It’s no lie when they say that Kyoto is the cultural hub of Japan. There’s so much to do, see, taste, and experience just for your own cultural enrichment that, when we first arrived, we were all overwhelmed on what to do first despite the planned itinerary. However, one thing was for sure: We wanted to witness a tea ceremony. More importantly, we wanted to do this while wearing kimonos as is part of the traditional experience.
Thanks to my friend Elysa, our photographer during this trip, we were able to do just that. She had looked up and found for us a place not too far from Nishiki Market a workshop on traditional tea ceremonies that also offered us the chance to learn while wearing kimonos. Of course we booked this ASAP.
We decided to go on Christmas day, thinking that it would be a nice, special touch to the holiday. Interestingly enough, we arrived late by 5 minutes. We had trouble finding the place and apologized consistently for making our instructor wait. Then we went right to work.
She took us upstairs where the first thing we did was change into kimonos. One instructor and two assistants quickly helped the four of us pick out kimonos, dress us into them, and do our hair. It was like a mini makeover, minus the makeup. A total transformation! In doing so, our instructor taught us a little about kimonos.
Here’s what we learned:
Kimonos can be passed down from generation to generation because of the fact that it is always cut the same. The only differences in size are for a child and a full grown adult, but other than that it’s pretty much the same. However, the designs vary tremendously in terms of color, pattern, and print. According to our instructor, smaller prints and patterns that cover the entire surface of the fabric are meant for casual wear, while prints that cover less of the design are meant for more formal wear. I guess you can think of it as being more of simple elegance.
After the kimono, you can wear either a full or half obi. Obis are the thick belts with beautifully colorful designs that are meant to compliment the entire kimono. If you wear a full obi, then you need an obiyame, a smaller thinner fabric that would help hold the kimono together. A half obi does not require that. Additionally, there are collars and ties underneath the kimono and then the belt that is tied over the obi.
The outfit itself is meant to make you look flatter and is also very difficult to walk in. Truth be told, I praise women who walk around the streets of Kyoto and Tokyo in full blown kimonos.
After getting dressed and pinning up our hairs, we went outside to the back for a small photoshoot. The back looked like a small oasis, and we were even given an umbrella for a prop. It was actually unexpected on our part so we were surprised that our time allotted for that.
Finally came the tea ceremony. We thought we were originally taking part in a demonstration, but in actuality, we were given the chance to make matcha tea ourselves. First, we took a small whiff of the different kinds of tea most common to Japanese culture.
Then we watched carefully how our instructor took the time to approach the materials patiently and then cleaned each of the materials carefully. We witnessed the proper way to pour water from the kettle into the cup for mixing, how to measure matcha, and how to mix. The mixing was probably the hardest part – it looks deceptively easy, but really it does a number on your wrist. After that, we learned how to serve the tea, what to say when offering and receiving to both the server and the peers whom you are with, and that it was polite to slurp at the very end because it indicates that you fully enjoyed the tea.
At the very end, we thanked her for the instruction and were given small gifts as a token of appreciation – Japanese phrase flash-cards, an added bonus to the entire experience.
Quite frankly, the experience was a lot more than what we bargained for, and it was a great time! I would encourage everyone to try this if they are ever in Kyoto.