When staying in Japanese temples or ryokan (traditional inns), guests are customarily served tea and a snack (often a regional specialty like a cookie or cake) upon arrival.
In many places, tea is not “served” directly by a member of the staff. Instead, a teapot, tea, and hot water are set on a table in the guest room, along with the cookie or other snack, when the guest arrives (but before the guest is shown to the room), allowing the guest to prepare and enjoy the tea and snacks at leisure.
In other places, tea and cakes are brought to the room by a member of the temple or ryokan staff once the guest arrives – though even then, the guest is customarily left alone to enjoy the snack.
While staying at Iwaso, a ryokan on the Japanese island of Miyajima, we arrived at our room to find delicious, freshly-baked cakes filled with sweet bean paste (a local specialty) and moments later a staff member brought us a pot of steaming green tea.
And this is the setting that awaited me in my room at Tatsueji, a Shingon Buddhist temple on the Shikoku pilgrim route:
The white thermos (center left on the table) contained enough hot water to make several pots of tea, and the water stayed hot well into the evening hours, allowing me to enjoy a pot on arrival and another, equally fresh, pot of tea in the evening, as I enjoyed the view from my window:
The canister to the left of the teapot contained three steeping bags of loose-leaf tea – green tea in this case, though many temples and ryokan serve local varieties, so the type and grade of tea will often vary from place to place.
Tatsueji’s cookies are locally made but pre-packaged, eliminating the need for the temple’s monks and workers to prepare them daily before visitors arrive. (Many temples and ryokan either make their own welcome snacks or source them from local bakeries or confectioners.) Although packaged, the cookies were fresh and very tasty, especially paired with the tea.
Unlike other temples and ryokan I have visited, Tatsueji included a brochure about the temple and its history (written in both Japanese and English) – you can see it on the table beneath the cookies. I enjoyed reading about the temple while drinking my welcome tea.
Even if you’re not usually a fan of tea, I hope you’ll partake of this traditional welcome ceremony when visiting Japan. It’s a lovely tradition, designed to make guests feel welcome and at home.