DINE and Destinations - - JAPAN UNDISCOVERED -

In the City of Wa­ter, Adam Wax­man dis­cov­ers it’s all about the tea

when your feu­dal lord

is a tea mas­ter, high qual­ity tea is the de­cree. Dur­ing the Edo pe­riod, Mat­su­daira Harusato, Lord Fu­mai, es­tab­lished his own tea school in Mat­sue, Shi­mane, his own style of tea cer­e­mony, and com­mis­sioned tea­houses in what would be­come one of Ja­pan’s most im­por­tant tea cen­tres. Rivers and canals flow be­yond the cas­tle walls through this pretty cap­i­tal, known as the Venice of Asia, while gar­dens ven­er­ate the sur­round­ing land. The tra­di­tion of tea that has been in­fused here over cen­turies has cre­ated a cul­ture steeped in ro­mance and pu­rity of life.

Pola, the es­teemed Ja­panese cos­met­ics house, holds the an­nual Ja­pan Beau­ti­ful-skin Pre­fec­ture Grand Prix. Ev­ery Pre­fec­ture is ranked ac­cord­ing to the beauty of their women’s skin. Shi­mane has been awarded num­ber one for the last three years. What’s the se­cret? In ad­di­tion to the pris­tine en­vi­ron­ment, it has to do with the sim­ple life­style that in­volves the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of tea and time.

Ky­oto-style tea em­pha­sizes cer­e­mony, but in Shi­mane it’s about ca­sual en­joy­ment in ev­ery­day life. Matcha, whisked, frothy, bit­ter tast­ing and nu­tri­ent-rich is ubiq­ui­tous and in­vig­o­rat­ing. Af­ter just one day, I want to be a matcha man.

As with so many tea­houses that dot the land­scape, the em­pha­sis is on the panoramic views of metic­u­lous gar­dens—an es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent to the calm­ing tea ex­pe­ri­ence. At Meimei-an Tea­house, es­tab­lished by Lord Fu­mai in the 18th cen­tury, the view of the cas­tle through the tea gar­den is mar­velous. Seated on the tatami floor of the Ki­haru open-air café at the Mat­sue History Mu­seum, pop­u­lar wa­gashi chef and “Con­tem­po­rary Mas­ter Crafts­man” Tsu­gio Itami show­cases his daily se­lec­tion from the con­fec­tionary bar, offering his orig­i­nal wa­gashi pre­pared a la minute. For all things green tea, we visit Nakamura Cha Ho’s green tea em­po­rium, in­clud­ing tea in­fused with cherry blos­soms. Earth­en­ware and green tea pots with in­tri­cate de­signs are spe­cific to dif­fer­ent styles of tea and cer­e­mony. In the gar­den tea­house we sam­ple a range of high-grade matcha.

There is no short­age of ex­quis­ite gar­dens in Shi­mane. In the cen­tre of Daikon­shima (radish is­land), we dine at Yu­ushi-en Gar­den on crab soup and shi­jimi clams. Seated fac­ing the win­dow we ad­mire the mag­i­cal vista. Is it even real? Or is it a vivid paint­ing? Walk­ing through this man­i­cured oa­sis and its 250 types of fea­tured pe­onies, we’re in­tox­i­cated by the sweet­ness in the air. Upon exit, an adjacent gin­seng mu­seum is a mag­net for those seek­ing roots, juice and beauty prod­ucts.

The Adachi Mu­seum of Art has been rec­og­nized by the Jour­nal of Ja­panese Gar­den­ing as Ja­pan’s num­ber one gar­den for 11 con­sec­u­tive years. Ev­ery peb­ble, ev­ery leaf, ev­ery blade of grass is im­mac­u­lately main­tained. Fol­low­ing the wind­ing path, each van­tage point is more breath­tak­ing than the one be­fore. The long nar­row win­dows of the gar­den tea­house ap­pear as po­etic hang­ing scrolls. It’s as if the Gods and the gar­den­ers fell in love. I could stare at this land­scape all day know­ing that I’m gaz­ing upon the most awe-in­spir­ing dis­play of hor­ti­cul­ture in all Ja­pan. Peace­fully

me­an­der­ing through Mat­sue by the Horikawa gon­dola un­der low hang­ing trees, past tur­tles, ducks, river fish and ex­otic birds, we lean for­ward, press­ing our faces against the ta­ble to avoid de­cap­i­ta­tion. The bridges are so low that, while singing Ja­panese folk songs to us, our boat cap­tain pushes a but­ton to close the awning within an inch of our heads. This is the best way to view Mat­sue cas­tle, one of Ja­pan’s few re­main­ing orig­i­nals, and the ar­chi­tec­ture of this sa­mu­rai era town.

As the sun sets over Lake Shinji, we watch as cou­ples and fam­i­lies gather at yet an­other des­ig­nated view­ing spot. It is amaz­ing that a peo­ple can care so much about ev­ery mo­ment and ev­ery de­tail, and it is their at­ten­tion and re­spect for th­ese re­fine­ments that make the great­est im­pres­sions.

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