When someone visiting me in Matsue says they want to go drink tea, I usually drown them with a list of options for places to go enjoy some wagashi (traditional Japanese confectioneries) and matcha (powdered green tea, the type used in the tea ceremony). To say it has a thriving culture here would be a bit of an understatement.

That said, most places that cater to casual visitors don’t have any expectations of the recipients knowing the formalities of tea or the complex taxonomy of wagashi. They are served as simple hospitality; a way to relax. Usually this takes place within view of beautiful garden or within a tranquil temple, but the weekly Matsue Chafe takes places within an old-bank-turned-craft-fair. Welcome to Karakoro Kobo!

In addition to handmade works and other souvenirs on sale throughout this public gathering space, this place is known for workshops such as making magatama jewels (also a big thing in the Izumo region, worth touching on another day), making silver wedding bands, or making your own wagashi. The Chafe is held every Sunday with two servings of matcha and wagashi for 500 yen, including serving it with the whisk if you’d rather try frothing it up yourself.

The name 茶ふぇ (“Chafe” (chah-feh) ryhmes with the Japanese word for cafe, “kah-feh”) is a play on words, as 茶 means “tea”. Relaxed hospitality is of prime importance to hosts. While there is a seasonally decorated tea room to observe and ladies in kimono preparing the tea in back, guests mingle at benches and tables, and engaged in conversation. This too is a pun: the Japanese word for chatting is しゃべり (shaberi), but they use the term 茶べり (chaberi). Chit-chat or tea-talk, however you want to spin it.

I had my first cup of tea served warm, and it came with a freshly prepared Karakoro wagashi original.

This is a namawagashi, a malleable, moist type typically made with plant ingredients and molded around a sweet, smooth azuki center. They typically come in motifs that mimic nature, and this is based on a loquat, called “biwa” in Japanese. (It just so happens there is similarly shaped lute-like musical instrument with the same name.) They dusted some cinnamon on the end of this wagashi–it was a nice touch that offset the sweetness a bit!

The cup featured good old (or should I say new?) Izumo Taisha.

It is hard to walk into Karakoro Kobo without walking out feeling a little more arts-and-crafty, especially when the hosts come by with bamboo leaves and say, “Let’s make sasabune!”

Tada! It’s a little toy boat. There is a little fountain to float them in, too.

Or you could use them to serve the higashi (dried sweets) with the second cup of tea. I had mine served cold in this crab cup. Ironically, I had spied a bunch of river crabs on my way there that morning.

From now until the end of the rainy season (the end of July), they are holding a special Enishizuku Chafe. Many bars and clubs around town are also participating an Enishizuku Cocktail Collection, offering limited time cocktails on rainy days and sunny days throughout the month of July. My interests lie more in tea than in alcohol… then again, I didn’t become a tea drinker until I was 19–the first time I had matcha it was so bitter I could never imagine growing such a taste for it. Come to think of it, I didn’t develop a taste for coffee until very recently. Maybe my taste for alcohol is coming soon.

Back to the Chafe, I was soon joined by a pair of twin two-year-olds. They were at that cute stage when they’re talking, but with baby-talk pronunciation. When I asked how old they were, they said “Nisshai!” instead of “ni-sai”, and as they shared their second of helping of higashi with me, they said “Oneechan, doJO!” over and over (instead of “Oneechan, douzo”—“Here you go, Big Sister!” It’s so nice when I’m still referred to as ‘oneechan’ instead of ‘obasan’…). What really surprised me was how they drank the matcha with such relish! The bitterness doesn’t bother them at all, and when I asked about the caffeine, their mother laughed and said they’ll still usually go right to sleep. They’re obviously better adjusted than I am.

As if sharing higashi wasn’t cute enough, when I was headed elsewhere I pass by them on one of the many bridges throughout where you can catch a glimpse of the Horikawa Yuuransen, the sightseeing boat that goes through the canals of the castle town all year long. They were waving and shouting things likes, “Where are you going?”.

The passengers on the boat found them just as adorable as I did. By the way, that’s Karakoro Kobo in the background.