The tea ceremony is one of the quintessential Japanese experiences. Although tea was brought from China in the 9th century, it wasn’t until the end of the 12th century when the Zen monk Eisai brought powdered green tea and whisks to Japan, that matcha really took off.
Tea Masters & Tea Houses
In the Kamakura and Muromachi eras, tea ceremonies became a refined pastime of the nobility. The tea ceremony we know today was essentially perfected by the tea master master Rikyu in the 16th century. He also designed tea houses and gardens. In Yoshinoyama, you can visit his famous garden at Chikurin-in Temple & Garden.
Another key tea master of the same period, Sekishu Katagiri, founded a tea school for the samurai classes and built the lovely temple and tea house at Jikoin. As you are served matcha and wagashi in a serene, spacious tatami room overlooking Zen gardens, you can imagine it is 1663 and you are one of his guests.
The Takayama area has been famous for tea whisks and accessories since the Muromachi period. Even now, about 90% of all tea whisks in Japan are made in these mountains. The area is dotted with tea houses and workshops and bamboo forests, redolent with the scent of roasted tea.
It takes many years to become a master of the tea ceremony, but you can experience the way of tea in a more relaxed environment at Taiseien. The owner speaks English and offers several tea experiences, from tasting matcha and wagashi, to a full tea ceremony with instruction on making tea and essential etiquette.
Nothing refreshes like a bowl of thick matcha tea and a sweet. At Kakigori Kashiya, matcha is served in Akahada bowls, the traditional pottery of Nara. In summer, you can cool down with shaved ice topped with matcha syrup.
One of the key suppliers of wagashi for tea ceremonies in Nara, Nakanishi Yosaburo makes delicate sweets that change with the seasons; every month there is at least one new seasonal variation. You can try them with matcha in the attractive 1920s tea room behind the shop.