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Tea time in Tokyo: a formal experience

We started out by taking the subway to the Hama-Rikyu garden which is considered to be the best garden in Tokyo. It features a duck pond with islands and a tea pavilion, and manicured pine trees, some of which are hundreds of years old.

We went into the tea pavilion for a break and some tea. The tea pavilion is on an island in the middle of the pond and is accessed by a wooden bridge. We had to remove our shoes at the entrance and walk in our stocking feet across the floor. We decided not to take our tea sitting on the tatami mats on the floor (weren’t sure we’d be able to get up) but to go outside and sit at the tables on the deck which we thought would be much more comfortable. As we stepped down onto the deck, we slipped on a pair of slippers available for that purpose.

Then, we were given a sheet explaining how to eat the confection and drink the green tea. It’s quite involved and we followed the instructions carefully—cutting the confection into pieces and eating all of them before you drink the tea (their sweetness enhances the flavor of the tea), picking up the tea bowl in your right hand, placing the bowl in the palm of your left hand, turning it counterclockwise twice so that the section of the bowl you should drink from is in front of you, drinking the tea in four or five sips (although the instructions said it would be OK if you had to take more than five sips), and then using your thumb and forefinger to clean the rim of the cup. I really don’t know why you’d need to clean the rim but we both followed the instructions to the letter. It was a very nice experience.

This garden … is an oasis of peace and quiet in the heart of the busy city. It is landscaped with well manicured evergreens and there are pretty stone paths winding through it. Some of the trees were bright red and yellow against the evergreens, and the sun was shining brightly. In the center of the park is the pond and tea pavilion, and when you stand anywhere in the park, you can see the lovely peaceful landscape bordered by the soaring modern skyscrapers of the city beyond.

Extracted from Traveling with Elizabeth – EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES AROUND  THE WORLD. Now available from Amazon.

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