Sakai is a former merchant town

that was home to Sen no Rikyu, a prominent master of tea ceremony.

Traditional Roots of Tea Ceremony in Sakai

The famous tea ceremony master Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) rose to prominence promoting the culture surrounding tea ceremonies during the 16th century. As he was born in Sakai City, many believe that this area can be considered the home of the tea ceremony as an art form. The passionate devotion to the art can still be experienced in the area today.

 

The Merchant Town of Sakai

<p>Gaze at the lovely garden while sipping on tea.</p>

Gaze at the lovely garden while sipping on tea.

Before the name Sen no Rikyu became synonymous with the art of the tea ceremony (formerly chanoyu, now called sado), he was born into a wealthy merchant family. At the time, Sakai City flourished as a hub of international trade, and many types of culture flourished. He met a merchant in Sakai, Takeno Joo (1502-1555), and began to study tea ceremony under him. Rikyu eventually refined the style of the tea ceremony developed by Takeno and his predecessors called wabi-cha, focusing on purity and spirituality while avoiding all extravagance; the style of tea ceremonies currently practiced today.

 

Other fundamentals of tea ceremony include hospitality toward guests, and establishing an emotional bond between guest and host. There are places where this type of tea ceremony can still be enjoyed in town. There are also many shops that purvey traditional sweets called wagashi, as well as family-owned tea shops that have operated for centuries and are beloved by townsfolk. One such shop originally opened in 1850 as Tea House Tsuboichi, and now operates a café in a renovated townhouse that is over 300 years old.

Indulge in the Experience of Japanese Tea

<p>The past is new again at Tea House Tsuboichi!</p>

The past is new again at Tea House Tsuboichi!

The 5th generation owner, Tanimoto Junichi, said that they lost their shop during World War II, but dreamed of seeing the family sign in Sakai City once again. The main store and café is currently located in an old townhouse (machiya) building that was initially scheduled to be destroyed, but Mr. Tanimoto agreed to restore the property back to its former glory after a phone call with his friend, the owner, who encouraged him to do so. Some historical elements of the building include large support beams, some of which were made out of individual tree trunks. The renovations incorporated a theme based on a concept derived by Sen no Rikyu: to create a space where one can experience the atmosphere of the mountains within a city. Upon entry, visitors will feel like they’ve been transported deep into the mountains.

 

Mr. Tanimoto is sensitive to new concepts while preserving tradition. To learn about creating a café, he visited a lot of cafes around Japan. Through trial and error, he developed an original menu using high-quality Japanese tea from various parts of Japan, and sweets that compliment tea. In addition, each item on the menu has been carefully tasted and refined until it achieved a “real green tea taste.”

 

Although tea is only ground leaves and hot water, the process of making it is deceptively complicated. There are no opportunities to add a new ingredient or use additives to enhance or improve the flavor once it is brewed, and so great care is taken to test the flavor of the leaves and water on a regular basis.

<p>Fluffy, delicious shaved ice made, carefully carved with Sakai knives.</p>

Fluffy, delicious shaved ice made, carefully carved with Sakai knives.

Tea is typically served after dining in Japan and accompanied by a traditional sweet. While some may wonder why these sweets have a mild flavor, great care is taken to provide confectionery that works in harmony with the notes of green tea.

 

Some of the café’s popular offerings include matcha ice cream and a very generous portion of shaved ice (kakigori) infused with matcha powder.

<p>Deep steamed green tea designated by Osaka Prefecture as a fine product of the region.</p>

Deep steamed green tea designated by Osaka Prefecture as a fine product of the region.

There is also a souvenir corner within the store, where visitors can purchase original sweets and specially selected teas. Visitors should stop by and see if anything catches their eye.

Learn More

<p>Learn about Sakai’s history of tea ceremony at the Sakai Plaza of Rikyu and Akiko.</p>

Learn about Sakai’s history of tea ceremony at the Sakai Plaza of Rikyu and Akiko.

Visitors who are keen to learn more about the history surrounding Sen no Rikyu and the culture of tea in Sakai City should head to the Sakai Plaza of Rikyu and Akiko in the heart of the city. The museum offers an overview of the history of Sakai City as a port city that traded with European merchants, within the context of Sen no Rikyu’s efforts in popularizing Japanese tea ceremony. A highlight includes the large digitized folding screen image of a festival in Sakai City when it flourished as a trading port. Looking closely, visitors may also see images of people dressed in European-style clothing, a defining clue demonstrating the success of international relations for Sakai City. A reproduction of the National Treasure Rikyu’s Taian Teahouse can also be viewed at the museum.

 

Exhibits on Yosano Akiko (1878-1942), a poet from Sakai City in the early 20th century, is also celebrated in the museum with focus on her translations of The Tale of Genji—considered one of the world’s first novels—into modern Japanese and critiques on modern Japanese issues.

 

Visitors can experience make their own matcha in an hour-long traditional tea ceremony in the experience room, and reservations for the session is required at least one month in advance. A more casual 20-minute experience of matcha with sweets is available as well and requires no advance booking.

 

For Senshu tourist information inquiries, please contact the Senshu Japan Concierge Team.

 

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