“Powdered matcha green tea is very healthy for you because it is a strong anti-oxidant,” the leader of the tea ceremony informed her gathered audience. “It can make you healthier, more energetic, smarter and more beautiful. I drink three or four cups of green tea a day, because of this you cannot tell my age. But I am a centenarian,” she added the last part with a straight face but the smile in her voice, and the obvious truth, bellied her joke. The audience chuckled and made a few continuing jokes.
"Sado" Tea Ceremony
After informing the assembled audience about the history of green tea and the tea ceremony in Japan, the lead instructor passed out small bags of flower flavored sugar candies to the assembled audience.
“The green tea is a little bitter. Eating something sweet before drinking the tea gives you a reference and enhances the flavor.” The head instructor told the audience. While everyone in the audience enjoyed a few pieces of candy, the other instructor demonstrated the simple, purposeful dance-like motions of the tea ceremony and prepared the first cup of powdered matcha tea. While she whisked the tea into a bubbly froth the head instructor called the audience’s attention to the use of the whisk and the movement of the wrist used to produce the froth. The audience was then briefly schooled in drinking etiquette and then tea was served all around. Once everyone had drank or started drinking their tea the instructors invited members of the audience to try making a cup of matcha themselves. I’ve experienced many tea ceremonies but the environment put on by the one at the NARA Visitor Center is the friendliest I’ve seen. Three tea ceremonies are offered by the Visitor Center every Tuesday at 1pm, 1:45pm and 2:30pm. No registration is required, just be there.
The NARA Visitor Center & Inn
On July 23rd of this year (2015) Nara Prefecture opened the NARA Visitor Center & Inn. Located on the south side of the Sarusawa Pond a 10 minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station, the new visitor center is a comprehensive one stop shop for travelers to Nara. Multi-lingual staff are on hand every day, there are three laptop computer terminals, several tablets and free Wi-Fi to allow travelers to research and plan their travels, and two walls of pamphlets with information about Nara and other parts of Japan. The large lounge (The Travelers’ Lounge) has plenty of seating in which to conduct one’s research, and an ATM accepting overseas cards, a full convenience store in the basement and free luggage storage and currency exchange services are also available. From the fall of 2016 the inn from the visitor center’s name will be open and ready for business. Finally there are cultural experiences like the tea ceremony. A different one is offered free of charge everyday and seasonal experiences are rotated into the schedule every month.
The closest train station to the NARA Visitor Center & Inn is Kintetsu Nara Station. It’s a 10-minute walk from there through the Higashi-Muki and Sanjo Dori Shopping Streets to the Sarusawa Pond and the Visitor Center. Walking from JR Nara Station takes about 20 minutes but is very direct. Visitors only need to walk straight up the Sanjo Dori Shopping Street.