Experience Kyoto’s Premier Japanese Tea Ceremony

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​For many people, experiencing an authentic tea ceremony in Kyoto is high on their wishlist. 

Alongside staying in a ryokan and soaking in an onsen, or attending a sumo tournament, observing the Japanese tea ceremony is a cultural delight that feels as much an honour to witness as it does to savour the delicate matcha tea.

My wife and I attended a Private tea ceremony at Camellia Garden tea house in Kyoto. This was our experience...




A 1,200 Year History

​Steeped in a history stretching back as far as the 9th century, few experiences in Japan come with as much cultural resonance as the Japanese tea ceremony.

What is, in essence, a simple preparation of a drink that millions of people around the world drink every day, has been transformed by Japanese culture into a ceremonial performance almost ​worthy of the fine arts.

Camellia Japanese Tea Ceremony Kyoto The Real Japan Rob Dyer

​Camellia Tea Ceremony, Kyoto
by Rob Dyer



The historical figure of Sen no Rikyū is considered to be the individual most responsible for the tea ceremony as we know it. Rikyū used tea rooms to put into practice his ideas about the rustic simplicity of the ceremony.

​A tiny tea room named Tai-an​​ remains to this day and can be seen at Myōki-an temple in the Kyotosuburb of Yamazaki.


Elements of The Tea Ceremony

A prolific woodblock artist of Japan's Meiji period was Toyohara Chikanobu (he lived from 1838–1912)​​, better known to his contemporaries as Yōshū Chikanobu.  One of his prints, dating from 1895, depicts the Japanese tea ceremony.

It's only when looking at such an historical image that you realise just how little has changed since it was painted, more than one and a quarter centuries ago.


Yoshu Chikanobu Japanese tea ceremony woodblock print The Real Japan

​​​Tea ceremony woodblock print from 1895 by Toyohara Chikanobu



In ​Chikanobu's woodcut it's remarkable how all the essential elements are still clearly identifiable today, and just how little has changed.

The key components of the tea ceremony, the sunken hearth, the iron pot, the tea caddy, tea bowl, tea scoop, the whisk, the small wooden table for storing the equipment, even the screen around the table featuring a decorative panel.

Guests sit to one side in order to observe the ceremony, while the traditional Japanese garden is visible in the background.

Camellia - Kyoto's Premier Tea Ceremony Experience

Few locations in Japan are as perfect, or appropriate, a setting for the tea ceremony as Kyoto is.  The best quality tea has been grown in Kyoto since the 13th century. 


Camellia Japanese Tea Ceremony Kyoto The Real Japan Rob Dyer

​Atsuko  - one of Camellia's hostesses for the tea ceremony


​It was during this period that the luxuries associated with tea making became something of a status symbol, and tea-tasting parties, named tōcha,  arose in which contestants competed for extravagant prizes, had to identify the best quality tea - that was grown in Kyoto.

Camellia prides itself on being Kyoto's premier tea ceremony experience. It caters for guests in two, quite distinct premises, located on opposite sides of the city.

Camellia Flower (Central Kyoto)

The first, Camellia Flower is located in the Higashiyama district, near the heart of Kyoto, and isn't far from some of Kyoto's most famous landmarks.


Camellia Japanese Tea Ceremony Kyoto The Real Japan Rob Dyer

​The entrance to Camellia Garden, in Kyoto's northern Ukyo Ward


Kyoto's Gion ​neighbourhood, perhaps Japan's most well-known and exclusive geisha districts, is a leisurely 15 minute ​stroll away.

Read More: Camellia Flower Teahouse: Authentic Kyo​​to Tea Ceremony


Camellia Garden (North Kyoto)

The second teahouse, ​Camellia Garden, can be found in Kyoto's northern Ukyo area, close to the mountains that run along Kyoto's northern border. Of the two, this is the larger, ​more serene one, located in a quiet residential neighbourhood.


Camellia Japanese Tea Ceremony Kyoto The Real Japan Rob Dyer

​A warm welcome awaits at Camellia (Garden)


​Hidden behind an ​imposing wall and gateway lies a charming machiya - a traditional wooden townhouse. There are far fewer machiya today than in the past and their destruction is a huge cultural loss to Japan. So to be able to participate in a tea ceremony in ​a machiya is something special.

​Several of Kyoto's top attractions including the Ryoan-ji Zen temple, containing Japan's best-known ​rock garden, and Ninna-ji temple, are ​in the district.

The Tenryu-ji Zen Buddhism temple complex including the stunningly beautiful Sogenchi Garden can be found 6km west of the teahouse.


Kinkaku-ji temple Kyoto The Real Japan Rob Dyer

The iconic Kinkaku-ji  temple, or 'Golden Pavilion' is a must-see when visiting Camellia Garden


The world-famous, and iconic, Kinkaku-ji temple, better-known as 'The Golden Pavilion,' ​is 1.5km northeast, a 7 minute car ride away. A must-see when visiting Camellia Garden.

(Camellia Garden ​is shown in the photographs in this article.)

Read More: Stunning Private Tea Ceremony: Camellia Garden Kyoto teahouse


Peace, Respect, Purity and Tranquility

These are the words that ​greet you at Camellia. They reflect ​the essence and aims of this refined ceremony.

There's more to the experience than simply drinking tea. The goal for anyone attending should be to immerse yourself in the entire process. Ideally finding a still place inside, to ground yourself in the moment, so as to fully appreciate each aspect.


Camellia Japanese Tea Ceremony Kyoto The Real Japan Rob Dyer

​A simple Japanese back garden adds to the serenity at the Camellia Garden teahouse


Camellia Garden's interior is the quintessential interior used for the Japanese tea ceremony. Aside from the airconditioning unit and electricity, the setting had remained essentially the same for hundreds of years.

​Having taken off your shoes at the entrance to the teahouse, you'll be greeted by one of Camellia's hostesses, who'll be wearing a traditional kimono. ​

As guests you're welcome to wear your regular clothes for the ceremony. However, if you'd like to wear kimono also, that is an option bookable at Camellia through their website.​


What's Included In The Experience

The price includes an explanation of the tea ceremony, a traditional Japanese sweet, a demonstration, the chance to try your hand at making matcha, and drinking a bowl of tea prepared during the ceremony.


Camellia Japanese Tea Ceremony Kyoto The Real Japan Rob Dyer

​The teahouse at Camellia Garden is entirely authentic


Everything is explained in fluent English.

Guests are welcomed at the entrance, where you leave your shoes behind, and shown through to a lounge overlooking the front garden.​


​Traditional Wagashi Sweets

​​The experience begins with your hostess explaining the long and rich history of the tea ceremony and its significant importance in Japanese culture.

You're then served ​​​​wagashi - a traditional Japanese ​sweet made using seasonal, local plant-based ingredients, often eaten with tea. Those served at Camellia are made by one of Kyoto's finest confectioners.


Camellia Japanese Tea Ceremony Kyoto The Real Japan Rob Dyer

​Wagashi are traditional Japanese sweets served with tea made using plant-based ingredients


​Sweets served at Camellia Garden and Camellia Flower teahouses, are gluten and nut free, and vegan friendly, meaning their tea ceremonies are as inclusive as possible.

​After learning a little about matcha and the history of tea, guests are taken through to the tearoom. Typically guests sit on the floor, but they have low chairs and tables for those that would prefer it.​

The tearoom overlooks a traditional Japanese back garden. Your tea instructor performs the tea ceremony and serves you bowls of matcha to enjoy.

For those that want to try their hand at making matcha, you will have an opportunity to have a short lesson before the end of the session.

Read More: Stunning Private Tea Ceremony: Camellia Garden Kyoto teahouse


Camellia Japanese Tea Ceremony Kyoto The Real Japan Rob Dyer

​Calligraphy scrolls often change to match the season


The Tea Room

A tokonoma, an alcove-like recessed space, is a familiar feature in Japanese homes. ​It's intended as a place ​where artistic items can be displayed.

These items typically include a calligraphy scroll, a vase displaying ikebana (Japanese flower arrangements),  an incense burner and candles.

​​In the tea ceremony, the hanging scroll relates to an aspect of the ​ceremony.


Camellia Japanese Tea Ceremony Kyoto The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Atsuko prepares for the tea ceremony


Themes often relate to the seasons (and are changed to match the current season), poems about tea or places famous for their connections with tea.

​When we visited Camellia​ Garden the scroll calligraphy depicted ​the Nichinichi kore Konichi - a Japanese Zen Buddhist proverb. It translates as "Every day is a good day". 

Seasonal local flowers are displayed in the vase and, in a nice whimsical touch to the modern era, a figure of a dog wearing a red Santa hat! 


Camellia Japanese Tea Ceremony Kyoto The Real Japan Rob Dyer

​The Camellia Garden teahouse overlooks a traditional Japanese garden


Camellia Garden's ​tea room is a quintessential interior used for the Japanese tea ceremony. Aside from the modern conveniences of an airconditioning unit and electricity, the setting ​looks essentially unchanged for hundreds of years.

Read More: Stunning Private Tea Ceremony: Camellia Garden teahouse


​Creating Lifelong Memories

Perhaps surprisingly, given the reverential nature and attention to detail and authenticity Camellia places on its services, they are relaxed about guests taking photographs of the ceremony.


Camellia Japanese Tea Ceremony Kyoto The Real Japan Rob Dyer

​The ceremony begins


This can be an invaluable momento, especially for anyone unable to return to Japan for the forseable future.

Note: At Camellia Flower, where groups sharing the ceremony are hosted, only photographs without a flash are permitted, so as not to disturb the other guests.

At Camellia Garden (featured here), where private tea ceremonies are held, both photographs and video are permitted.


Camellia Japanese Tea Ceremony Kyoto The Real Japan Rob Dyer

A welcoming smile awaits you at Camellia


​Awards and Recommendations

​It's no surprise that Camellia has been lavished with independent recognition for the quality of its experiences.

Camellia has been awarded Tripadvisor's Certificate of Excellence for five consecutive years. Tripadvisor gives the certification to accommodation, attractions and restaurants that consistently earn great reviews from travellers.

They're also recommended by Rough Guides and are one of Lonely Planet's Top Choice experiences.  


Camellia Japanese Tea Ceremony Kyoto The Real Japan Rob Dyer

​Atsuko served us today


​Rather than preserving the tea ceremony 'in aspic', the service provided by Camellia actually keeps it very much alive by retaining authenticity.

It manages to do so by paying attention to the historical tradition and important details (something many other tea ceremony experiences fail to do) but at the same time strives to make it accessible to anyone with even just a passing interest.

Allowing the ceremony to be photographed (so guests can have precious momentos of what for some is a once-in-a-lilfetime experience), serving vegan-friendly sweets, and having truly fluent English-speaking instructors are all examples of how Camellia makes this much-revered pasttime genuinely accessible.


Camellia Japanese Tea Ceremony Kyoto The Real Japan Rob Dyer


Being able to experience an authentic tea ceremony at Camellia is to get a ​richer insight into Japanese culture and hospitality.

Camellia's four words: harmony, respect, purity, tranquility perfectly sum up the tea ceremony ​- and everything that is admirable about Japanese society.

Long may this ancient tradition continue.

I, for one, hope that this ancient tradition continues for centuries to come.



Booking A Kyoto Tea Ceremony Experience At Camellia

The Real Japan has partnered with Viator (a Tripadvisor company) to make it simple for you to book this experience. Includes Viator's lowest price guarantee.

Camellia Garden, North Kyoto (Private - featured in this article)

Re​​​​ad More: Stunning Private Tea Ceremony: Camellia Garden teahouse



Location Map: Camellia Garden


Camellia Garden ​Address & Access


349-12 Masuya-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, 605-0826.

by bus

  • Higashiyama Yasui Bus Stop (Bus #86 / #206) - 10 mins
  • Kiyomizu-michi Bus Stop (Bus #206 / #100) - 10 mins

by train

  • Gion-Shijo Station: Keihan Line - 15 mins

Nearby Attractions

  • ​Ninenzaka Kiyomizu-dera temple
  • ​Kodai-ji temple
  • ​Maruyama Park Yasaka Pagoda
  • ​Yasaka-jinja shrine Gion


Location Map: Camellia Flower


Camellia Flower ​Address & Access


18 Ryoanji Ikenoshita-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, 616-8003.

by bus

  • Ryoanji-mae Bus Stop (Bus #59 / JR Bus) - 1 min

  • JR Bus (Kyoto Station to Shuzan line) - 1 min

by train

  • Ryoanji Station: Keifuku Randen Tram Line - 5 mins

​Nearby Attractions

  • ​Ryoan-ji temple
  • ​Ninna-ji temple
  • ​Myoshin-ji temple
  • ​Kinkaku-ji ‘The Golden Pavilion’

TRJ Resources

Book​ This Experience


Camellia Garden, North Kyoto (Private - featured in this article)

Read More: Stunning Private Tea Ceremony: Camellia Garden teahouse

Read More: Sen no Riku on Wikipedia

Read More about Kyoto on The Real Japan​


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Camellia Japanese Tea Ceremony Kyoto The Real Japan Rob Dyer



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