Tokujin Yoshioka’s Kou-an Glass Tea House reinterprets the traditional Japanese tea ceremony

Experience Japanese culture in a new way, inside a glass teahouse at an ancient temple

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RocketNews 24:

Imagine yourself nearly floating in the sky, surrounded by green trees and fluffy clouds. Now you sip some green tea and feel completely at peace. Does this sound too good to be true? It isn’t, because now you can actually experience this in Kyoto.

At the Blue Dragon Hall of Shorenin Temple, artist Tokujin Yoshioka has designed a clear glass teahouse sitting amongst the trees of Higashiyama, one of the city’s famous mountains.

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The art installation, dubbed Glass Teahouse-Kouan,” was first thought up by Yoshioka back in 2002. It wasn’t until 2011 at the Venice Biennale international art show, though, that he announced the design, bringing along a model version of his vision. It took another few years to get permission and to finish the piece, which is now sitting grandly next to age-old camphor trees.

The teahouse is a one-year long art piece dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the sister city exchange between Kyoto and Florence, Italy. Yoshioka chose to create this clear building in an attempt to allow people to see and feel the energy of nature and its deep connection to Japanese culture.

While participating in the tradition of tea ceremony in the small indoor space, you are still close to the heart and sights of nature, giving a sense of limitlessness. This unification between microcosm and macrocosm is exactly what the artist was trying to achieve.

▼ The glass teahouse is the first of its kind.

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Some would argue that the inorganic glass would taint the experience or bring about a cold, hard sensation. However, due to the perfect transparency of the glass, the room is flooded with natural light, bringing a warmth and ease to the structure.

The wooden stage that the Glass Teahouse elegantly sits upon is the look-out platform of the newly relocated and reconstructed Seiryuden (Blue Dragon Hall) on the Shogunzuka mound at the foot of Higashiyama. The hall, part of Shorenin Temple, is a converted martial arts dojo, originally built during the Taisho era (early 1900s) and was re-opened after its restoration in October 2014.

▼ The night view from the new observation deck at Seiryuden.

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The observation deck stands 220 meters above ground level, is five times bigger than that of nearby Kiyomizu Temple and has an unobstructed view of the city below, making it a new popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

The Shogunzuka mound and the observation platform at Seiryuden would be enough to get us up there, but now with the addition of “Glass Teahouse-Kouan,” our mouths are watering with excitement and thirst for green tea.

The hall and look-out platform are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a 500-yen (US$4) entry fee for adults. The “Glass Teahouse-Kouan,” however, will only be there for one year, from April 9, 2015 to April 2016.

While spring will most likely be the most popular time to visit, the crystal clear teahouse will be, without a doubt, a great place to experience all of Japan’s beautiful seasons.

Prince William meets Domo-kun and has other fun adventures during his first visit to Japan

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RocketNews 24:

If you haven’t been diligently following our succinct list of “seven cool things set to happen in Japan in 2015,” you might be surprised to hear that the first has already happened! Last week, Britain’s Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, crossed the globe to spend a few days in our neck of woods here in Japan.

While his trip was only four days long, spanning an extended weekend of February 26-March 1, it was all documented by the Kensington Palace official Instagram account, and seems to have been a fun trip for the visiting royal!

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But really, four days is not enough time to enjoy all Japan has to offer, especially if it’s your first time visiting, as it was for Prince William. Being the short trip that it was, his schedule was jam-packed, but the Duke of Cambridge was smiling the whole time, clearly enjoying every second of it.

His whirlwind tour of Japan included taking a Shinkansen ride northeast to the 2011 Tohoko disaster area, dining with the Japanese Imperial family, touring the NHK headquarters, participating in a tea ceremony and spending some time at a book store. (More on the bookstore later…)

▼ Being an heir to the throne of Great Britain, Prince William didn’t ride the Shinkansen like the rest of us, he got to visit the cockpit.

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▼ He also went a little southwest to visit Hodogaya Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Yokohama, where he met with defense attachés from several countries.

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The prince also stopped by the Daikanyama TSUTAYA location in Tokyo. This is no ordinary TSUTAYA book store and rental shop though, as it is known as the “bookstore for adults” (not to be confused with “adult book” store) or “the library in the woods.” The elegant building and garden were designed by a British architect, making it a fitting location for the special exhibit, “Innovation is GREAT,” which is showcasing examples of British creativity and technology. The exhibit was put together in honor of Prince William’s visit and is running from February 20-March 16.

▼ He probably wasn’t expecting to look at British stuff while in Japan.

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▼ He did, however, get to see an avatar of himself dressed as a samurai and laugh about it with some lucky Japanese kids.

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Of course, there were some traditional Japanese activities too, including a sake barrel breaking ceremony, real-life samurai dress-up time and a tea ceremony.

▼ Luckily for him, they didn’t have him sit seiza during the tea ceremony.

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No trip to Japan would be complete without at least one encounter with a mascot character! On a tour of the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) headquarters, the Duke met Domokun, the NHK mascot.

▼ Is Prince William making a Domokun face?!

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▼ Okay, this isn’t the prince, but this pooch is so adorably dressed in honor of Prince William’s arrival, we couldn’t not show you!

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While Japan was very happy to host the “slender, tall, and elegant” prince (as one of our Japanese writers who saw him in person described him), it’s a shame that Kate Middleton couldn’t join in on the fun. Since she’s pregnant with the next royal family member, she had to sit this one out. Hopefully, the whole family will be on board for the next Royal visit to Japan!

Do you mix your wasabi and soy sauce? Some people say you shouldn’t

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RocketNews 24:

When it comes to Japanese food, the first thing people tend to think of is sushi–and with good reason! It’s certainly very popular, and it has numerous fans the world over. However, despite the popularity of sushi, sashimi, which is raw, thinly sliced fish, might be even more loved.

Of course, there are plenty of ways to eat sashimi, but it seems that the most common way is to mix some wasabi in a dish of soy sauce and then dip the fish in the soy sauce. A relatively straightforward but delicious process, right? Yes, but apparently that’s completely wrong!

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Now, when we say that you’re eating your sashimi wrong, we don’t really mean you’re doing it wrong. As far as we’re concerned, there’s not really a wrong way to eat, as long as you’re getting food in your mouth and then down into your stomach. But with that said, if you want to follow the proper rules of sashimi, that would be wrong.

It turns out that you’re not supposed to mix wasabi into the soy sauce.

Naturally, we’re sure that many of our readers have seen even Japanese friends and family members doing this, so you may be thinking that we’re off our rockers. But no, we are firmly attached to our rockers.

According to a number of Japanese sites, such as Josei Bigaku, Ameba News, and Happy Life Style, you’re not supposed to mix wasabi into the soy sauce. There are a number of reasons for this, but the first and biggest is that it completely destroys the taste of the soy sauce. At the same time, it will apparently diminish the aroma of the wasabi, giving you a mixture that lacks the joy of both of its ingredients.

This also means that you can’t modulate the taste very well. Certainly, you could add more wasabi or more soy sauce, but it’s still going to just be a slightly disappointing mixture.

Another problem is that it just doesn’t look very pretty, at least according to the rules. Now you may or may not agree with this, but we have to say that soy sauce mixed with wasabi isn’t really the prettiest food we’ve ever seen.

 

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So, now that we’ve rained all over your wasabi-and-soy-sauce parade, you’re probably wondering how you to eat your food properly. Fortunately, it’s not too hard! Just put a dab of wasabi on one side of the piece of sashimi you’re about to eat, and then dip the other side in the soy sauce. This should allow you to get the full flavor of both condiments, while spreading them out a bit so you can enjoy them and get a little balance.

Now, you have to get the raw fish into your mouth without dribbling soy sauce everywhere. And there are a few suggestions for how to do this. The first would be to use a futokorogami, which is a piece of paper that is used in place of a handkerchief–especially in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.

Or, if you don’t have a futokorogami, you can just use the soy sauce dish. Though we suppose that you’d want to be careful not to dribble any wasabi in it…

A final note on sashimi that we came across is the recommendation to eat your fish from lightest to darkest. The thinking is that the darker the fish meat, the stronger the taste, so if you eat in the order from light to dark, you won’t have to worry about the tastes overpowering each other.

Of course, you can eat your sashimi in whatever order you want and mix whatever you want into your soy sauce! As long as you’re happy with what’s going into your mouth, we’re happy for you, but you can keep these “rules” in mind if you want to eat sashimi the “right” way.