In Kyoto our itinerary included ‘a truly amazing experience’ where we’d learn about Japanese culture in a restored wooden town house.
On arrival at “Wak Japan”:http://wakjapan.com/ the four of us met another couple who were (a) staying in our hotel and (b) had also booked through Trailfinders. We took off shoes, put on slippers and were taken up 15 steep, narrow wooden steps and immediately separated into boys and girls as we were dressing up in traditional Japanese clothing.
We were asked to choose our kimonos and obi (the sash that goes around your middle) but there wasn’t a great range of colours for me: I like cerise and purple but there were lots of muted shades and blues which I don’t really like. I settled for washed out pink.
Having stripped off, we dressed in white cotton undergarments, with the aid of a dresser. These consisted of a skirt tied round the waist and top. At this stage I started to feel like a turkey trussed for Christmas. Then came the kimono which was surprisingly heavy as they’re made from thick silk and can cost thousands of yen. ‘One size fits all’ and the length is adjusted by folding spare material over a string tied round your middle. Another piece of material was placed on top of the string before the obi was fitted. This was an elegant piece of contrasting silk hand tied in a bow at the back. Socks (with the toe separator) and hair clips finished our outfits. By now, I was ready for basting in the oven!
We carefully negotiated our way back down the stairs and found our partners waiting impatiently as their outfits were much simpler.
Photographs were taken in a lovely garden at the back before the tea ceremony began. Normally guests would kneel on the floor, but they took pity on old, western limbs and provided low stools. A kettle boiled in a recess in the floor and off we went.
We started with the usual bean curd filled sweet which we’d tasted before and knew we didn’t like but we were all polite. The green tea powder called matcha is more expensive than tea leaves as its grown under tarpaulin.
Kneeling, our host took powder from a beautiful lacquered ‘tea caddy’ using a long wooden spoon and placed it into a small bowl. The kettle lid was taken off and water ladled out with another larger wooden spoon. Once added to the powder, it was whisked with a wooden implement until froth was created on the liquid. It was then presented to the first guest and special words were said.
The movements were all deliberate, slow and graceful and eventually everyone had a cup. But it was a long drawn out process and I couldn’t help but think, it would have been quicker to make a pot. We were then shown how to drink the tea (as we were in the “Hamarikyu Gardens”:http://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/place/163203-review-hamarikyu-gardens).
One person from each couple was invited to make tea for their partner. Whilst the girls from the other two couples volunteered, there was no stereotyping with us and I made Roy do it as I was worried about kneeling and more importantly getting up whilst in a kimono.
All I can say is that the green tea Roy makes for me with a tea bag in two seconds every morning is far superior to the luke warm cup of frothy liquid he served that day.
Having got changed our session finished with a visit to the nearby Sake Museum where we learned about the process for making sake using polished rice (the more polishing the better the sake) before tasting a couple of sake and two beers.