In Japan, Golden Week (a collection of 4 national holidays in late April/ early May) is the ideal time to go exploring so, during Golden Week Heisei 30 nen (i.e. the year of our Lord 2018 ) I decided to take a solo trip to the first capital of Japan, Kyoto.
Kyoto was Japan's capital for a little over a millenium, from the 8th Century until 1868 when the seat of government and the Emperor's residence was moved to Edo (modern-day Tokyo) during the Meiji Restoration.
Kyoto is also the centre of the world of Sado, or the Way of Tea, as it is home to Omotesenke, Urasenke and Mushakojisenke (the most popular branches of Sado) as well as multiple tea houses -- two of which are located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Nijo-jo Castle.
As it so happened, while perusing a Kyoto Visitors Guide I came across an announcement for an upcoming Citizen's Tea Party which was being held while I was still in Kyoto.
So after spending the morning exploring the popular Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine I made my way to Nijo-jo Castle to experience what I thought was going to be a simple tea ceremony event.
However, it was so much more that I could have imagined.
Upon my arrival at the entrance of the castle I purchased my ticket for the Citizen's Tea Party which also included entrance to the Castle and the popular Ninomaru-goten Palace.
First of all, let me tell you...Nijo-jo Castle is HUGE and it took me some time to eventually make my way to the Seiryu-en Garden which is where the Citizens Tea Party was being held.
This particular staging of the Citizens Tea party was the 64th and with good reason, as the location is absolutely breath-taking; beautifully manicured trees amidst a serene water feature.
Although I thought I'd be attending a Chado Tea Ceremony (which is what I have been practicing) it turned out that this particular Citizens Tea party was actually a SENchado Tea Ceremony.
Now, you're probably thinking...
'What's the difference between Chado and Senchado, Nady?'
Well, in a nutshell, whilst chado involves whisking powdered green tea (aka matcha) senchado involves the preparation and drinking of sencha green tea, especially the high grade gyokuro type.
I was in for a first-time once-in-a-lifetime experience.
One of the main differences I immediately noticed was the cutest little teacups I have ever seen. Unlike Sado, the process of Senchado requires pouring small amounts of slightly-bitter high grade tea into small cups. Like a cross between wine-tasting and tea-sipping.
Incidentally, the ticket actually included TWO Senchado Tea Ceremonies. One in the Koun-tei teahouse and the other in the Waraku-an.
Both teahouses were separated by a beautiful garden complete with its own pond and mini waterfalls. While both ceremonies were Senchado they each had different styles of preparation (from what I observed) as well as different teapots and cups.
The tastes were also distinctly different as well.
The Seiza Situation
As if being the only foreigner present was not enough to make me stick out like a sore thumb, both teahouses were equipt with tatami mats which meant that I had to sit in seiza (legs folded under butt).
That lasted for all of 5 minutes before I had to give in and sit cross-legged (much more comfortable) to the amusement of the old Japanese ladies near to me.
Speaking of old Japanese ladies, there were quite a few persons dressed in traditional Japanese kimono for the event. Most were seated nearest to the tea master in the position of the "lead guests" and were typically the first to be served.
The vast teahouses set amidst the serene gardens and waterfalls with women in kimono seated patiently on tatami mats drinking tea was almost like a scene straight out of Oshin.
Which I was blessed to experience first-hand.
All in all, my time spent at the Nijo-jo Citizen's Tea Party was an enriching one and has given me greater insight into the significance of the Way of Tea to the rich history of Japan.