Inside a Japanese Tea House

October 30, 2020

Inside a Japanese Tea House, you’ll find no furniture, no chairs, no tables, and absolutely no shoes. What you will find is creamy, green matcha and lovely sweets, properly prepared and served on tatami mats. 

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Walking Inside a Japanese Tea House

Walking inside a Japanese Tea House the first thing you’ll notice is a place to put your shoes, and maybe some house slippers to put on for the duration of your meal. The expectation is that you’ll neatly place your shoes side by side and then remain in the house slippers. The only exception is when using the toilet, in which case you’ll switch out the house slippers for different, plastic toilet slippers.

The slipper complications do not end here though, because there are is no furniture inside the Japanese tea house, there are just tatami mats. The rule is absolutely no slippers on tatami mats, so if they are offered, be sure to take them off and place them neatly beside you. If there are no slippers provided at the front, the expectation is that you’ll go barefoot while inside the Japanese tea house.

Tea House Service

Matcha served inside a Japanese tea house
Matcha served inside a Japanese tea house

Typically, the menu inside a Japanese tea house is rather small. There may be a few selections of teas, some sweet bites, and, of course, a Matcha ceremony. Matcha is traditionally consumed by Japanese people at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And, because of its health and adaptogenic benefits, it’s also prepared when one is stressed and needs to be calmed down, or when one is tired and needs energy. 

Should you order the traditional matcha, a server will kneel down beside you and whisk the green tea leaves into hot water. There is typically a tray with a space for the matcha and a small wagashi, or Japanese sweet, on the side. The idea is to eat the wagashi after consuming your matcha as a means to balance the intensity of the matcha tea. 

Consumption Etiquette

Drinking Matcha out of a bowl
Drinking Matcha out of a bowl

The expectation while drinking tea inside a Japanese tea house is that you’ll drink out of these bowls and experience something grand. Similar to the way wine aficionados will swear that red wine should be consumed from a wider, red wine glass, the matcha is traditionally consumed from bowls, giving the consumer a wider area from which to enjoy the tea’s sweet, earthy aroma. Matcha is no different from other Japanese delicacies in regard to the way it should be consumed: with both hands cupping the bowl. Taking the bowl in both hands signifies an appreciation for the food or drink that’s currently being consumed. This etiquette practice continues the theme of itadakimasu* throughout the meal. 

And, when I said to drink out of the bowls, I mean drink. As in, preferably one, and no more than two long sips. The process of whisking the hot water with the green matcha powder significantly cools the tea making it easy to drink quickly. And since it is just powdered green tea leaves in hot water, the powder settles quite quickly, making it necessary to drink the matcha quickly. 

The Take-Away

Visit Japan and a Japanese tea house
Visit Japan and a Japanese tea house

The Japanese are very methodical and thoughtful people. Nothing in their culture is done by accident, and everything has intention behind it. It can feel intimidating to follow all of the rules to their customs, but once you’ve been on the island for a few days, you’ll get the hang of it. Having the ability to experience tea while inside a Japanese tea house is an experience next to none, and one you should take full advantage of. Also, as long as you’re trying to abide by their customary norms, you’ll be met with plenty of helpful, friendly people, and lots of delicious food. 

Final Thoughts

In summarizing our exploration of the serene world of a Japanese tea house, we recognize it as a profound embodiment of Japanese tradition and culture. The Japanese tea ceremony, or 茶室 (chashitsu), is not just a ritual but a holistic experience that harmonizes elements like the tatami mat, the tranquility of the flower arrangement, and the reverent presence of a hanging scroll. Each tea gathering is a unique expression of wabi-cha, a style perfected by Zen monks and revered as a national treasure.

The mizuya, where the host meticulously prepares the tea, is a testament to the thoughtful and intentional nature of this tradition. Entering the tea room through sliding doors, guests step onto a garden path that leads them not only to a physical space but also to a state of mindfulness and harmony. The practiced tea ceremony within the small room of thatched huts, a tradition dating back to influential figures like Oda Nobunaga, continues to be a revered cultural practice, connecting modern participants with the past.

Architects like Kengo Kuma have elevated the design of these tea houses, blending traditional elements with contemporary architecture, yet preserving the essence of this revered ritual. The tea house remains a sanctuary, a place where the simplicity and elegance of Japanese aesthetics are experienced in every sip of tea and every detail of the surroundings.

Plan Your Japanese Tea House Trip

Japan is so different it can feel daunting to plan a trip there.

And although we’ve gently touched upon some of the major cultural differences, there’s a lot to consider when planning your trip to the island.

We’d be thrilled to advise you to the best places to stay, the best places to experience a matcha ceremony inside a Japanese tea house, and the best places to explore during your time in Japan.

Your personal concierge will listen to your unique needs, and look at your personal situation to craft your dream vacation. Whether it’s maximizing your air or hotel loyalty or using your credit card points, your concierge puts your personal situation first.

We can personalize your travel – let’s talk. 

* “Itadakimasu” is always said before meals in Japan and is accompanied by joining your hands in a prayer-like form in front of your chest. It translates to “I humbly accept this food, and show gratitude for where it came from” but its direct counterpart would be most similar to “Bon Apetit”. 

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