At the Kawachi Wisteria garden, we were advised that the peak of the season had just passed. To our pleasure, the blossoms were still abundant but the visitors were very few. The pastel flowers draped the tunnels and canopies which supported branches from hundreds-of-years-old trunks. More tea awaited us in the ancient capital of Kyoto. The visit to Kozanji Temple to see the oldest tea garden in Japan was made even more special, being guided by the abbot of the temple and his companion Coco. Albeit touristy, the Golden Pavilion glistened in the sun. A class in pottery-making in Kyomizu, and bowls of thick Mat Cha put us in the proper spirit for one of the highlights of our time in Kyoto. After being dressed in kimonos (simple ones) we strolled the grounds of Kodaiji temple and enjoyed a tea ceremony and a talk on the inextricable relation of tea to the temple. At night we enjoyed more delicious meals, onsen, and bowls of tea at our riverside ryokan up in the mountains.
After three days to enjoy the treasures of Kyoto, we drove up into the hills of Wazuka. We learned all the steps of tea making, from plucking and pan frying our leaves to brewing them – even grinding our own Mat Cha. In the evening we were literally steeped in tea. First we enjoyed a delicious Houji Cha hot pot dinner and then an actual onsen of Houji Cha! In Uji we toured a huge Mat Cha factory and visited the ancient kiln, still in use today. After a visit to the iconic Fushimi Inari shrine we arrived back in Kyoto to catch the bullet train to our next exciting tea destination, Shizuoka…..
We took the bullet train north to Shizuoka and after a tour of the tea museum guided by the director, we stepped back in time a few decades and took the old steam train up to Kawani. With the season’s warmth now reaching the higher latitude, harvesting was in full swing. We saw mechanized organic tea farming and had the very special chance to taste the tea that was made for the new Emperor. We toured the tea processing / refining factories of Kanes and Marumatsu to see how manufacturing steps are divided. Although we enjoyed many amazing meals, one evening we had debatably the best meal of the trip. I lost count of how many courses, but each included the use of tea.
Stay tuned for the next installment, later in January
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