Nothing beats the smell, the taste and the feel of a steaming cup of tea nestled in one’s hands. It’s no wonder that rituals surrounding tea are prevalent around the world: a compulsory offer of a ‘cuppa’ in England, atay in Morocco, masala chai drunk from a clay mug in India or ocha in Japan.
The Japanese tea ceremony goes by many names, chado, The Way of Tea, or cha-no-yu. It came over from China with Zen Buddhism and grew from using matcha as a medicinal cure into what we see today: a spiritual and mediative ritual. Extracting core principles from wabi-sabi, The Way of Tea offers us a fascinating window into Japanese culture.
“Chado teaches us that there are more important things in life than the material objects we all chase,” says Mika Soka Haneishi, the owner and instructor at Shizu Kokoro in Asakusa. In her 90-minute ceremony, you will gain a greater understanding of the art by participating as both a host and a guest. Cherry blossom tea, koicha and usucha as well as some treats for the accompaniment will be provided. Each month has a distinctive theme, so you’ll find something new every time you go.
A Japanese tea experience at Shizu-Kokoro starts at ¥3,800 per person. See this website for more information on how to register.
Only a 12-minute walk from Shinjuku Station, you’ll find the unexpected: an oasis of tranquillity and calm. An expert instructor will walk you through the etiquette and details, all in English. From there, you can perform the ritual yourself and further understand the meaning of chado. Maikoya provides not just a comprehensive insight into the Japanese tea ceremony but other cultural activities such as flower arrangement, calligraphy and origami. Unsurprisingly, it has an endless amount of glowing reviews.
A Japanese tea experience at Maikoya starts at ¥6,000 per person. For more information, please visit their website here.
Next to the Kabuki-za theatre, in another peaceful spot in the heart of Tokyo, Rie Takeda has been spreading her expert knowledge of the tea ceremony. With over 30 years in the field, you’ll find yourself in safe hands with this certified tea professor. From March 28, every Sunday, she will also open a drop-in cafe in Asakusa which will provide you with a hands-on, relaxed opportunity to make matcha and Mizuhiki jewellery.
A Japanese tea experience at Chazen starts at ¥3,500 per person. For more information, please visit their website here.
This tea ceremony experience is unique to this list as it’s hosted by a descendant of Sen-Rikyu, a historical tea-master and founder of one of the biggest The Way of Tea schools in Japan: Urasenke. Opening the door to all nationalities, Sousei Ajioka hopes to bring the principles and traditions of chado to different cultures and impart the wisdom handed down from his ancestors. It’s conveniently located a stone’s throw away from Omotesando so why not combine a shopping trip with cultural exploration.
A Japanese tea experience at Youwakai starts at ¥6,000 +tax per person (min. 3 people). For more information, please visit their website here.
5. Try tea with a view of Tokyo’s gardens
Tokyo’s gardens have more to offer than beautiful scenery. Behind the sliding doors of their teahouses, there’s a chance to glimpse a traditional tea ceremony. The offer of a genuine cup of Japanese green tea in under 30 minutes is irresistible for most. Shinjuku Gyoen provides a ticket-machine for a quick matcha and sweet. Step inside the established Rakutei teahouse, take off your shoes and destress on the tatami.
Hamarikyu‘s Nakajima-no-ochaya teahouse used to be a hotspot for Japan’s elite in the 18th and 19th centuries. Shoguns would unwind here and observe the sweeping views of the park’s pond and flora. To this day, it remains a place to relax with a warm drink. If you are lucky, you can catch the yearly tea ceremony with English instruction that’s held every October.
For a luxurious experience, enter the Mu-an teahouse in Happo-en for a desirable cup of green tea. You could be waiting up to two months for an official tea ceremony on tatami but luckily you can drop-in for an informal experience and sit beneath a forest of lush greenery.
Learn more about tea culture in Japan: