Takahagi Tea House in Ibaraki an excellent way to spend afternoon

November 19th, 2011By Category: Culture

Once upon a time the Hozumi Residence was a wealthy farmer’s palatial home, built in the traditional grass-thatched style of the period and surrounded by fields. Fast forward 240 years and it now sits in the middle of the small city of Takahagi, a local cultural asset thanks to the beautifully preserved features of the main house and assorted out-buildings. Often featured in movies and television shows due to its faithful representation of a large family home from the late Edo era, this fall the Hozumi Residence is playing host to a different kind of scene.

For two months only, from Oct 7 to Dec 4, this old folks’ home has been transformed into the Takahagi Tea House as part of an initiative of the Ibaraki Prefectural government. In an effort to revitalize some of the more rural areas of the prefecture, the regional government has been operating seasonal events like the Takahagi Tea House for the last 3 years.

Each year a different part of the prefecture is selected to set the stage for increased tourism with a different theme. Last year the project featured high-class French cuisine and drew large amounts of interest both inside and outside the prefecture, but due to size and resource limitations the number of customers was highly limited. In response to the voices of disappointed visitors who were turned away from lack of space, this year the prefecture decided to operate a dessert café, in order to be able to provide this kind of special experience to far larger numbers of people.

However, this year’s event has taken on even greater meaning due to the large economic losses brought on by the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake of March of this year. From that point onward, the Takahagi Tea House became more than just a way to boost tourism and provide a different way for visitors and residents alike to enjoy a special cultural event. It became a way to support and re-energize the community.

Celebrity patissier Toshi Yoroizuka collaborated with the project by creating original desserts using locally produced ingredients as themes and lending his high-profile name to the credits. But it goes further than just making conceptual use of the location’s resources; as Event Planner Noriko Ishii explains, the main goal became to give a boost to local producers and residents to help them overcome the difficulties they are encountering in the aftermath of the disaster.

“All of the ingredients in the desserts are locally sourced, and all the workers in the tea house are local residents. Through this we hope to provide local businesses and citizens with a means to bridge the gap between their situation after the disaster and their future growth.” By hiring local residents it gives them new skills, a high-profile entry for their resume, and the confidence to move forward from whatever losses they may have suffered.

Ishii is the representative of A.T Consulting, hired by the prefecture to plan and oversee the Takahagi Tea House project, who is in charge of the day-to-day decisions of operation, and hers is not an easy job. Due to the cultural asset designation of the folk house (and, doubtless, its wood and grass-based construction) they were not permitted to have stoves or ovens inside. This meant having the basic elements of each dessert created elsewhere and simply assembled on-site; but this lead to further complications, in that the original kitchen of the Hozumi Residence is extremely narrow and not very accommodating to multiple hands.

“Mr Yoroizuka told us that it would be impossible to handle more than 3 desserts at a time in this location, but we were told it absolutely had to be 4, so we found a way to make it happen,” Ishii confides. In addition, out-sourcing the elements of the desserts was in itself a feat of coordination: in just one dessert there could be four different elements coming from four different producers, and if even one ran out the whole dessert became unavailable.

 In spite of these trials, the café is a booming success, with its advance seating sold out for the duration of the event. There are open seats on a walk-in basis available daily, and there is often a wait. The desserts themselves are exquisite, both in flavor and presentation; ranging from pumpkin pie to Japan’s beloved Mont Blanc, each one features a local ingredient in a novel way. My sweet potato pie with persimmons was every bit as delectable as it appeared, and the view of the Japanese garden outside of the traditional windows was a wonderful accompaniment. The interior of the café is all the original furnishings of the folk home, complete with the old-fashioned style dimmed lighting of the era, and outside the detailed layering of the thatched roof is quite picturesque.

Though only a few weeks remain in the short limited engagement, the Takahagi Tea House is an excellent way to spend an afternoon; after all, there are very few places one can celebrate the past, present, and future of an area all at the same time.

Photos by Elysse Hurtado

Author of this article

Elysse Hurtado

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