Tea Culture in Kyoto

Kyoto culture runs deep, with a rich historical heritage as well as the simple custom of doing even the most ordinary everyday things a particular way for hundreds of years. Kyoto culture has, in turn, deeply influenced the entire country. The Japanese art and culture of tea began in Kyoto. Japan’s many schools of ikebana floral expressionism stem from the 15th-century Buddhist priest Senko Ikenobo in Kyoto, reverentially decorating his temple altar with flower arrangements inspired by his understanding of Buddhism. Kyoto Zen underpins both tea, with its rich cultural manifestations, and the city’s unique temple gardens. Those Zen gardens, in turn, are reflected in the pristine riverbanks of the Kamogawa and in the very air of Kyoto, where the fragrance of incense permeates this city like no other.

Tea Culture in Kyoto Photo Gallery

Author and aesthetician Donald Richie posited traditional Kyoto culture as “tea tasting, flower viewing, moon gazing, incense smelling, poetry contests—the aesthetic pursuits.” All of these cultural elements inherited from the ancient capital still reverberate with contemporary Kyotoites at an innate level in a most natural way, even as residents adapt to the inevitable changes of this century. Kyoto’s new International Manga Museum perhaps symbolizes a hopeful balance for the city’s cultural future as modernity challenges the preservation of ancient customs. The beautiful renovation of an old unused elementary school in the center of Kyoto to invitingly sanctify the Japanese pop arts of manga and anime seems a rare stroke of genius, akin to the Musée d’Orsay art museum created from the former Orsay Railway Station in Paris.

The garden teahouse at Jonan-gu Shrine.

Stimulating and tasty matcha green tea served in an understated ceramic bowl.

A New Year’s decoration composed of a simple pine sapling on the wooden gate of the Omotesenke School of Japanese Tea Ceremony.

An irori hearth and tetsubin kettle in the tearoom at Daiho-in Temple.

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