The highlight of our visit to the beautiful Kenroku-en Garden in Kanazawa is the Shigure-tei Tea House (時雨亭).
Originally built as a villa in 1676 for the fifth Maeda lord of the Kaga clan, it was destroyed at the beginning of the Meiji era. Using an original floor plan from the feudal period, Shigure-tei was restored at another location within the immense garden in 2000 and is used as a tea house today.
Standing in the genkan (entry area where visitors remove their shoes), AB was concerned that we were inappropriately dressed. We were wearing sandals and, unlike the rest of the Japanese visitors, we were not wearing socks. Fortunately, one of the ladies working in the tea house assured us that it was not a problem for us to enter the room in bare feet and we wouldn’t be flouting any Japanese etiquette.
Stepping inside, I felt like I had gone back in time into a tranquil sanctuary surrounded by a lovely verdant garden. The heavy humidity of summer disappeared in the cool air-conditioned welcome room. We were ushered into the main tea room, shuffling our feet quietly across the tatami ground.
Being the only non-Japanese speakers in the room, we weren’t sure what to do, so we mimicked the other visitors. When the hostess gestured to us to form two facing rows, we knelt down and waited with our hands on our laps.
Three elegant kimono-clad ladies appeared with plates of wagashi, a traditional Japanese confectionery. They moved from one visitor to another, kneeling and bowing as they presented the red bean moichi decorated with a speck of gold leaf; Kanazawa is renowned for its gold leaf production, accounting for more than 90% of Japan’s gold leaf industry.
The tea was served in a similar simple yet formal manner. There was repeated bowing and we would respond in kind each time as that seemed like the right thing to do.
For those few minutes, my mind was clear and focused on the subtleties of my surroundings -the melodic sounds of water trickling and insect song, the slightly bitter taste of the matcha tea, the patterns on the Ohi ceramic chawan, the smell of tatami...
Kneeling for several minutes can be uncomfortable or even painful. Upon seeing some of the Japanese guests shift into sideway-seating, we followed accordingly.
When we finished the tea, we explored the rest of the room. I love sitting on the veranda with my feet dangling over the edge and admiring the wonderful inner garden. The plants came in different shapes and sizes, forming a charming landscape with the winding stream, miniature waterfall, rocks and stone lanterns.
It was a privilege to be there. I felt like I had entered an enchanting world where there’s time and space to contemplate and enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature.
If I were to return to Kanazawa, I’d definitely stop by Kenrokuen Garden and Shigure-tei Tea House again.
Opening hours: 9am – 4.30pm daily, last admission at 4pm
Tea ceremony fees: 720 yen for matcha and 310 yen for sencha
P.S. Photography was not allowed during the tea ceremony. So I made a rough sketch in my travel journal to better remember the moment.