Over the holiday weekend, the wombat-consort and I popped into the Japanese Tea Garden
in SF's Golden Gate Park. This is a particularly good time of year to see it, since February/March doesn't bring a lot of tourists from out of town despite spring springing out all over the place, which also means that in the transition back out of rainy season, there are a lot of clear, beautiful days.
The Japanese garden
in Portland, Oregon is larger and probably more authentic-- when we visited it a few years ago, I was floored by the sheer scale of the shimenawa hanging over the main gates, as well as spotting lots of cool things I'd been reading about in Morse
at the time and have probably forgotten by now, such as houses' foundation posts standing on above-ground rocks rather than being dug in-- but you can't get tea there, and technically you're not even supposed to smuggle your own in. Portland's classical Chinese garden
does serve tea, but by comparison ends up looking a bit gaudy and not quite as well-maintained; possibly it would benefit from being visited first instead of getting all Zenned out beforehand.Hakone Gardens
, down in the South Bay, probably isn't that much farther away from us than SF. Parts of Memoirs of a Geisha
were filmed there, which ended up killing some of their antique custom-sized tatami
. While they do allow food and bevs there for special events, and sometimes even offer tea ceremony lessons, I don't think they have an open-circulation tea booth. Which brings me back to the tea.
We got a pot of green tea for the two of us, which came with a small dish of rice crackers and some cookies. (Other options were jasmine, oolong, and various cold beverages including iced tea; there are also packets of Pocky etc. available for purchase.) The tea was actually looseleaf instead of bagged, which was nice, and arrived with sufficient pre-steepage to drink immediately, but that also meant that it became too bitter to finish after two or three contemplative cups apiece. Since we were mainly watching the little birdies swarming around for crumbs rather than observing the tea staff, I'm not sure whether they simply have a throughput system where they top off old pots with fresh hot water or whether there's a mindboggling waste of tea leaves somewhere behind the counter. IIRC from our previous visit years ago with the wombat-consort's father, they do have sugar for the tea if you request it, prompting a small bowl of golden-brown rock sugar.
The circulating tea servers are young Asian women in kimono and obi, though all of these uniforms were worn so identically that I suspect hidden instant fasteners. They were also wearing tabi and geta/zori-- I didn't get a good look at the soles, though they weren't the elevated wooden platforms with accompanying karan-koron
clatter; my own feet felt cold in sympathy.
Tea is charged per person rather than per cup/pot, probably for the purpose of traffic control-- you have to consume it while seated in the tea pavilion and can't take it walkabout, though a few stray Pocky wrappers elsewhere suggested that the snacks are sometimes smuggled out. Then again, some visitors msy've brought their own Pocky. There's also a general entry charge to the tea garden itself (the pavilion is completely encapsulated within the garden), although this is waived during the first/last hour of admission; Golden Gate Park around it is free, although the street parking (also free) can get tight during the weekends/holidays esp. since the re-opening of the De Young museum
last year, right next to the tea garden.
Inevitably, the Japanese family
who ran the tea garden prior to WWII ended up getting interned
. ISTR reading an anecdote that during that time, not only were a lot of the garden's artifacts ransacked/destroyed, but some of the antique bronzes were specifically melted down and made into artillery shells marked "return to sender".
(On the one hand, I have to wonder about the metallurgical plausibility of this. On the other, perhaps since bronze is an alloy in the first place, it can be easily tweaked in molten form to enhance its fungibility.)