The heart of Tea and the essence of Zen are one
So reads the poster depicting a serene shaven-headed Zen monk practicing the tea ceremony at Shoden Eigen-in temple in the Gion district of Kyoto. Just streets away is the tourist chaos that is Hanami-koji street, with its shouting traffic police, speeding taxis and endlessly chattering tourists clad in rental kimono, scurrying to the next must-see destination, pausing only for a quick selfie.
In the precincts of Shoden Eigen-in, the contrast couldn't be any greater. Peace is in the air. Crickets chirp in the garden, and the only sound is the distant murmur of a monk reciting sutras.
They have been meditating here at Shoden Eigen-in in central Kyoto since the thirteenth century, and practising of the art of cha-no-yu (tea ceremony) for about 400 years. Sitting on the straw tatami straw mats, sipping the fragrant, pleasantly bitter matcha green tea, accompanied with a wagashi Japanese sweet confection - warabi mochi - it is as if nothing has changed across the ages.
The temple is a sub-temple of neighboring Kenninji, head temple of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. Buddhism has always placed a high regard on the importance of art and contemplation in its religious practices. Zen, in particular.
Art is everywhere at Shoden Eigen-in, from the beautiful stone garden, to the beautiful bird and flower paintings on the walls and doors, to the 17th-century tea house, Jo-an, built by warlord Oda Nobunaga's brother, Urakusai, early in the 17th century. A more modern surprise is the beautiful fusuma 'partition paintings' depicting the view across the Higashiyama mountains, created by none other than Morihiro Hosokawa, the former Japanese Prime Minister. Wouldn't it be nice if all world leaders took time out to meditate, drink a cup of matcha and paint?
The temple is displaying its treasures and serving matcha green tea with warabi-mochi at ￥1000 per person, plus￥500 admission, until May 6th, inclusive.
address: 586 Komatsu-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto 605-0811
If you enjoyed this, check out our many other articles on Japanese tea, such as this and this and this. If you are curious about Green Tea(s health benefits, look at our article here. Thanks to the temple for use of the top two images.