I made my second visit to Tokyo in late March 2014. I was on the last spring break of my undergrad, and was hoping to catch the cherry blossoms during my short 10-day visit. During this trip, I noticed much more intensely something that I seemed to miss the first time— Tokyo can quickly become overwhelming.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m absolutely in love with this city. Tokyo is by far the cleanest and safest place I’ve ever been, and I’ve had the most amazing food, and have made some of my most cherished memories there. From time to time, however, I found myself feeling a little overwhelmed at the density and the pace that permeates the city.
For starters, Tokyo is crowded. Just take a look at Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest crosswalk. And if you think that’s crowded, try taking the train at rush hour (double dare you to get on the Yamanote Line). At rush hour, your personal space bubble will be broken, often on all sides, and you’ll become part of the hoard of commuters who together form a fluid-like mass. As someone heads to exit or enter, the entire mass of people acts like a fluid, and the waves of the motion ripple from one end of the car to the other. As this happens you’re just stuck there, bobbing back and forth in an uncomfortable sea of people until you reach your destination.
Aside from the crowding, Tokyo is filled with visual and audio stimulants. Like any city, there’s lights and noise everywhere and at all hours. While this was all amazingly exciting, I felt at times tired out from it all. The pace was exhilarating, but a little hard to keep up with.
There are ways to escape the crazy pace of the city. I found a nice bar in central Tokyo, where I enjoyed a drink and a talk with the barkeep. The bar was tiny and laid back, very elegant, and a great place to have a relaxed chat. No doubt spots like these are abundant and not hard to find.
I also stayed in an Airbnb fifteen minutes outside of central Tokyo, in a quiet residential neighborhood near Meidaimae Station. Coming home to this peaceful retreat each night was a perfect end to busy days (but mind you I had to survive the train ride there first!).
Most of all, one of my favorite escapes was a tea room in a store I came across in Ginza, aptly named “Cha・Ginza” (Cha means “tea”, and Ginza refers to the neighborhood). This tea room quickly became one of my favorite places I visited in Tokyo— a quiet, contemplative space tucked away in the heart of the busy city.
Cha・Ginza sits in a narrow three-story building, wedged into the dense Ginza neighborhood of Tokyo. The first floor has a counter where customers can buy various teas selected from across the country. The interior is elegant yet somewhat industrial—warm wood counters and clean glass displays contrast nicely with steel I-beams that line the space. Traditional tea wares are also for sale on the first floor. The ceramic pieces further added to the beautiful contrast of traditional meets modern.
The second and third floors are “service” floors, where customers can sit and have tea service— a cup of a tea and a small seasonal snack. The second floor serves brewed green teas, while the third is reserved for matcha (powdered, whisked green tea) service. During my visit I went for the matcha service on the third floor.
At the counter on the first floor, I ordered one of the two matcha tea services being offered. I was then led up the stairs, past the second floor room where a few customers were sipping hot brewed green tea. Finally at the top of the stairs we reached the third floor tea room. I was lucky enough to have the room to myself that day. The room had a long bench for seating, and directly across from it a scroll hung on the wall, with a vase on display just below it— a modern tokonoma of sorts.
At one end of the room sat a table with tools used to make the tea. These tools looked fitting for a traditional tea ceremony, and even the motions the attendant used when preparing it seemed formal and carefully orchestrated. I got the impression the service was taking several cues from the traditional and highly ritualized tea ceremony, but serving it with a modern and slightly more casual spin.The Tea Service
Despite being in the rather expensive Ginza neighborhood, the tea service only cost around ¥700 (about $5.60 USD at current exchange rate). The service included a thick matcha, followed by a traditional seasonal wagashi, then ended with a thinner cup of matcha.
For those unfamiliar with matcha, its flavor is strong and somewhat bitter. Matcha is made from grinding young tea leaves into a fine powder, which is then whisked with hot water and served. The flavor is quite distinct from brewed green tea, and because you’re consuming the entire leaves, its said to have more health benefits than its brewed counterpart.
The thick matcha (whisked with less water) at the start of the service was really strong and a bit bitter for my tastes (even for a matcha lover like myself). The wagashi sweet that was served after it was a nice balance, and cut the bitter taste. Wagashi tend to be really sweet, so serving with tea makes for a really great combination. As it was just about to be cherry blossom season, I was served a sakura flavored wagashi, tasting lightly of cherry blossoms. Finally I was served a frothy thin matcha (whisked with more water) as the perfect end to the service.
Cha・Ginza was such a pleasant discovery, and truly peaceful escape from the busy pace of the city. I highly recommend you go there and experience it yourself. The teas served on the second and third floor rotate seasonally if I remember correctly, but you’re sure to get something good, as the shop selects only the highest quality teas from around the country.
I highly recommend trying their premium specialty green tea called “Shahn” (しゃーん), which is available in loose-leaf form on the first floor. (I’m actually currently drinking this one at home in California.)
Cha・Ginza is located at 5-5-6 Ginza, Chūō-ku. You can take the Tokyo Metro to Ginza Station, exit B3 is right next to the shop.