When thinking of where to find traditional tea houses in Japan, your mind might immediately go to the cultural hub of Kyoto or the beautifully preserved Higashi Chaya district in Kanazawa. If you’re in Tokyo however and seeking a traditional tea house experience, where do you head?
There are still numerous spots to get a cup of matcha and some beautiful wagashi throughout the country’s capital, and one of the best has to be Kosoan, situated in the suburb of Jiyugaoka. It’s only ten minutes by train from all the fabled Shibuya Scramble, but when you arrive, you’re going to feel a world away – in the best kind of way!
From all outside appearances, Kosoan looks like it could just be a residential home. It’s also a little tricky to know if you’re in the right spot, save for a small wooden plaque with the business name and the word “entrance” with an arrow to guide your way. It’s worth the effort to find it though, since once you follow that arrow you’ll be transported to a spot of peace and tranquillity despite still being in the heart of the metropolis.
The first thing that you notice when walking towards Kosoan’s entrance is the incredible traditional styled gardens on the tea house grounds. Stepping stones, sculpted trees and pillars all surround the building itself, and the floor to ceiling windows mean that you can enjoy staring out at the garden itself once you’ve got your matcha in hand.
As you enter, the tradition continues – you’ll see all of the other patrons shoes are off in the genkan, or entryway. It’s impossible to miss, so be sure to take your own shoes off as well. The seating here consists of cushions on a tatami mat floor, with low to the ground tables. It’s surprisingly comfortable, and adds to the ambience of the tea house.
When it comes to the menu, quality and simplicity are the keys here. You’re not going to be leafing through pages and pages of options - the choices here are condensed into a one page back and front selection. Despite the small menu, nothing is left wanting. The most popular item on the menu amongst the patrons in the tea house appeared to be the matcha and wagashi set. The wagashi changes with the seasons, so what you get is ultimately a surprise. No matter what wagashi you get, one thing is a certainty – it’s going to be perfectly presented and likely have some nods to nature based on the time of year you visit. Other menu options include anmitsu, a dessert made from cubes of agar jelly, red bean paste and various fruits (served with or without ice cream), matcha zenzai, which pairs the tea with chewy balls of mochi, and tokoroten, a noodle dish made from seaweed.
As well as the eats and drinks on offer, it’s worth spending some time admiring all of the trinkets and ornaments that are on display here – there’s everything from hina dolls to rabbits in traditional dress. At this point it really does feel like you’re in someone’s home and checking out a lifetime of memories, which adds to the warmth and charm of Kosoan.