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Gion Beverly Hills Teahouse to Offer an Immersive Experience in L.A.

Gion Beverly Hills Teahouse to Offer an Immersive Experience in L.A.

By Aaron Kiel Dec 15, 2021 10:34am

Eitaro Matsunoya will be one of the renowned geishas performing at Gion Beverly Hills, a traditional Japanese teahouse in the Ochaya fashion, which will offer tea ceremonies and tea offerings. (Photo: Courtesy of Gion Beverly Hills / Eitaro Matsunoya )

In February 2022, Angelenos will be treated to a one-of-a-kind cultural entertainment and dining/tea experience with Gion Beverly Hills, a Japanese teahouse that will feature renowned geishas from Tokyo, Japan.

Set to be located at 420 N. Camden Drive in Beverly Hills, owner Sean Sprawling’s Gion Beverly Hills will provide a Japanese cultural and educational experience for its guests, and it’ll be the first American Japanese teahouse to have legitimate, trained geishas.

‘We Will Showcase Tea in a Way That Sets Us Apart’

Sprawling said that Gion Beverly Hills will do its best to represent a traditional Japanese teahouse in the Ochaya fashion, which translates to “teahouse” with the term referring to teahouses exclusively found in Kyoto, Japan. “This differs from what Americans would know from a traditional teahouse, as our focus is not directly on tea but rather Japanese culture and entertainment, although we will showcase tea in a way that sets us apart,” said Sprawling.

The Gion Beverly Hills tea ceremony will take place towards the end of the show after dinner, to represent the dessert course. Gion Beverly Hills will also have a café where matcha will be hand ground and whisked in front of the customer, in an area where matcha and other tea accessories will be sold.

“We will offer a tea ceremony led by a geisha who is a tea master,” said Sprawling. “This will be presented in our Tatami room in the same way it had been traditionally performed for hundreds of years, and it will be complemented with Wagashi – a confection typically served with green tea. Wagashi is normally eaten before drinking matcha during the ceremony to sweeten the drinker’s mouth, as matcha tends to be bitter.”

Sean Sprawling (Photo: Courtesy of Gion Beverly Hills )

Other matcha flavored delights will be available in Gion Beverly Hills’ café during lunch and dinner services. “We will be using only organic ceremonial grade green tea leaves from Kyoto grown in the Uji region – the birthplace of the Japanese tea ceremony,” said Sprawling. “Uji Matcha is considered the highest grade matcha and drinks smoother without any of the bitterness normally found in lower grades.”

Sprawling said the venue will feature a modern custom-made tearoom that floats in the middle of the space amongst a Japanese style garden, of which aspects will change seasonally to reflect the Japanese four seasons. “This serves as a backdrop on one side for the café and on the other side the geisha performance.”

Customers can enjoy Gion Beverly Hills’ tea offerings in different settings, such as their sidewalk café, the Japanese garden, or during the tea ceremony with the geisha performance.

Gion Beverly Hills will also offer private tea ceremonies inside their tea room. Sprawling noted it will be a “unique and memorable experience” and available to book for parties of up to six, hosted by a geisha.

During the private tea ceremony, guests will also receive their own matcha set to recreate their experience at home.

A Cast Iron Pot – Center Stage for Steeping Tea

Additionally, Gion Beverly Hills will feature an Irori, a fireplace that is squarely cut out of the floor and used in traditional Japanese homes for heating and cooking with charcoal and wood. It’ll also have an iron tea pot suspended over the open flame to heat water for our other forms of tea that – unlike matcha – call for steeping. Examples include their Hojicha, which is a roasted green tea, or their Genmaicha, which is a green tea with roasted brown rice kernels. The cast iron pot is used to infuse the water with its minerals, giving it a pure taste, according to Sprawling. “It also adds iron into the tea, which can be beneficial to those with iron or mineral deficiency. When you brew your water in a cast-iron kettle, it brings out the best flavor of the tea, and it is said the longer the kettle is used the better the taste.”

When Gion Beverly Hills opens next year, it’ll also feature life-like and authentic projections of ancient Kyoto’s nature and surroundings, immediately transporting customers to the other side of the world.

The menu and atmosphere – including smells, decor and scenery – will all change with the Japanese seasons, so every time a person visits, a different experience will be felt.

‘Beautiful Experiences’

Sprawling became interested in opening a teahouse while brainstorming concepts for a new restaurant. “After realizing that I had geisha friends in Japan, and remembering the beautiful experiences I was lucky enough to have at private teahouses not open to the public in Gion, Kyoto, it was an easy decision to change my new business venture from being a traditional restaurant to an Ochaya,” he said.

Sprawling added: “I know that this will bring something that is both exciting and a unique experience rarely seen and not available anywhere else in the U.S. Kyoto being my favorite city in Japan and some of my most cherished memories having taken place there, I created the concept for Gion Beverly Hills with the intention of having a piece of Kyoto’s geisha district at home to share the happiness it brought me with others. It’s amazing to be building a business out of my favorite aspects from my travels to Kyoto and my time in the geisha district, Gion.”

Breaking Stereotypes

Eitaro Matsunoya will be one of the geishas performing at Gion Beverly Hills, marking a historic presence of geishas in the United States. Trained to be a geisha by a highly regarded master of Japanese traditional dance and instruments in Tokyo, Matsunoya has been performing his skills and art for the last 20 years, bringing joy to numerous audiences.

“Eitaro is a rare find, as he has been trained with hundreds of years old skills that very few people in the world have had access to learn,” said Sprawling, who’s also a filmmaker. “I am honored Eitaro agreed to be the subject of an upcoming documentary I am working on, as well as support me in this new venture as a cultural educator with Gion Beverly Hills. His story is very compelling; he is not a member of the LGBTQ+ community but performs in a female role without the intent of breaking tradition, as it wouldn’t be allowed if not for the unique circumstances of his childhood.”

Making history as the only male geisha in Japan, Matsunoya was trained to be a geisha by a highly regarded master of Japanese traditional dance and instruments in Tokyo. With a studied effeminacy, he has perfected the gestures and dances of a woman’s profession beautifully and is an alluring portal into a rich history of non-normative gender expression in Japanese performing arts, shared Sprawling.

Sprawling noted that Gion Beverly Hills hopes to break down any false stereotypes associated with geishas. “I really can’t wait to share with the world Eitaro’s story and the arts he has dedicated years of his life to master. He truly is special, and it is an honor to have him be a part of Gion Beverly Hills.”

The Gion district in Kyoto is well-known for geishas region in all of Japan, and where the name Gion Beverly Hills originated, as a way to honor and pay homage to the country’s significant culture.

Those wishing to experience this one-of-a-kind artistic dining experience – with tea ceremony – will need to make a reservation via Gion Beverly Hills’ website (which will fully launch soon). Visit gionbh.com for future updates and to make a reservation when it becomes available.

 

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To read the article on the World Tea News website, visit here.

 

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