The first year we visited Japan we had a very simple plan: stay a few days in Tokyo for the beginning of our trip, then head to Kyoto for a few days, and back again to Tokyo for just a couple of days since our flight was out of Narita airport. So in addition to airline tickets and JR Passes we had to book lodging for both cities. We’d had some great experiences with Airbnb before and decided to go with apartments instead of the regular hotel room.
We contacted a couple of people that had listings in Kyoto and went with an apartment that belonged to Atsuko. She was very responsive to our communications and her English was excellent — we were thrilled. That’s not even the tip of it though. Much to everyone’s surprise we all stumbled on a major coincidence: Atsuko would also be travelling that summer to — you guessed it — Lisbon! We had no place to offer her but she’d already booked a place in Alfama anyhow.
We kept in touch for the next couple of months and agreed that exchanging tips of the two countries over a traditional Portuguese meal would be amazing. We instantly clicked, we had fun, we suggested a couple of places that Atsuko should visit, she did the same for us, we blasted her with questions and more questions, and she even brought us a souvenir all the way from Kyoto — regional sweets packed in the most beautiful of boxes — the entire experience was kinda surreal. In the time Atsuko spent here in Lisbon, she even had time to be interviewed on live TV (min 16:00) — which we’re embarrassed about to this day.
She had some bad news for us though. She’d have to return to Kyoto sooner than expected because of work, and we wouldn’t be able to stay at her place. Absolutely no worries, we said. She was clearly more worried than we were — we had just made a friend.
Fast forward one year later and we let Atsuko know that we’d be visiting again. She was excited about it, but again, I doubt she was more excited than we were. We all started making plans (which you’ll see more of in upcoming posts), that included a visit to her new work and business: Camellia.
Camellia is a traditional tea house where they perform the Japanese tea ceremony. It’s set in Higashiyama-ku, the center of the beautiful, well-preserved and historic Kyoto district, which adds even more ambiance to the ritual.
Once inside we waited for a little bit while admiring the amazing kimono and byōbu, and were then ushered by Atsuko to a private room where the ceremony would take place.
Having been in the bustling mega-metropolis that is Tokyo just a couple of days before made us appreciate this moment even more. The tea ceremony drags you into a trance state with every touch, movement, sound and smell. It creates a total abstraction from the outside world.
The utensils are simple yet gorgeous. The gestures to prepare the tea cup are meticulous but always gracious, decided, and purposeful. The sounds of the boiling water in the pot or the pouring to the cup are unique and so precious. And just like music, it’s not about the notes, but the silence between them. The hosts are friendly, calm and they explain everything so soothingly. To top it all off, we were then instructed on how to prepare our own tea cup.
Overall, it was a magical experience that swooped us in, grabbing us by all senses and making us distance ourselves from everyday worries.
And that’s the goal of it all: to appreciate the host, to connect with whoever’s in the room at that moment, to take in every second for what it’s worth — to re-connect with yourself with a simple yet delicious cup of tea in one of the most beautiful places in Kyoto.
Because, as they say in Japan, nothing is without meaning.