Tea Ceremony at Hakone Gardens: a glimpse into Japanese culture

December 11, 2018 — by Colleen Feng and Sherrie Shen

From koi, bamboo and tea gardens to exquisite pathways and stone steps, Hakone Gardens, located on Big Basin Way in the hills of Saratoga, showcases the wonders of Japanese estates and culture. Other attractions at the gardens include a moon-viewing bridge, wisteria arbor and cherry trees.

Since its founding over a century ago, Hakone has become a national and city park, offering many opportunities for Saratoga residents to interact with Japanese culture. One such event is the garden’s public Japanese Tea Ceremony. Held on the third Sunday of each month from April to November, excluding August, the ceremony requires an appointment. In addition to the $7 tea ceremony fee, there is an $8 garden entry fee for a total of $15. Curious about the experience, we decided to check out the tea ceremony.

After buying tickets at the gift shop, we headed to the tea house and took our seats in the audience. The stage had bamboo matting, and on the wall was a flower and scroll that read “sit quietly and listen to the wind going through the pine” in kanji. The tea master, dressed in traditional pants called a hakama, explained that the room was created so that when the tea boils in the floor compartment, it sounds like wind breezing through the trees.

The tea master — who has been studying and conducting tea ceremonies for over 40 years — briefly introduced different types of tea and began the ceremony.We were given a tea biscuit: two small, red-bean pancakes with chocolate filling inside.

Then, the tea master’s wife entered the stage to begin performing the role of the host in the ceremony. She brought the equipment for serving tea and knelt down in front of us as she cleaned the utensils and whisked and poured the tea. Then, everyone received a bowl of powdered matcha tea to sample, which tasted very bitter, but still had a delicious aroma to it.

When everyone was finished, the tea master started to speak more in-depth about the historical significance of Japanese tea ceremonies. He explained that in Japan, tea ceremonies are performed for all kinds of reasons. The tea master’s own wedding was conducted as a tea ceremony.

Overall, we would recommend the hour-long tea ceremony at Hakone Gardens, as it was a unique experience. Although parts of the explanations were long and dry, it was obvious the tea master and those who helped demonstrate the ceremony truly love this art. After all, they provide this service free of charge. But it’s a good opportunity to relax and a welcome break from long hours of writing college application essays.

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