Traditional Japanese Culture at Asakusa Terakoya-i

Planning a visit to Japan? Spice up your itinerary by including an afternoon learning about and experiencing Japanese culture and traditions. Open any travel magazine or ask your hotel concierge. Places where visitors can rent a kimono for an hour, watch a tea ceremony or listen to traditional Japanese music are springing up all over the country. Yet you, the traveler, remain passive, a mere onlooker. The kimono is put on you; you only get to taste the tea after it's been prepared; and you never get to touch that koto or shamisen (traditional Japanese stringed instruments). One place is different: Asakusa Terakoya-i.

Learning How To Make Matcha Green Tea at Asakusa Terakoya-i – Photo by Nathan Hosken
Here you learn all the steps that go into wearing a yukata (light cotton kimono) by putting it on yourself. You hold the chasen bamboo whisk that stirs your green tea to perfection. You learn how to pluck the strings of a musical instrument to create beautiful sounds.
During the Edo Period, so-called terakoya – or temple schools – were temple-run private institutions where local kids learned to read and write by memorizing historical texts. True to the terakoya spirit, Asakusa Terakoya-i teaches you the ins and outs of Japanese culture, as well as the history of the surrounding neighborhood, Asakusa.
Learning how to put on a kimono at Asakusa Terakoya-i – Photo by Nathan Hosken
Asakusa Terakoya-i calls itself "an intelligence hub and communication center for international visitors". The two-storey building has a cafe on the ground floor and a workshop space upstairs. At the cafe, you can learn about green tea and the history of Asakusa. Browse their digital tablets for background information and local lore.  For a small fee, you can make matcha (tea from powdered green tea leaves) in a casual tea ceremony. The cafe is also equipped with free Wi-Fi making it a great spot to stop, rest and recharge while sightseeing in Tokyo's most famous tourist area.
Asakusa Terakoya-i's cafe is equipped with tablets and WiFi – Photo by Nathan Hosken
The workshop space upstairs has traditional tatami mat flooring (remember: shoes off!) and dark wood furnishings, giving it an authentic, Japanese feel. You can sign up for courses including how to wear a kimono, how to play traditional Japanese instruments, writing shodo calligraphy, Japanese bookbinding, and swordplay.
To attend classes be sure to contact them in advance to confirm opening hours, class availability and other important details.  (Details here.)

We asked the Asakusa Terakoya-i staff about some of their favorite Tokyo places for you to explore. Here are their recommendations:
Asakusa Jinja Shrine – by Nathan Hosken
"Asakusa Jinja is just a few minute's walk from our shop. Although Senso-ji Temple is right next door, this area is quiet and serene in comparison. Taking a stroll through the gates and paying our respects to the gods enshrined here feels really good."

Cake at Higashi Mukojima Coffee Shop – by Yui Michael Maejima of Asakusa Terakoya-i
"Simply, we love this cafe. Having breakfast here in the morning -- the breakfast set is appropriately called モーニング or "Morning" -- or a piece of delicious cheesecake in the afternoon is a real treat. And the coffee is excellent! The owner is friendly and always up for a chat, adding to the cafe's warm atmosphere."

Mukojima Hyakka-en Gardens – from Flickr cc 鈴木宏一
"Mukojima Hyakka-en is our kimono teacher's favorite garden in Tokyo. She says she loves coming here because it is very close to her home, and admission costs very little. Best of all: it is a beautiful Japanese-style garden with seasonal plants and flowers."

Komazawa Olympic Park – from Flickr cc Hiroaki Sakurai
"Komazawa Olympic Park is our tea ceremony teacher's favorite park in Tokyo. She says she likes it because it is quite large with many trees, making it calm and peaceful. Being able to visit a green and open space like this in the middle of Tokyo is a wonderful thing."

The Park Surrounding Meiji Jingu Shrine – by Nathan Hosken
"Our tea ceremony teacher also loves taking a walk at Meiji Jingu Shrine, especially through the surrounding park. Even with so many people visiting every day, it feels really quiet. And the abundance of trees creates a nice and serene atmosphere."

Buildings in Ginza – from Flickr cc Alvin Leong
"Window-shopping and browsing around Ginza is a lot of fun! Lots of big-brand shops here have their own designer buildings. Ginza is also an area where you can eat some of Tokyo's best food. We recommend that you go for lunch. It is by far much cheaper than dinner, so you can enjoy delicious dishes, even when on a budget."

Stop by Asakusa Terakoya-i and visit their profile on ODIGO to learn about traditional Japanese culture.
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Jennifer Weiss