The intersection of tea and tradition
TROVE travelers! We wanted to introduce you to Atsuko Mori, our Kyoto Tea Expert and Founder of Camellia Tea. Atsuko will be performing a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony and showing you how to prepare Matcha tea as part of our Fall Box. She has been studying the tea ceremony for over 20 years, and we had a chance to connect with her to hear more about her story and how she built Camellia Tea (@camellia.kyoto).
How long have you lived in Kyoto? What do you love about Kyoto?
I was originally born and raised in Osaka, Japan, which is a big city with a modern culture. You will find that no one wears a kimono in Osaka unless there is a wedding or festival. Ten years ago, I moved to Kyoto to help a translation business. I had visited Kyoto many times before, but in moving there, I found people still wear Kimonos in their daily life and tea ceremonies still being performed in temples. There is still culture everywhere, and I thought to myself, Kyoto is special, and this is a place where I can live out my dream. I have now been living in Kyoto for about 10 years. I love that wherever you go, you find history.
How long have you been practicing and hosting tea ceremonies?
I started studying the tea ceremony when I was 13 years old, and after that, I started to learn English. Tea ceremony and English were my two biggest hobbies, and my dream was to bring these together and be a bridge between Japan and the world through talking about the tea ceremony and Japanese culture. I have studied the Japanese Tea Ceremony for more than 20 years and I have been hosting tea ceremonies for about 10 years.
Are you a Tea Master?
I decided I did not want to become a licensed Tea Master – there are very strict rules you have to follow and I saw this as a limiting factor even for local Japanese to experience the tea ceremony. Typically in Japan, there is an older generation and a younger generation that follows in their footsteps in the same way. I wanted to do something new and a bit outside the tradition, so I could open up the tea ceremony to the world.
What is unique about Camellia Tea Ceremony and your approach?
I started Camellia Tea Ceremony 7 years ago, and over 80,000 visitors have experience a tea ceremony with us in our two tea shops. We’re so privileged and proud to be able to share the beautiful Kyoto culture with the world. To share this with the world, all of Camellia’s staff are fluent in English and we welcome guests to talk to us directly unlike a strict traditional tea ceremony. The tea ceremonies we host are perfectly based on tradition, but we try to bring a fun and relaxing environment. For example, at Camellia Tea Ceremony, we do not force people to kneel down and sit and visitors can come as they are versus the typical restrictions in what you’re wearing.
How has COVID impacted you personally and your business?
It has been devastating. I lost 98% of the business I had last year. We shut down both of our tea shops and recently started to do private sessions on weekends only. We want to be able to continue what we have built with Camellia Tea, and have to find a way to survive. We tried a popup café to bring tea to local Japanese people, but it did not go well. We started offering tea ceremonies online in June, and are now making and selling beautiful masks. Personally, the pandemic it has given me a rare chance to enjoy my gardens and time with my family.
In what ways do you think the tea ceremony helps teach people about Kyoto and Japanese culture?
You can see every aspect of Japanese culture in one tearoom. From the calligraphy, chabana (flower arrangement), incense, kimono, tatami mats, tea utensils like iron kettle, and bamboo crafts, all the way to ceramic bowls – history and tradition are everywhere. Tea ceremonies are based on Zen philosophy and that’s why part of each tea ceremony we enjoy a calm moment together.
What do you love most about the tea ceremony?
My favorite part is the quietness and concentration that you must have for the tea ceremony which helps me to forget about anything else going on in life. I love teaching people and seeing them have more of an appreciation and understanding about our country.
What should TROVE travelers expect in your workshop?
I am so excited to share the tea ceremony and this important part of Japanese culture with you. In this workshop, you will learn about the history and background of Japanese tea ceremonies through the Zen philosophy. I’ll start with sharing a little bit of history about Matcha tea and the tea ceremony. Then I’ll perform a Japanese Tea Ceremony for you, sharing the key steps and their meaning. After that, you will learn how to make a delicious bowl of Matcha tea using the wonderful Matcha and whisk that is included in your box. It will be a moment of peace from your daily life. Hope to see you there!