An image of a traditional tea house in Kyoto, with beautiful bamboo and wooden interiors, tea sets, and authentic Japanese tea ceremony setup.

Uncovering the traditional tea houses of Kyoto

City Guides, Travel Guides By Jul 01, 2023 No Comments

Kyoto, Japan is known for its rich traditional tea culture and the many traditional tea houses that have been passed down for generations. These tea houses are steeped in history and are a must-visit during a trip to Kyoto.

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into exploring the oldest and most authentic tea houses of Kyoto, providing you with insight into the charm and experience they offer.

Join us as we uncover the secrets of traditional tea houses in Kyoto, from the beautiful bamboo and wooden interiors to the authentic Japanese tea ceremony setups.

Get ready to transport yourself back in time through the hidden gems of Kyoto’s traditional tea culture, as we explore the unique history and legends behind each tea house.

Tea is the elixir of life, the calm in the chaos, and the essence of Kyoto’s traditional culture.

An Overview of Kyoto”s Traditional Tea Culture

Kyoto’s tea culture dates back to the 9th century, when tea was first introduced to Japan. Since then, Kyoto has been at the forefront of developing traditional tea culture and tea ceremonies.

The traditional tea ceremony, also known as ‘Chado’ or ‘Sado’, is a beautiful art form in which guests are served tea in an authentic Japanese setting, complete with tatami floors, bamboo, and wooden interiors, and a serene ambiance.

During a tea ceremony, guests are seated in a specific order and served tea by a host or ‘tea master’. The ceremony is accompanied by traditional Japanese sweets and snacks, and is a perfect example of Japan’s minimalist and elegant culture.

The Origins of Kyoto’s Traditional Tea Culture

Kyoto has been at the forefront of Japan’s traditional tea culture since the Heian period in the 9th century.

During this period, tea was used for medicinal purposes and was only consumed by monks and aristocrats. It wasn’t until the 16th century that tea culture became more widespread and accessible to the general public.

As Kyoto was the capital of Japan during the Heian period, it was the ideal location for the development and evolution of traditional tea culture.

The Philosophy Behind Traditional Tea Ceremonies

Traditional tea ceremonies are not just about drinking tea, but represent an entire philosophy of Japanese culture.

The ceremony is designed to create a sense of harmony, respect, and tranquility among guests, and to encourage mindfulness and appreciation of the present moment.

The minimalist and elegant design of the tea house, along with the presentation of the tea and snacks, represent the ‘Wabi-Sabi’ philosophy, which values simplicity, imperfection, and the beauty of the natural world.

The Oldest and Most Authentic Tea Houses of Kyoto

Kyoto is home to over 200 traditional tea houses, each with its own unique history and charm. Some of these tea houses date back to the 16th century and have been passed down through generations, preserving the authenticity and traditions of the tea culture.

These tea houses offer a great opportunity to experience authentic Japanese tea culture and immerse yourself in Kyoto’s rich history. From the beautiful architecture to the serene ambiance, each tea house has its own charm and appeal.

Here are some of the oldest and most authentic tea houses in Kyoto that you should definitely visit on your next trip:

The Oldest and Most Authentic Tea Houses of Kyoto


Uji-Kubo is a tea house located in the historic district of Uji, just a short distance from Kyoto. It was founded in 1790 and has been owned by the same family for generations.

The tea house is known for its beautiful interior, with intricate wooden details and authentic tatami mats. It is also famous for its high-quality Macha tea, which is made from the finest leaves from Uji.

Uji-Kubo also offers tea ceremony experiences for visitors, allowing them to immerse themselves in the traditional Japanese tea culture.


En is a historical tea house located in the heart of Kyoto, near the famous Kiyomizu-dera temple. It was established in the 17th century and has been preserved to retain its natural rustic charm.

The tea house is surrounded by a beautiful garden, complete with a pond and a small waterfall. The interior is decorated with bamboo and wooden accents, adding to the natural and serene ambiance.

En is famous for its Macha tea and offers both traditional tea ceremonies and tea tasting experiences for visitors.

Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten

Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten is a tea house located in the scenic Arashiyama district of Kyoto. It was established in the mid-19th century and has since been passed down through generations of the same family.

The tea house is known for its high-quality tea leaves, which are grown in the nearby mountains of Kyoto. It is also famous for its tea ceremony experiences, which offer visitors the chance to sip tea while enjoying the breathtaking views of the Arashiyama mountains.

Kanbayashi Shunsho Honten is a must-visit tea house during the autumn season, when the leaves of the surrounding mountains turn into beautiful red, orange, and yellow shades.

Meeting Tea Masters in Kyoto: A Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience

Meeting a tea master in Kyoto is a rare opportunity to experience the essence of Japanese tea culture. These masters have spent decades mastering the art of tea making and are respected figures in the local community.

To meet a tea master, you can either visit a tea house known for its master or request a private meeting. Some tea houses offer tea ceremonies led by the tea master, where you can learn about tea making and its symbolism.

During the meeting, you’ll be served matcha tea and traditional Japanese sweets. The tea master will explain the philosophy of tea making and answer your questions. It’s a unique chance to learn from a true expert and gain insights into Japanese culture.

Keep in mind that meeting a tea master requires some preparation and etiquette. You should dress appropriately and be respectful of the tea house’s rules. We recommend booking in advance and researching the tea house’s history and traditions to fully appreciate the experience.

How to Find a Tea House with a Master

Not all tea houses have a tea master, but some are known for their talented ones. You can ask locals or your hotel concierge for recommendations or check online reviews. Keep in mind that some tea houses require reservations.

Once you’ve found a tea house, research its history and philosophy to understand its values. This will help you appreciate the tea master’s teachings and respect the tea house’s traditions.

When you arrive, follow the tea house’s rules and etiquette. Remove your shoes, bow to the tea master and take your seat. Don’t talk or take photos during the ceremony, and wait for the tea master’s instructions before drinking the tea.

Private Meetings with Tea Masters

If you prefer a more personalized experience or have specific questions, you can request a private meeting with a tea master. This option is more expensive but allows for a deeper connection with the master and a tailored experience.

To arrange a private meeting, contact the tea house in advance and explain your request. You’ll need to provide details such as your group size, preferred date and time, and any dietary restrictions.

During the meeting, you’ll receive more in-depth explanations on tea making and related topics such as ceramics, calligraphy, or flower arrangements. You can also learn more about the tea master’s personal story and philosophy.

Private meetings can last from 30 minutes to several hours, depending on your preferences and the master’s availability. They’re a unique chance to create a lasting memory of your trip to Kyoto’s tea houses.

Making the Most Out of Your Tea House Experience in Kyoto

Now that you know how to find a tea house and meet a tea master, it’s time to plan your visit to make the most out of it. Here are some tips and recommendations to help you enjoy your tea house experience in Kyoto:

  • Choose a tea house that matches your preferences and budget. Some tea houses are more traditional, while others have modern or fusion elements. Some offer set menus, while others have à la carte options. Do some research and read reviews before deciding.
  • Dress appropriately and respectfully. Wear comfortable shoes and avoid revealing or flashy clothes. Follow the tea house’s dress code if there is one.
  • Arrive on time and be polite. Greet the staff and fellow visitors and wait for your turn to enter the tea room. Don’t disturb the ceremony or the other visitors.
  • Be open-minded and respectful. Japanese tea culture has a rich symbolism and history, and you can learn a lot from it. Try to appreciate the aesthetics, the tastes, and the atmosphere of the tea house and its garden.
  • Don’t rush and savor the moment. Tea ceremonies can last from 30 minutes to several hours, and their pace is slow and deliberate. Take this opportunity to disconnect from your daily routine and immerse yourself in the present moment.

By following these tips, you’ll be able to make the most out of your tea house experience in Kyoto and create unforgettable memories.

Kyoto’s tea houses are not only about drinking tea but also about discovering a unique aspect of Japanese culture and hospitality. We hope this guide inspires you to explore their diversity and beauty!

Making the Most Out of Your Tea House Experience in Kyoto

Tea Houses to Visit in Kyoto

If you’re not sure where to start, here are some tea houses in Kyoto that we recommend:

  • Camellia: a modern tea house in the Gion district, famous for its vegan and gluten-free menus.
  • En: a historic tea house in the Nanzenji temple area, known for its serene garden and seasonal menus.
  • Uji-Kanbayashi: a traditional tea house in the Uji area, renowned for its high-quality matcha and tea-making workshops.
  • Fukujuen Uji Tea House: a large tea house with a panoramic view of the Uji river, offering a range of teas and sweets.
  • Junsei: a minimalist tea house inside the Shunko-in temple, featuring Zen aesthetics and vegetarian menus.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • What is Kyoto’s traditional tea culture all about?

    Kyoto’s traditional tea culture is a multi-layered experience that is steeped in history, customs, and rituals.

  • What are some of the oldest and most authentic tea houses in Kyoto?

    Some of the oldest and most authentic tea houses in Kyoto include Ippodo, Fukujuen, and Ju-an.

  • What can you expect from meeting tea masters in Kyoto?

    Meeting tea masters in Kyoto is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that allows you to learn about their craft, taste different teas, and immerse yourself in the tranquil world of tea.

  • How can you make the most out of your tea house experience in Kyoto?

    To make the most out of your tea house experience in Kyoto, be sure to research the tea house beforehand, dress appropriately, and be respectful of the customs and rituals that are part of the tea ceremony.

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