Caught up in the middle of Shibuya Crossing on a weekend afternoon, or stuck in the Tokyu Toyoko Line during a weekday rush hour, trying to find peace of mind in Tokyo may seem like an impossible task. But, if your idea of quieting your thoughts equates to sipping tea by a Zen garden, a 12-minute walk from Toritsu Daigaku Station, or a 5-minute car ride from Nakameguro might do the trick. 

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Yakumo Saryo, Meguro, Tokyo

Yakumo Saryo’s Sabo Teahouse is hidden in Meguro’s Yakumo neighbourhood. The restaurant looks a lot like a lovely Japanese-style house. A white noren (traditional fabric dividers hung on doorways) welcomes you to a well-kept garden. The stone path leading to the receiving area would make you think of a chashitsu (architectural spaces used for tea ceremonies) in Kyoto, but Yakumo Saryo’s interiors were borne with the contemporary Japanese in mind.

Mixing the old and the new is at the heart of the design aesthetic applied throughout the restaurant. Old-world Japanese touches are peppered on the unlikeliest of places: The comfort room sink is a repurposed brass water trough; water is delivered through a cubic pipe, making the experience highly reminiscent of using well water hand-pumps.

An earthy palette harmonizes seemingly incompatible materials. Teak tables and cedar wood chairs create a cozy background for stone and bamboo serving ware.

The same experimental approach permeates Sabo Teahouse’s menu. Their selection of sweets revolves around opening the palate to different textures and unexpected flavour combinations. How will persimmon wagashi go with unsalted butter? How about pickled Yuzu with miso cubes?

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Persimmon Wagashi with a butter heart
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Seasonal Wagashi plate
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Palate cleanser: Miso cubes, pickled Yuzu and candied beans

Yakumo Saryo embodies the design philosophy of SIMPLICITY Studio’s Shinichiro Ogata. With it, he communicates a worldview so rich that it transcends borders of different disciplines – be it architecture, interior design, industrial design, or culinary arts – in creating a poignant experience revolving around food appreciation.

The Sabo Teahouse is open throughout the day. Sit by the teak counter for a good view of the meticulous tea brewing process, or a brief chat with their charming staff. They don’t seem to have an English menu, but the staff would gladly enumerate the ingredients of each dish for you, and would go as far as offer their unbiased opinion on which tea variety tastes best.

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Sometimes, all you need is a full sensory experience to forget everything else but the now.