Tokyo -- Her voice is soft, her smile shy yet welcoming.
"Please... sit," she says.
Slowly, I sit on the floor and wonder how this will all play out. She gracefully places a dry sweet in front of me, gesturing for me to eat it. The walls of the hotel room are ivory white, around me fresh pink flowers in baskets.
A peaceful silence descends. I wonder if my chewing will disrupt the moment, but she continues with her ritual. As I watch closely, the scampering feet and anxious faces of downtown Tokyo slip from my mind. Her silky white kimono with its red sash is almost hypnotizing.
Her hands gently twirl a bamboo brush used to stir and mix green tea, which comes from powdered tea leaves. She hands me the bowl, motioning that I should turn its front away from my lips before I drink it's Japanese tradition. The tea is warm, with a slightly bitter taste delicious.
This is the art of the tea ceremony, a major aspect of Japanese culture. Tea ceremonies were introduced to Japan from China around the ninth century as part of Buddhist meditation. The whole purpose is be engulfed in serenity and relaxation.
My hostess looks at me with dancing eyes. "I take picture?" she asks while I let the warmth of the tea slide down my throat. I oblige. It's not every day you can take in a private tea ceremony like this.
Once I'm done drinking, she gestures for me to turn the bowl so it's facing me again.
As I put it down, I glance at my watch and realize it's time to meet up with my local friend, Nobe. He wants nothing more than to show me Japan at its best. I pay my hostess about $10, a bargain price for the experience.
The crowded subway takes me to Shinjuku station, Tokyo's biggest subway stop. More than four million people pass through here daily.
As the train comes to a stop, I spot Nobe patiently waiting by the ticket stands. He eagerly takes me to a restaurant called Kitchen Shunju, where we take off our shoes and put on restaurant slippers, a custom in almost any traditional Japanese restaurant.
Our meal consists of rice, noodles and pickled vegetables. When nature calls, I'm required to change from restaurant slippers to bathroom slippers. In Japanese culture, the toilet area is regarded as unsanitary , so the slippers you wear in the toilet should remain there.
As night falls over downtown Tokyo, the real action begins. Youths swarm the streets in the Harajuku district, a popular area for night-crawlers. Nobe and I cruise over, embracing the laughter and excited chatter, though I can't understand a word of Japanese.
At the Den, a popular bar, we place our shoes in cubbyholes and order a round of sake.
My trip has only just begun.