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Japanese green tea is a highly astringent, rather bitter beverage that plays the starring role in the classical Japanese tea ceremony, an art form which embraces every component - the utensils, the architecture, sweets, calligraphy, incense, scrolls and flower arrangements. Sweets specifically created for the tea ceremony enhance the taste of the tea and salute the seasons and the occasion. Above is a beautifully stylized gingko leaf made of pounded rice paste, sweet red bean paste, fruit and other natural sweet materials. Japanese sweets are often named after poetry, historical events or natural scenery.


The creation of Japanese sweets is said to have taken off during the Edo Period; they usually consist of two main types: Namagashi (wet confectionery) and Higashi (dry confectionery), and range in shapes from those representing floating clouds, dogs, animals, camellia blossoms, plum or cherry blossom petals, ritual tools, tiles, fruits or vegetables, such as the patterns appearing in the background of this page. Above is a pink hued wet confectionery shaped like a chrysanthemum bud, meant to be consumed during the tea ceremony.


The strong green tea served during the tea ceremony is created from highly concentrated green tea powder whisked into a froth with the bamboo utensil shown above. The instruments can be extremely costly depending on how finely they are hand-made, from tapering strips of bamboo. The whisk itself is meant to be an object of aesthetic appreciation, together with the fine ceramic tea vessels, the lacquered and embellished tea powder flasks, and the handsomely rounded kettles and pots.


The chagama or tea kettles used for the tea ceremony are made of cast iron and designed to be used to heat the water used to make the tea. The lower half holds charcoal in a portable brazier, but tea ceremony chambers normally also contain a sunken hearth built into the floor that is favored in the cooler months. These heating devises sunken into the floor are also used to burn incense balls made from aromatic woods, spices and herbs. Imperial Hotel guests able to sit on the tatami during the preparation and service of the tea, as well as outside visitors, are welcome to savor the tea ceremony at the Toko-an upon advance reservation.