to the distance from the source of the tea to the market- over time the tea would ferment, arriving in England and America as black tea, while Asia became accustomed to the fresh unfermented variety due to its proximity to the source.
Green tea is what is used in Japanese Tea Ceremonies. Green tea as well has many varieties within the classification.
Gyokuro, Kabusecha, Kabusecha, Sencha, Fukamushicha, Tamaryokucha, Bancha, Kamairicha, Kukicha, Mecha, Konacha, Macha
The last variety, macha, or powdered tea, is the variety used in making tea for the ceremony, and can be cheaply purchased from the supermarket, or from specialty shops for more money than I care to think about spending on tea.
Also referred to as the Way of Tea, the Japanese tea ceremony elevates the preparation and presentation of powdered green tea to a ceremonial activity of great cultural significance. Powdered green tea is skillfully and elegantly prepared by the host for guests. Every hand movement is purposeful and graceful.
Each is precise and disciplined expression honed only through years of training. Becoming a master of this art requires not only mastering the ceremony itself, but everything that surrounds it. Other traditional art forms like calligraphy and flower arranging, as well as knowledge of relevant architecture and gardening allow a masterful host to select and decorate an appropriate location that will transport their guest outside of their reality, and into the reality of the ceremony.
The tea ceremony embodies the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, centered on the inherently transient nature of the world around us. This aesthetic is a guiding principal of the Way of Tea, and celebrates beauty in that which is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. A well made tea cup, old, broken and repaired is more likely to be revered than a new tea cup, for example. All utensils and equipment used to make tea, collectively called chadogu, are carefully selected to complement the ceremony, and are frequently changed to reflect the environment of a particular ceremony-a winter, versus a spring ceremony, for example. The basics utensils are:
Many of these items can become quite old and revered, and whole museums are filled with the most notable of them. In Nagoya, The Tokugawa Art Museum, and in Tokyo, The Sumitomo Art Musuem have extensive collections of tea utensils that embody the Japanese wabi-sabi esthetic.
I will not spend time detailing the actual ceremony. If you have never seen one, I recommend you see a video online, or better yet, go experience one live. Here are a few locations in Tokyo and Nagoya where you can experience a real tea ceremony.
Tel.: 03-3504-1111 (switchboard)
Add.: 4F, Main Bldg., 1-1-1, Uchisaiwaicho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Access: Near Hibiya Sta. on Subway Hibiya, Chiyoda or Toei Mita Line
Closed: Sun., National Holidays and Aug. 1-15
Note: Prior reservation is necessary. Served in a tatami-mat room.
Tel.: 03-3582-0111 (switchboard)
Add.: Main Bldg. 7F, 2-10-4, Toranomon, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Access: NearToranomon Sta. on Subway Ginza Line, Kamiyacho Sta. on Subway Hibiya Line, or Roppongi-itchome Sta. on Subway Namboku Line
Fee: ¥1,050 (Card acceptable)
Note: Prior reservation is necessary. Served either in a tatami-mat room or on chairs.
Tel.: 03-3265-1111 (switchboard)
Add.: 7F, Tower, 4-1, Kioi-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Access: Near Akasaka-mitsuke Sta. on Subway Ginza and Marunouchi Line, or Nagatacho Sta. on Subway Yurakucho and Hanzomon Line
Fee: ¥ 1,050 (cash only)
Note: Better to make an appointment. Reservation is required for a group of over 7 persons. Served in a tatami-mat room.
Tel.: 03-3361-2446 (switchboard)
Add.: Chado Kaikan, 3-39-17, Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Access: 10 min. walk from Takadanobaba Sta. on JR Yamanote Line, Seibu-Shinjuku Line and Subway Tozai Line or take a bus bound for “Otakibashi-Shako” to Takadanobaba 4-chome Bus Stop.
Note: Prior reservation is necessary. For more detail, please inquire by phone.
Add.: 1-1-6, Shiroganedai, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Access: 15 min. walk from Meguro Sta. on JR Ymamanote Line, Subway Namboku Line and Mita Line
Fee: Tea ceremony: ¥ 2,100(Ryurei), ¥ 3,150(Hiroma) and ¥ 5,000(Koma) 30 min. Just tea and sweets served: ¥ 840 15min.
Note: Reservation is required at least 3 days in advance. Tea is served to the seated guests either on tatami or on chairs (Ryurei).
Add.: 1-4, Kora-cho, Ichigaya, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Access: 5 min. from Ushigomeyanagi-cho Sta. on Toei Subway Oedo Line
Fee: ¥5,000 ; cash only
Note: All tea lessons, tea presentaions, etc are performed in English. Reservation is required at least one day in advance. For more detail, please inquire by phone. Served either in tatami-mat room or on chairs.
Access: Tsurumai Subway Line, Tsurumai Station
Note: Limit of 200 people, first come first serve, In September
Access: Meijo Subway Line Shiyaku-sho Station
Note: October 9, 10, 11
Fee: ¥800 (on day), ¥600 (in advance) plus Nagoya Castle admission fee
Access: Meijo Subway Line Jingu-nishi Station
Note: Mid September and Mid November
Access: Sakuradori Subway Line Mizuho-kuyakusyo Station
Note: 12 Minutes walk from station
Fee: about once a month on Wednesday; 8 Sept, 6 Oct, 8 Dec; ¥300
Access: MEITETSU INUYAMA YUEN station
Note: 7 minutes walk from station
Fee: Adult 1000 yen; Children 600 yen
Access: JR Chuo Line Ohzone Station Note: 12 Minutes walk from Station
Note: in October