Tokyoites could be forgiven for thinking Toraya is theirs as it has been based in Tokyo for more than a century. This famous teahouse and confectioner, however, has its origins in Kyoto. When the capital moved to Tokyo, Toraya followed suit, moving its operational base both to curry favor with the Emperor and to get more people to “eat cake.”
The cake, or sweets to be more precise, on offer are strictly wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) and the menu is divided between seasonal offerings, such as kashiwa mochi (sweet bean paste enfolded by a gelatinous rice cake and wrapped in an oak leaf), and year-round delights such as yokan, a firm jelly-like bar of bean paste.
With the main branch in Akasaka undergoing an extended renovation it’s an ideal time to visit Toraya’s sedate tea house in Kyoto. Despite its long history, the tea rooms are decidedly modern and minimalist. The best seats are outside, in the sanctum of the inner garden.
Another reason to visit in May is to catch a photo exhibition (held in conjunction with the Kyotographie festival) in the gallery space abutting the tea room. The photos, on loan from the Guimet Museum of Asian Art in Paris, show Meiji Era (1868-1912) scenes of tea cultivation and drinking. The exhibition is free and runs until May 22.