I really wanted to participate in a Japanese tea ceremony in Tokyo, while we were in Japan. It was on the top of my list of things I wanted to do. I’ve always loved matcha (powdered green) tea and I’ve always respected the tradition of the tea ceremony. I wanted to know more about it. We had the time, we just needed to find the opportunity.
You know, it’s not that easy to schedule a tea ceremony in Tokyo. I thought it would be easier, but that was before I knew that they sometimes last several hours and to take part in one you have to book in advance and pay somewhere around $55, or even dress up in kimonos! Well, I would love to do all of those things, but we hadn’t planned in advance, we didn’t have kimonos, and we had a great foodie itinerary to keep up with. So on to plan B.
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Informal Tea Ceremony in Tokyo
Luckily, we found out about an informal tea ceremony in Tokyo that takes place every day, practically all day long at the adorable little tea house in Hamarikyu Gardens. The beautifully landscaped gardens surround Shioiri Pond, where the Hamarikyu gardens tea house can be found.
We were planning to go there anyway because we had just left our Tsukiji Market Tour and wanted to catch the Sumida Water Bus that would take us up to Asakusa and the Tokyo Sky Tower. Hamarikyu is just a few minutes walk from Tsukiji.
After a little walk through the Hama rikyu gardens (I say little because it was a REALLY hot day and little was all we could manage in the heat!), we stopped off at the tea house. Luckily it was air conditioned inside (despite the sides of the house being wide open to the outdoors so you could walk around).
We paid the fee of 510 yen ($4.60 subject to change) for a cup of tea and a confection, called a wagashi, which has a special and traditional meaning in a Japanese tea ceremony. (Note that it also costs 300 yen to get into the park itself.) We were also given an instruction sheet. Then we took off our shoes and found ourselves a seat in the tea room.
Keep in mind that this tea ceremony differs from a real ceremony in that it’s a sort of “do-it-yourself” version. The sheet they gave us was so that we could walk ourselves through the process that would take place at a traditional ceremony – one that would last a full day and consist of many steps and procedures that are very important and carry special cultural meaning.
At the Hamarikyu Gardens tea ceremony, things are done a little differently. You are free to read through the steps yourself. The process involved eating the sweet, performing the ritual steps for drinking the tea, and being thankful for the tea and the preparation of it.
Although it wasn’t a performed ceremony, we had a fun time and enjoyed the setting of the tea house in the beautiful Hamarikyu Gardens. As it turned out, we were able to participate in a longer, more educational ceremony in Kyoto later in our trip that was a good supplement to this one. I really don’t think sitting through a longer ceremony is necessary to appreciate the reason for it and the tradition behind it. This informal setting was actually a perfect way for tourists to experience a tea ceremony in Tokyo.
If you’re in Tokyo and looking for a tea ceremony in Tokyo that you can add to your schedule that doesn’t require you to spend a lot and lets you maintain flexibility, this is a great option! It’s really easy to get to, as well. Hamarikyu is a 10-15 minute walk from JR Shimbashi Station or a 5-10 minute walk from Shiodome Station, or as already mentioned – just a few minutes walk from Tsukiji Market.
On a side note, if you’re going to be visiting other areas of Japan besides Tokyo, I strongly recommend looking into buying a Japan Railpass before you leave home. They’re available only to tourists, so have to be purchased from home in advance of your trip. But if you’re going to visit at least two destinations in Japan (like Osaka, Kyoto, etc), you will save significant money with the railpass over buying separate tickets. Travel in Japan is expensive. Why not do yourself a favor and save a little money.
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