Anyone without spiritual aspirations is a fool.
(Sōseki Natsume, Kokoro)
It’s not all the time one finds himself immersed in an authentic Japanese traditional setting in metropolis Tokyo. Surely, the Sensoji or Asakusa Temple, dated 645 A.D., lifts a remarkable portrait of old Japan, considered as the oldest monument in Tokyo, amidst the remaining traditional structures in the town of Asakusa. However, the commercialized Nakamise Dori alley of souvenir shops, their skyrocketing prices, and horde of visitors have adorned this temple with a touristic flag, no more than the Eiffel Tower.
Slightly off from the city center, about 20 minutes by train from Shibuya, a charming Japanese teahouse sits quietly within the residential neighborhood of Jiyugaoka, Meguro. Despite the town reshaping itself into a likewise commercial hub of shops and restaurants, the quaint teahouse and garden is a truly pleasant discovery for closing the drapes to the noise and buzz of the city movement.
Kosoan quickly attracts passersby once the landscape of boutiques and new cafes changes to an old house covered in lush trees, with an open stoned driveway and wooden fence. The entrance is immediately captivating, no doubt inviting you to peek through the glass windows revealing the tatami mat rooms inside. As you carefully walk on the round stepping stones cut from decorative wells and white mortar, and circle around the pine and maple trees, old well with a wooden pulley, and stone lantern, you would inevitably reminisce the rustic smell of Kyoto tea gardens.
The establishment was built in the late Taisho era, around 1954, by the owner's grandfather, Yoshihiko Watanabe and Yuzuru Matsuoka, a novelist and son-in-law of one of Japan’s most respected writers Soseki Natsume. Watanabe and Matsuoka were good tennis friends. Matsuoka procured Watanabe’s favorite old mulberry wood “kuwa” from his hometown in Nagaoka, and consequently, named the tearoom “Kosoan” from the same Japanese character reading. They had planned to build a tearoom where they could spend time in after retiring. In 1999 the structure was made into a teahouse and a gallery, when the men thought that with the shrinking of the family unit, it would be a waste to use it without ventilating the rooms.
The main entrance is very typical of Japanese homes with an elevated wooden flooring so you could leave your shoes on the pebble-stoned level before ascending. There are two tearooms: the smaller one on the right side displays beautiful antique wooden chests, while the main and larger tearoom on the left side is surrounded by paintings, scrolls, Japanese dolls, swords, and wooden chests ornamented with ceramics, figurines, cutlery and tea ceremony tools, almost presenting a gallery inside a home.
Sitting by the low table beside the glass doors would be the best position to enjoy the simple and refreshing garden while slowly savoring the local drinks and traditional sweets or wagashi. The menu is surprisingly varied with seasonal choices for summer and winter. In summer, you can enjoy the Japanese style shaved ice dessert in Uji green tea or lemon flavors, accompanied by hot tea. During other seasons, the teahouse offers shiratama glutinous rice flour mocha balls dipped in matcha green tea; anmitsu agar jelly sweets with red beans, ice cream and mixed fruits, such as kiwi, apple, orange, grapefruit, grapes or strawberry; wagashi cakes usually with red azuki beans; and a somewhat unusual afternoon noodle dish, tokoroten made from gelatin of seaweeds mixed in vinegar and soy sauce; all served with regular coffee, cappuccino, traditional matcha, matcha latte, strawberry and banana milk.
The town of Jiyugaoka has often been referred to as a tiny Shibuya or Omotesando, with its petite boutiques, bric-a-brac stores, and trendy French and Italian restaurants, especially along the narrow cobbled alleys. Indeed, amongst the modernity and youthfulness of the neighborhood, the alluring sight of an aged wooden teahouse and Japanese garden brings back the Kyoto-like nostalgia of yesteryears. In Kosoan, time seems to float in a capsule, and the urge for relaxation and spiritual thoughts becomes imminent.