I’ve been fascinated by tea ceremonies for a few years now so when I started planning our two-week trip to Japan, I wanted to include a traditional Japanese tea ceremony on the itinerary.
I found the Maikoya kimono tea ceremony in Kyoto and am so glad and grateful we got to experience this part of Japanese culture.
In this post, I’ve written a Maikoya tea ceremony Kyoto review so you can see if it’s the right experience for you and know what to expect when you sign up.
Transforming into geishas
Wearing a kimono was one of the highlights of my entire Japan trip, hands down.
Right when we walked in the door, we were ushered into a changing room and given the appropriate undergarments and geisha (aka camel toe) socks to wear. We then got to pick out our kimono. This of course led me down a black hole of decision overwhelm and I had to get a few second opinions before opting for a burgundy number with a cream-colored sash.
They also put our hair into updos and added a hair accessory. Friends I must say I just felt so, so beautiful and fancy!
Thoughts on Japanese design
When it comes to beauty and design, the Japanese tend to accentuate the natural characteristics of a thing instead of trying to transform it or add lots of flourishes. The kimono–and even modern female Japanese fashion–accentuate the slenderness and “straight” lines of most Japanese women (like anti-Kim Kardashian formalwear. This works well for me because I’m petite and slender and straight myself!) Even though I was completely covered up except for my face and hands, I felt beautiful and even sexy, which surprised me.
A mindful and memorable ceremony
After getting dressed up, we went upstairs to the traditional tea room with tatami mats. Our tea master Yuri introduced herself and taught us about the history of tea ceremonies.
Now: If you’ve spent some time in the hipster parts of the internet, you’ve probably seen some non-Japanese folks participating or even running tea ceremonies. Tea ceremonies did indeed originate in Japan – samurais began ritualistically drinking tea to show power (through luxurious tea-tasting parties and consuming expensive tea), establish social ties, and find inner peace in times of fighting/war.
One of the concepts that really stuck with me was that of ichi-go ichi-e, or appreciating the present moment because we cannot have it ever again. I felt completely present during the cleaning part of the ceremony when Yuri prepared the tools in silence. All we could hear was the whisk in water and swishing of Yuri’s kimono as she moved.
We ate two types of sweets on our plates before tea time. This is because matcha can be quite bitter on its own so you have something sweet directly beforehand to prepare your palate.
In traditional tea ceremonies, the tea master prepares matcha for each person. However, we had the opportunity during the Maikoya tea ceremony to whisk our own matcha.
Yuri showed us how to whisk the tea into the hot water elegantly and how to drink with the right hand on the side of the bowl and left hand underneath. I love all things matcha so was very pleased once it was time to sip 🙂
Maikoya Tea Ceremony Kyoto review closing thoughts
I did feel a bit rushed from the second we entered the building. They allowed us lots of time for photos and even helped take some photos for us, but I felt like we were being a bother by doing so. Like for example, I wish we had met the other guests in our tea ceremony and established some rapport with them. This would have made it more fun and relaxed I think.
It’s understandable they wanted to move us through the ceremony: I imagine they are extremely busy since Maikoya is the most popular and highest rated tea ceremony in Kyoto.
The sweetest tea master
Yuri was so kind and interesting. She answered all of our questions and explained every step of the ceremony process. I was surprised to learn how tea ceremonies originated with samurai (I always thought it was a geisha/female thing). Yuri also made sure she took some great photos of me and Christie together.
Don’t sleep on kimonos: a must-do!
Getting dressed up in the kimono was a highlight not only of the day but of my whole Japan trip. Don’t skip the kimono part!
A taste (or sip, if you will;) of Japanese culture
It can be hard to go deeper into a country’s culture when visiting as a first-time tourist without friends or guides in the country. Christie and I were super grateful to have the opportunity to experience and learn more about Japanese culture through both this tea ceremony and the sushi-making class we did in Tokyo.
P.S. I’m sorry to tell you this, but apparently matcha latte’s are a bastardization of matcha. Try it with just hot water if you’ve never had it before!
Bonus: Lots of laughs at the Samurai and Ninja Museum
Mai-Ko also run a Samurai and Ninja Museum in Kyoto, nearby to the location where we did the tea ceremony. We *almost* didn’t go to the museum when we saw a bunch of families checking in and we figured it was more of a kid thing, but thank god we didn’t back out! The Samurai and Ninja Museum was so much unexpected fun and the perfect counterbalance to the seriousness and grace of the tea ceremony.
Our museum guide gave us the overview and history of samurais and ninjas all while engaging our tour group with fun trivia, questions, and silly jokes. We watched a samurai sensei perform, then we became ninjas and samurais ourselves. We even competed in weapon throwing competitions as ninjas. The whole experience was playful and hilariously fun.
Did you know Darth Vadar’s outfit was based on traditional samurai armor??
Well that was a piece of one of our fantastic days in Japan. Check out the rest of our 2 week Japan itinerary here.
You can view and sign up for Maikoya’s tea ceremony packages on their website.
A big thank you to Yuri and the Maikoya team for their generosity! Also thank you to my girl Christie Jones for taking the photos featured here.
Thank you for those pictures of the tea ceremony, they were so calming. So even if you yourselves felt kind of rushed, I felt relaxed and zen just looking at them! I would really like to experience one of these one day.
Not to quibble, but tea ceremonies actually originated in China, not Japan. Speaking of origins, Japan was in fact the origin of so much in Star Wars–from Darth Vader’s costume, like you said; to the Jedi order of warriors, like samurai (heck, even Obi-won Kenobi’s name sounds Japanese, and ‘Yoda’ is an actual Japanese surname; to the actual storylines (Japanese movies like The Hidden Fortress); to Jedi light saber fights (inspired by Kendo as well as English fencing). This is no surprise, as creator George Lucas was a fan of Japanese period films, called Jidai-geki, from which he got the word, ‘Jedi,’ and especially of Akira Kurosawa, from whom he learned a lot of the cinematographic techniques seen in Star Wars flicks. In fact, seeing you guys decked out in Samurai gear made me realize how much Star Wars fans would love this…or maybe they were there already!
Hi Joe, thanks for this – that is all super interesting, especially about Star Wars. The first I heard about it being influenced by Japanese culture was at this museum. I had no idea! Thanks for sharing.