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Tea Tours – An Introduction to Japanese Tea Culture

Tea – a simple drink that has been a distinct part of Japanese culture for centuries. From ancient rituals to contemporary practices, the history of tea in Japan is a story of tradition, hospitality, and a deep connection with nature.

A monk at an open tea house serving matcha (right) and a peddler selling extracts (left). Illustration from Shichiju-ichiban shokunin utaawase (七十一番職人歌合), Muromachi period; The monk's clothing depicts the relationship between matcha culture, tea offerings, and Buddhism.
A monk at an open tea house serving matcha (right) and a peddler selling extracts (left), the monk's clothing depicts the relationship between tea culture, tea offerings, and Buddhism. Muromachi period.

The origins of tea in Japan can be traced back to the 9th century when Buddhist monks returned from China, carrying not only tea leaves but also the knowledge of tea preparation. Initially used for religious ceremonies and medicinal purposes, tea slowly transformed into a symbol of hospitality and a means to cultivate meaningful connections between people.

It was during the Kamakura period (12th - 14th century) that tea culture in Japan flourished, with the emergence of Zen Buddhism. The simplicity and mindfulness of Zen philosophy blended seamlessly with the ritualistic aspects of tea preparation, leading to the development of Chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony. Chanoyu emphasized the art of tea preparation, presentation, and consumption as a way to attain inner peace and harmony.

Approaching the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix's roji garden. The enclave is on the right, with a japanese lantern on the left, with a handcrafted fence depicting the entrance.
Approaching the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix's roji.

As tea culture took root in Japan, so did the idea of creating spaces dedicated to the appreciation of tea and nature. The concept of a Japanese tea garden, known as roji (露地, 'dewy ground'), began to flourish during the Muromachi period (14th - 16th century). Inspired by the principles of Zen, these gardens were designed to evoke a sense of tranquility, simplicity, and harmony with our natural surroundings.

Roji gardens embraced a minimalist aesthetic, featuring carefully arranged stepping stones (飛び石, tobbiishi), meandering pathways, and strategically placed plants to create a serene ambiance for tea ceremonies. The Roji became an integral part of the tea experience, providing guests with an opportunity to cleanse their minds and immerse themselves in the beauty of nature before entering the Tea House, invoking feelings of being somewhere secluded and fully within nature.

Musoan - the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix's tea house. Its calligraphy sign is visable near the roof. Tress surround the sukiya style house.
Musoan - our tea house.

Now, the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix invites you to experience Japanese tea culture for yourself with an introductory tour and tea tasting experience! On select Tuesdays, from 10:00 am - 11:30 am and 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm (Oct. - Jun.), we will offer a unique opportunity to learn, appreciate, and indulge in Japanese tea culture with exclusive Tea Tours!

a guest is being served tea by a woman in a kimono during the japanese friendship Garden of Phoenix's tea tour. They are inside the tea house.
A guest being served tea during Tea Tour.

Led by our knowledgeable docents and staff, the Tea Tours begin with a guided exploration of Musoan, our tea house. Adorned with seasonal art displays and sukiya style architecture and design, the tea house serves as a testament to Japanese aesthetics. As you delve into its history, you will uncover the profound role it plays in preserving and perpetuating the history and tradition of Japanese tea culture.

The highlight of the tour awaits you in entry room of the Tea House. Here you will indulge in a Japanese casual tea tasting service, where you will be treated to an array of delightful teas and Japanese snacks served on authentic dishware. Sip on sencha, with its vibrant green hue and refreshing taste, as you connect with the essence of Japan's lush landscapes. Experience the warmth of genmaicha, its nutty aroma a reminder of comforting hearths, and let the gentle roasted fragrance of hojicha transport you to picturesque countryside of Japan.

Guests starting their roji tour in the machiai (待合, waiting bench).
Guests starting their roji tour in the machiai (待合, waiting bench).

Our Tea Tour concludes with a visit to the roji, the contemplative tea garden surrounding the tea house. Walk along the carefully arranged stone paths, listen to the gentle rustle of leaves, and embrace its peaceful ambiance. Our docents will reveal the purposeful design of the roji, offering insights into its role as a gateway to spiritual reflection and a harmonious prelude to the tea ceremony.

The Tea Tours at the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix promise an hour of tradition, discovery, and serenity. Whether you are a tea enthusiast, a lover of Japanese culture, or simply seeking a moment of repose amidst nature's embrace, our Tea Tours are a must-experience journey. We highly encourage guests that want to experience Chanoyu, or Tea Ceremony, to join us on this tour first. Our Tea Tour experience will give you a glimpse inside the history and meaning of Japanese tea culture, making your future Chanoyu experience that much more impactful.

Come, embrace the unique culture of Japanese tea, and let the beauty of the Japanese Friendship Garden transport you to Japan without ever leaving Phoenix.

a glimpse inside the roji at the Japanese friendship Garden of Phoenix. The teahouse porch is visible through the bushes.
A glimpse inside the roji.

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