Travelling allows our senses to be heightened - and many new encounters along the journey widen our perspective. There are always, however, “secret passages”; only selected connoisseurs know their existence – and their secrets are kept tightly under sealed lips. TOKI, an authentic cultural experience tour provider based in Japan, holds the key to untold stories.
In central Tokyo, Toranomon, where leading Japanese hotels such as The Okura Tokyo, and Tokyo Edition Toranomon reside, is still a story in the making. The area is undergoing constant development, as Tokyo’s signature skyscrapers shield the area while the hustle and bustle of the metropolis pulsates around the clock.
Facing the excitement Toranomon radiates, it is hard to believe that in this very place there is the timeless sanctuary of tea ceremony, with hundreds of years of customs and traditions in ultimate tranquillity.
The location of the tea ceremony is not disclosed and not opened to the public – and access is permitted by introduction and appointment only.
The tea ceremony, the epitome of Japanese culture, is a comprehensive art form that brings together Japan’s centuries-old aesthetics: the concept of Zen, hospitality, architecture, pottery, calligraphy, painting and incense to name just a few. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that experiencing a tea ceremony may give you a glimpse into the essence of Japan. Ohashi Saryo, for instance, would be an ideal place to start. This registered tangible cultural property built in 1947 by the 14th Urasenke School Tansai Sosho as a place of instruction in Tokyo, is also in the area. (Please note that many of such locations are not open to the public.)
When booking an experience through TOKI, the mentor – a person who will introduce the “hidden path” into Japan’s untold secrets – will be a great master of tea. With 85 years of experience, this mentor is considered a living legend and the master of the tea ceremony. All of these might sound somewhat intimidating, yet with TOKI, the only thing one needs is respect – respect towards others, and what one is about to encounter and the rest would be thoroughly explained before the commencement of the tea ceremony. Some of the rules entering a tea-ceremony room, such as taking off watches, rings and accessories to avoid damaging the tea utensils, will be discussed prior to the ceremony.
It is known that the hospitality of the host begins before entering the tea-ceremony room and it is expected that one admires the wonderfully designed garden, to absorb the seasonal beauty of the place.
Before proceeding indoors, there is a Tsukubai, a washbasin provided at the entrance to rinse the mouth and wash hands. It is a ritual that is also observed at many religious sights as a symbol of purification. Tsukubais in many cases are considered work of arts – some dating back hundreds of years.
Everything one sees from this point onwards are museum pieces in their own right: he Raku tea bowls, scrolls, kettles, water jars and tea utensils all are invaluable artefacts. Every piece would be carefully selected by the host, each with intentions and meanings. Exploring and discovering the tea ceremony through TOKI with the guidance of the mentor is not an mere amusement for tourists, but it is a journey, an epic into the true Japan, that otherwise remains untold.