A bowl of bright green Matcha tea and a pink bean cake served on a wooden tray in a traditional tea-house in Ueno, Tokyo © 2011 Jordan Harper. All rights reserved.

Tea on Shinobazu Pond

Day 1 — 29 July 2010

While our trip had been carefully planned/luckily scheduled to just miss Japan’s rainy season (which in the Kanto region of Japan — of which Tokyo is a part — ends around the 20th July) it’s fair to say that we were psychologically prepared to experience a great deal of rain over the coming month.

Our first day seemed to be a watery omen.

Once we’d left the comfort of the express train from Narita to Ueno — a quiet district in the north-east of Tokyo where our hotel was situated — a torrential downpour welcomed us to the city. Picking up some cheap plastic umbrellas from Ueno station, we ambled through the rain with our backpacks, utterly failing to keep ourselves dry, and found our hotel a mercifully short walk from our starting point. Checking our umbrellas in to the purpose-made racks (what a fantastic idea they are) we dropped our bags off and decided to explore the area. In the rain.

After taking in a Shinto shrine (the delightfully modest Yushima Tenmangu) we took a stroll around Shinobazu Pond, which was completely unrecognisable as a body of water thanks to a comprehensive covering of waterlilies (you’ll be seeing them on the 31st). As the rain came down heavier and our legs began to tire, we decided it was prudent to find somewhere to relax and catch our breath.

On the south edge of the pond we discovered a traditional tea-house situated in a beautiful spot overlooking the pond, where we sat down and unwound for what felt like hours over a bowl of Matcha green tea and a bean cake.

In hindsight, I can’t really think of a more appropriate way we could have started the holiday, and thinking back to that first day in Japan almost a year ago: the dark wood, astringent taste of the tea and the sound of rain pounding on a forest of eager waterlilies probably evoke my memories of the whole trip more strongly than anything we did in subsequent weeks.

I hate conforming to stereotypes, but here I am: an Englishman in a foreign country espousing the values of a good cup (bowl) of tea. At least I’m not moaning that it wasn’t Earl Grey.

One last thing to amuse: the umbrellas we bought that day became something of an anti-rain charm for us. Despite lugging them from hotel to hotel — on numerous trains, boats and buses — we only ever saw rain on one other occasion in our entire holiday: in Osaka, when we’d left the umbrellas in the hotel so had to buy replacements. We quite literally bought an umbrella every time it rained.

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