We have a friend in town for a visit, which has been a great excuse to check out some of the guidebook sites we haven’t yet seen.
Hama Rikyū Teien is within walking distance of our current apartment, and is a pleasant diversion from Tokyo’s humid June weather. Now a public garden, the area was owned by a feudal lord during the Edo period (1603 to 1868) and served as duck hunting grounds for the shogunate. It opened to the public in 1946, and includes a flower field with blooms for every season, a saltwater tidal pond with floating tea house, and a 300-year-old pine tree.
Tea was served in the style of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, which I hadn’t yet tried for fear I would make an offensive mistake. The casual atmosphere of the tea house was a great place to try it for the first time. As we sat on our knees on the tatami mat, kind women in kimono smiled, brought out our tea, and then slipped us each a cheat sheet.
Sweets are eaten first, placed with the paper in your left hand while you use the wooden skewer in your right to swiftly cut it into pieces. It was just the right amount of sweet. Then on to the matcha. Place the bowl in left hand, then turn it clockwise 3 times, so to display the fancy design of your bowl outward. Three sips is all you get, leaving as little foam as possible. A slurp is always polite.
I was a little worried I was going to scald my tongue, but by the time I got to my tea it was just the right temperature. I should have known — a few centuries of practice, and the Japanese have their tea to perfection.