Teahouses (茶屋)

Chaya,' or teahouses were common from the middle ages through to recent times as a type of rest area in Japan.

Teahouses developed as retail venues that supported areas and, provided a place to drink teat and eat Japanese traditional snacks.

They are also known as 'chamise,' or tea shops.

In present day Japanese society, teashops are a source of nostalgia and, abroad are a symbol of the Japanese spirit.

For this reason, since they have been used mainly for tourism, there has been a revival in some tea shops and many used as tourist facilities.


In the days when transportation was limited to walking, teahouses were seen around inn towns, mountain passes and thereabouts. Such venues were called 'mizujaya' (public teahouses) or 'kakejaya' (refreshment shops), and were designated rest stops along the major highways. If located in a rest station location they were known as 'tachibajaya' (rest station teahouses).

Also, shops that sold tea leaves were called as 'hachaya' (tea leaf shops).

In Monzaemon CHIKAMATSU's a love suicide story ' Shinju Kasane Izutsu' there were shops that also sold services of a sexual nature and were called 'irojaya' (literally, 'colored tea houses').
Around that time the term 'chaya' was used to refer to these 'irojaya.'

Even besides this, there were various names used for the range of tea house operations: 'hikitejaya' (a teahouse where customers were entertained until they were taken to see the high-ranking courtesan), 'machiai-jaya' (tea house to lend seats and tables, or rooms), 'deaijaya' (a meeting tea-house), 'sumo-jaya' (sumo teahouse), 'ryorijaya' (restaurant) etc.

Amongst the 'ryorijaya' teahouses, there are establishments that were established in the Edo period and still operate as Japanese restaurants to this day.

In present day Japan, they mainly operate in sight seeing areas and places of scenic beauty and, in many cases also sell gifts and souvenirs.

Besides them, the word 'chaya' is prominent amongst a number of restaurants as it is a word in a business name that evokes as sense of nostalgia amongst modern day Japanese.

Tea Houses Seen in Ukiyoe (Traditional Japanese Wood Block Prints)

Pictures of teahouses can be seen in a number of scenic wood block prints depicting famous places.

In minimalistic works a simple teahouse is used whereas, there are examples where use of a grand teahouse conveys a feeling of a greater degree of prosperity.

Hiroshige UTAGAWA's "Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido Road"

1. 'Fukuroi' (also known as 'Fukuroi meeting teahouse'): 'Fukuroi Station.'
A meeting teahouse is pictured.

2. 'Otsu' (also known as 'Otsu Hashirii teahouse'): 'Otsu Station.'
A teahouse selling the 'Hashiri rice cake' local delicacy is depicted.

Eisen KEISAI or Hiroshige UTAGAWA's "Sixty-nine Stations of Kiso Road" (in actuality the Sixty-nine Stations of Nakasendo Road)

3. 'Itabashi Station on the Kisokaido Road': 'Itabashi Station.'
Painted by Eisen KEISAI. Painting of a meeting teahouse.

4. 'Kisokaido Road Ageo station Kamonoyashiro shrine': 'Ageo station.'
Painted by Eisen KEISAI. Rest station teahouse located near a shrine.

5. 'Takasaki Station on the Kisokaido Road': 'Takasaki Station.'
Painted by Hiroshige UTAGAWA.

6. 'Painting of famous shop at Narai Station on the Kisokaido Road': 'Narai Station.'
Painted by Eisen KEISAI. Initially it was a teahouse located at a rest stop along a steep mountain pass road but, as a shop it managed to prosper to a large degree.

Tea House Names Retained in the Name of a Location

Nikenchaya (Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City; Jinkyu, Ise City, Mie Prefecture; Kagoshima City, Kagoshima Prefecture, and so on.)
Jinkyu, Ise City, Mie Prefecture
Kagoshima City, Kagoshima Prefecture

Haginochaya (Nishinari Ward, Osaka City)

Tengachaya (Nishinari Ward, Osaka City)

Sangenjaya (Setagaya Ward, Tokyo)

Chayasaka (Meguro Ward, Tokyo)

Chayamachi (Umeda Hankyu area: Shinbata 1-chome/Chayamachi/Kakudacho), Chayamachi Okayama Prefecture (Kurashiki City)

[Original Japanese]