Welcome to Toko-An on the fourth floor of the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo's main building. The sukiya-style tea room, designed with a series of interconnecting chambers, traditional shoji doors, tatami floors, and a serene rock garden, is the perfect sanctum where you can leave the stress and cares of daily life behind you.
The first order of business is to see if the tea master is ready for you. If the sliding door is left open the width of three fingers, it is appropriate to enter. If the door is closed, it's an indication that preparation is underway for the next ceremony, or there may be one already in progress.
All of these subtle cues are part of the notion of reishiki, proper form or etiquette in tea ceremonies, and a way to preserve an ancient Japanese practice that the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo shares with interested guests.
Learn proper reishiki, or etiquette, for a tea ceremony guest, from the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo's tea master.
To ensure the most authentic experience, the hotel commissioned master architect Togo Murano in 1970 to create the impressive space, made up of three chambers, all built according to the exacting standards of the 400-year-old sukiya-style, based on the aesthetics of naturalness and simplicity.
Guests can request that the protocols and processes of "the way of tea" be explained in English: everything from removing one's shoes before entering the ceremony chamber, to the right way to savor traditional sweets served before the rich, green tea arrives. For purists, the ceremony is recited in Japanese.
The Imperial’s tea master, Setsuko Tanaka, learned the practice from her aunt, who had worked in Toko-An since it opened. She had been performing the Imperial's tea ceremonies for 60 years, until her death 10 years ago. Now, it is Setsuko who leads the choreographed ritual.
Dressed in her kimono, Setsuko prepares the matcha, powdered green tea, mixing it with water in a tea bowl and stirring it vigorously with a bamboo whisk. She tells visitors, "This time is to be enjoyed together with calm hearts. I wish everyone could take a moment and relax like this. To take back with them a taste of the Japanese spirit."
To learn more about the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, or to arrange an authentic Japanese tea ceremony experience during your stay, please contact the concierge upon making a reservation.