This past weekend, we had a program sponsored trip to Kawagoe, a town about an hour train ride from Ikebukuro Station in northern Tokyo. Once we got there, we got to experience a traditional tea ceremony and meditation at an 1200 year old temple, and explore a traditional alley specializing in candy!
The tea ceremony was beautiful. Even though there were so many of us interns there, the ceremony still felt incredibly intimate. The best part was that we could ask the monk leading the tea ceremony as many questions as we wanted! Lots of interns asked about the history of tea ceremony, how long it usually lasts, when it is performed, etc. The room the tea ceremony was performed in in the temple was a traditional room with a tatami floor, and there was a beautiful flower arrangement that was the focus of the room- apparently, the arrangement is changed every day to reflect the new day. We each received a delicious cup of fresh matcha tea, and also a Japanese traditional sweet- a type of rice gelatin with bean paste wrapped in a leaf.
After the tea ceremony, we learned about meditation. For fifteen minutes, we experienced the ritual that monks complete for up to two or three hours everyday! We learned the correct position and correct breathing patterns (legs crossed, with one leg on top of the other, arms folded neatly, breathing slow and steady, and looking at a point about 2 meters ahead of you). We all sat in a line and meditated in the temple, watched carefully by the head monk who tapped us if our breathing was unsteady, our positions changed, or we became unfocused or distracted. All in all, an incredibly calming experience.
Lastly in the temple was a calligraphy class! We learned some history of calligraphy and were taught how to create one character on paper that we got to take home with us. Mine was incredibly messy and looked nothing like the example character we were given, but it was super fun to practice.
Kawagoe is a beautiful town to explore because there was so much to do and so much energy. The stores were very touristy but had all kinds of souvenirs and snacks to try. I got a sweet potato soft serve ice cream cone which was a lot more delicious than it sounds! We finally made it to the candy alley, famous for its different kinds of Japanese sweets (including a massive sweet soy breadstick that looked a lot like a charred French baguette, a strange pounded mountain root on a stick, and my favorite dango, or rice dumplings, smothered in sweet sauce). Unfortunately, by the time I arrived at the candy alley, many of the stores were closing, but I could still pick up a snack or two.
All in all, a great day trip. I love Tokyo so much, but it was nice to spend a calm day away from the city but know that I was close enough to return whenever I wanted.