A JAPANESE GARDEN HANDBOOK

 

PART ONE:  DESIGN & CRAFT

Chapter 7: The Tea Garden

by | Dec 10, 2015 | Design & Craft, Handbook | 0 comments

In this Chapter…

  • The Taking of Tea
  • Brewing History
  • The PhDs of Tea
  • Along the Dewy Path
  • Leaving the World Behind
  • Entering the Sanctuary
  • A Mountain Hut
  • Room for Tea
  • “Tea” Plants
Tea is a complete art form. In Japanese they call it a sogo bijutsu [総合美術 “synthesized art”] or sogo geijutsu [総合芸術 “synthesized art”]. You have everything in tea: flowers, ceramics, woodwork, metalwork, calligraphy, pottery, to name but a few. It is an all-encompassing artwork, and each one of those venues in itself could be a lifelong practice.   - Randy Channell, Professor, Urasenko-Gakuen

 

 

The Taking of Tea

To appreciate the design and beauty of the tea garden, it helps if you first learn to enjoy a simple cup of tea! The accepted or proper term for this quintessentially Japanese ritual of preparing and drinking tea is Chanoyu  茶の湯 (“tea’s hot water”), and its quiet understatement reflects the reserved nature of the ceremony itself. The practice of the tea ceremony is also referred to as chadō (茶道 “the way of tea”; a.p. sadō), a term that implies the addition of a spiritual or Taoist element to the training for the tea ceremony. This later term postdates by about a century the death of Sen No Rikyu (千利休 1521/2-1591), the undisputed authority on the ceremony, gaining acceptance around the mid sixteen-hundreds. A master of the way of tea was known as a chanoyusha (茶の湯者 “tea’s hot water persons”), and a fanatic as a chajin (茶人 “tea person”; a.p. sajin).

A bowl of matcha (green tea), Engaku-ji, Kamakura

A bowl of matcha (green tea), Engaku-ji, Kamakura

Brewing History

The Japanese tea ceremony is at once an artistic discipline and an aesthetic philosophy that elevates the ordinary and the everyday into the realm of the extraordinary and surreal. It has its roots in the Nara period (710-794) when Buddhist monks brought the plant from China as a way of maintaining alertness during lengthy meditation sessions. Tea had been valued in China for its medicinal qualities since at least the Han Dynasty (206BCE-220CE), and it was used in Buddhist monasteries to prevent drowsiness during meditation throughout the Tang and Sung dynasties (618-907; 959-1279). In Japan, a simple tea ritual was adopted by the aristocracy as a foil for elaborate court life during the Heian period (794-1185), although by the late fourteenth century, it had evolved into an elaborate and costly aesthetic pursuit. During the Kamakura period (1185-1333), the Zen priest Myōan Eisai (明菴栄西 1141-1215) returned from China bearing seeds of the tea plant, and matcha (抹茶, powdered green tea) became popular among monks as both a stimulant, and a medicine to keep the body in good health – one of the Buddhist virtues. The offspring of Eisai’s original tea plant produce what is today called honcha (本茶 “genuine tea”). The association of the tea ceremony with Zen Buddhism, then, is long-standing, and an adage claims that “Zen and tea have the same taste.”

The shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (足利義満 1358-1408), who constructed the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji Temple) in 1397, held tea gatherings for his friends and arbiters of taste to discuss recently acquired Chinese art objects. The Ashikaga shoguns continued this tradition, and Günter Nitschke speculates that these ceremonies were probably orchestrated by Nōami (能阿弥 1397-1471), one of the chief aesthetic advisers to Ashikaga Yoshimasa (足利義政 1435-1490). However, such gatherings degenerated elsewhere among the elite, becoming either venues for ostentatious display of fine ceramics and related art objects, or excuses to hold lavish, often profligate tea contests called tōcha (闘茶 “contest tea”). Contestants, mainly from the warrior class, attempted to discern honcha from among impostors, and washed all of it down with copious quantities of sake.

Sometime during the fifteenth century, Murata Shuko (村田珠光 1423-1502), a monk at Ginkaku-ji Temple, promoted the formal taking of tea as a way to calm the body and enlighten the spirit. This is, perhaps, the origin of wabi-cha (侘び茶 “wabi tea”), a tea culture most closely associated with the tea masters of the Momoyama period (1568-1603) in which rustic settings and humble utensils replaced the garish and expensive paraphernalia favored by the Muromachi (1338-1573) aristocrats. This was really a reaction against the decadence of the times, and as such, it was heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism. The tea master Takeno Jōō (武野紹鴎 1502-1555) was the first to apply the term wabi わび to the drinking of tea, but since the sixteenth century, wabi-cha has been linked most frequently to the formal ceremony practiced by Sen No Rikyu (千利休 1521/2-1591) and his followers. If Murata Shuko had simplified the ceremony by stripping it of many unnecessary encumbrances, then Sen no Rikkyū enthused it with minimalism by tearing away every last vestige of ostentation. Discarding lavish paraphernalia and sweeping aside rigid and distracting rules, he reduced the ceremony to its essential form: the sharing of hot tea among friends in a quiet and restful setting. His aesthetic taste favored the simple elegance of rustic ceramics and natural materials for tea utensils, and his goal was to restore a measure of contemplative tranquility to a world of busyness and stress. Tea gardens followed suit, reflecting a rustic, almost pastoral, restraint in their design, and teahouses were modeled after simple grass-roofed huts. “Everything is performed with a maximum possible degree of consciousness,” Günter Nitschke explains, “…[and] this in turn creates the enchanting magic of the tea ceremony – grace.”

A newly-constructed formal tea house, Hama-Rikkyū-Onshi-teien, Tokyo. The hinoki wood is almost golden under the winter sunlight.

A newly-constructed formal tea house, Hama-Rikkyū-Onshi-teien, Tokyo. The hinoki wood is almost golden under the winter sunlight.


During the later half of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the next, the tea ceremony continued to undergo modification and refinement. Sen no Rikkyu’s disciple, Furuta Oribe 古田織部 (1544-1615), added the ideals of taste (suki 数寄) and artistic playfulness (asobi 逰び), while Kobori Enshū (小堀遠州 1579-1647) looked back to the Heian period (794-1185) for inspiration, and created a ceremony heavily influenced by Neo-Confucianism known as the kirei-sabi (綺麗寂び) tradition. Sen no Sotan (千宗旦 1578-1658), Sen no Rikkyū’s grandson, attempted to blend the austerity of wabi-cha with the kirei-suki (綺麗数寄) of Furuta Oribe to form a tradition known as wabi-suki (侘び数寄). Following his death, the tea tradition broke into three main schools: the Ura Senke 裏千家, the Omote Senke (表千家), and the Mushanokoji Senke (武者小路千家). These schools remain the chief exponents of chanoyu to this day.

 

The PhDs of Tea

The gurus of wabi-cha (侘び茶) tea were drawn from the ranks of nobility, priests and merchants, and they were known collectively as chanoyusha (茶の湯者 “tea’s hot water persons”), a term dating from the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1576-1615). Although chanoyusha were not professional gardeners, they created tea gardens of impeccable taste and teahouse architecture of refined and elegant form. Through a deceptively simple ceremony – merely the drinking of tea with friends – they were able to express their tastes and preferences through a carefully orchestrated symphony of architecture, interior design, garden construction, painting and calligraphy, flower arrangement, food preparation, and, of course, stylized performance. The true master of tea was a multi-faceted artist who could integrate all of these many abilities within a single aesthetic event. The grand master was undoubtedly Sen no Rikkyū (1521/2-1591), who was “purported to have advocated ‘life as art,’ through which all aspects of one’s daily life are imbued with the aesthetic sensibilities of wabi-cha.”

 

Along the Dewy Path

Since the Dewy Path
Is a way that lies outside
This most impure world
Shall we not on entering it
Cleanse our hearts from earthly mire?

      Sen no Rikkyū (千利休 1521/2-1591)

Soto-roji, Koko-en, Himeji

Soto-roji, Koko-en, Himeji

 

Two terms are used to signify a tea garden. Chaniwa (茶庭 “tea garden”; a.p. chatei; alt. cha-en 茶園 “tea [fenced-] garden”) is a generic term for any and all tea gardens, and may also refer very loosely to any small area that either surrounds a dedicated building used for the tea ceremony or is overlooked by a room in which the tea ceremony is performed. There are relatively few constraints on its design and construction. However, the most poetic, and the most specialized, term is rojiniwa (露地庭 “dewy ground garden”; 露路庭 “dewy path garden”; rōji 露地), which refers to a purpose-built area of garden immediately surrounding or accompanying a tea-room or teahouse that functions as a transitional space or passageway between the secular world and the spiritual realm of chanoyu. The chief difference is that a chaniwa may simply provide pleasant scenery to look on, but a rojiniwa is a symbolically-charged landscape of fences, gates, shrubs and trees, through which the participants of the ceremony pass in order to exclude the outside world and isolate the realm of tea. In reality, the two terms are often used interchangeably.

The roji of Shunsoro, a tea house at Sankei-en, Yokohama

The roji of Shunsoro, a tea house at Sankei-en, Yokohama



Depending on the kanji, roji is often translated as “dewy ground” (露地) or “dewy path” (露路), and according to A. L. Sadler, Sen no Rikkyū chose the word after reading the following sentence from the Hokke-hiyu-bon (法華譬喩品), one of the Seven Parables of the Lotus Sutra (Hokke-kyō 法華経): “Escaping from the fire-stricken habitations of the Three Phenomenal Worlds they take their seats on the dewy ground.” Marc Keane suggests that the term originates from the homonymous term roji (路地), meaning an “alleyway” or “narrow access path”, in which case, the garden can be thought of as an entrance or transitional route to the tea arbor. In Buddhist circles, roji (露地) carries a specific meaning of “open space,” and is understood metaphorically as the “realm beyond that of human life and its all-consuming passions and illusions.” Günter Nitschke picks up on this meaning, which is carried in the Nampō-roku (南方録), a scroll containing the teachings of Sen no Rikkyū: “[The roji] is the wondrous realm of total perfection of mind and body. At no time has the garden of a layman been referred to as roji. Rikyu used the term to signify the purity of the mind that has taken leave of all worldly toil and defilement… in its external aspects, the spiritual purity that is roji expresses itself as a natural realm of trees and rocks.

The chashitsu, Japanese Garden, Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, Washington, USA

The chashitsu, Japanese Garden, Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, Washington, USA

 

It is probable that Sen no Rikkyū’s teahouse Myōki-an (妙喜庵) was one of the earliest to have a dedicated tea garden in the roji-style. However, because tea culture in general was a product of different classes and their respective needs, the roji of the Zen temple, for example, differed from that of the daimyo castle complex, and the earliest rustic retreats built by wealthy merchants in cities such as Sakai and Osaka would have been little more than small detached huts in tiny tsubo-style gardens at the back of their long narrow machiya (町家) townhouses. Certain common elements grew out of the essential concept as defined by people like Sen no Rikkyū, one of them being the emphasis placed on a path or passage between the secular world of mundane cares and workaday stresses and the detached spiritual realm of the tea ceremony. The roji “is an artistic work that expresses the spirit of nature”; therefore, “Everything is designed to increase the visitor’s consciousness.” Many tea masters thought of tea gardens quite literally as “dewy paths” whose function was to symbolically represent the journey from the city to the mountain retreat of the hermit. But most roji are relatively small, perhaps as compact as an eighth of an acre or less. Since their designers were often the tea drinkers themselves, they were often created as elements within existing gardens, or designed to fill vacant corners of larger properties, so they had to achieve this psychological separation in a remarkably concentrated form. This style of compact rojiniwa developed rapidly during the Momoyama period (1568-1603) and early Tokugawa period (1603-1868), and reached its zenith sometime during the middle to late Tokugawa period.

The tea house and surrounding gardens at Shinjuku-gyoen, Tokyo.

The tea house and surrounding gardens at Shinjuku-gyoen, Tokyo.


Leaving the World Behind

The light in here seemed softer, older, the air sharp with the tang of the yellowing bamboo leaves. The turns in the track disorientated not only our sense of direction, but also our memories, and within minutes I could almost imagine that we had forgotten the world from which we had just come.    - From The Garden of Evening Mists

The process of mentally and spiritually preparing a guest for the tea ceremony is methodical, so the roji garden must be laid out carefully and maintained meticulously. In creating it, there is a tendency toward the simple, the restrained or the reserved, and ponds and rock configurations are conspicuously absent. Gardens are designed to exude the everyday or the ordinary, and rock is used only for rustic stepping-stone paths. The garden serves to disconnect those who enter it from worldly pomp and circumstance, to strip away cares and concerns, and to prepare them for the ritual of drinking tea with friends. A maxim attributed to Sen no Rikkyū (千利休 1521/2-1591) - watari-rokubun kei-yonbun (渡り六分景四分 “passage six parts, landscape four parts”) - implies that the tea garden should be weighted “slightly in favor of function rather than artistry.”

A sotomon (outer gate), New Otani Hotel, Tokyo

A sotomon (outer gate), New Otani Hotel, Tokyo



Essentially, there are three basic designs of roji-style tea gardens. The simplest consists of a single, undivided garden surrounding a teahouse. The two-tiered tea garden, referred to as a nijūroji (二重露地 “two-tier roji”), is by far the most popular design, and it adds an outer garden, the sotoroji 外露地 (“outside roji”), to the one immediately encompassing the tea hut, or the uchiroji 内露地 (“inside roji”). Finally, the tajūroji (多重露地 “multi-tiered roji”) adds a middle garden, or nakaroji (中露地 “middle roji”), between the sotoroji and the uchiroji. The Omote Senke headquarters has an outstanding example of a tajūroji.

The approach pathway to a “mountain tea hut” in a sub-temple, Engaku-ji, Kamakura. The tea hut is not seen until one reaches the top of the stairway. See “Room for Tea” below for more photographs of this tea garden and tea house.

The approach pathway to a “mountain tea hut” in a sub-temple, Engaku-ji, Kamakura. The tea hut is not seen until one reaches the top of the stairway. See “Room for Tea” below for more photographs of this tea garden and tea house.

 

The soto-roji is entered through the sotomon (外門 “outside gate”; rojimon 露地門 “roji gate”), a gate that symbolically excludes the outside world from the world of tea. The term can also indicate the immediate vicinity of the gate itself, including approaches, as at the Omote Senke complex, where the sotomon is designed in a zigzag pattern to deliberately slow down entry into the garden, and to act as a framing device. By tradition, the outer garden area is usually more sparsely planted than the inner garden.

Usually, a covered waiting arbor, or soto-koshikake-machiai (外腰掛待合 “outside chair waiting place”; machiai 待合) serves as a reception area where arriving guests gather to compose themselves mentally and spiritually before proceeding to the inner garden and the ceremony. The first machiai was probably constructed by Kanamori Nagachika (金森長近 1524-1608) at his estate opposite Toranomon. Furuta Oribe (古田織部 1544-1615) and Kobori Enshū (小堀遠州 1579-1647) added an attiring arbor (dō-koshikake 堂腰掛; alt. ishōdō 衣裳堂) to the tea garden where distinguished guests could change into clothing appropriate to the tea ceremony.

The simple interior of a machiai, or waiting arbor, at the top of the approach pathway, a sub-temple of Engaku-ji, Kamakura. See “Room for Tea” below for more photographs of this tea garden and tea house.

The simple interior of a machiai, or waiting arbor, at the top of the approach pathway, a sub-temple of Engaku-ji, Kamakura. See “Room for Tea” below for more photographs of this tea garden and tea house.


A closer view of the arbor’s window showing the weave of bamboo lattice. This is known as a nuri-nokoshi-mado (塗り残し窓 “plaster left [bare] window”). See “Room for Tea” below for more information.

A closer view of the arbor’s window showing the weave of bamboo lattice. This is known as a nuri-nokoshi-mado (塗り残し窓 “plaster left [bare] window”). See “Room for Tea” below for more information.

The kafuku-setchin (下腹雪隠 “lower belly snow-hide”; a.p. shitabara-setchin), or functional latrine, is also located in the sotoroji. A stone wash basin (tsukubai つくばい) and a stone lantern are placed conveniently nearby. In a Buddhist temple complex or monastery, the latrines are known euphemistically as setchin (雪隠 “snow-hides”; a.p. seichin, setsuin,), a euphemistic term cobbled together from two kanji, the first taken from the name of a monk, who was either Seppō Gison Zenji (雪峰義存禅師 822-908) of Fuchow, China, or Setchō Jūken Zenji (雪竇重顕禅師 980-1052), of Reiin Temple, depending on which legend you credit. This monk achieved enlightenment by cleaning the monastery latrines every day. The second kanji comes from the second syllable of the temple’s name. The term was adopted by tea masters because of its Buddhist origins, which accord with the implied humility of the host who cleans the privy prior to the ritual inspection by his guests.

A tsukubai (basin arrangement), Nezu Art Museum, Tokyo

A tsukubai (basin arrangement), Nezu Art Museum, Tokyo

Entering the Sanctuary

Leaving the sotoroji, one might pass through a nakakuguri (中潜り “middle crawl-through”; rojiguchi 露地口 “roji entrance”), a roofed wicket gate with a low, square entrance measuring approximately 60 cm by 60 cm with a sliding wooden door. Such an entrance is sometimes found in lieu of a chūmon 中門 (“middle gate”), but neither is intended to be a physical barrier, since in most cases one can simply walk around it. In rare cases, there is a symbolic barrier called an ai-no-gaki (間の垣 “gap’s fence”), which is simply a shrub hedge or a bamboo fence. The nakakuguri, an innovation of the tea master Furuta Oribe (古田織部 1544-1615), elevates the tea ceremony beyond aesthetic performance into the realm of religious experience, “firstly because the fact of crawling through the gate makes the guest highly conscious of his body, and secondly because he is required to humble himself on his knees before he is able to proceed.” A variation consists of a section of earth wall with a small window and a crawl-through entrance. Fine examples can be seen at Mushanokoji Senke and Omote Senke headquarters. The Shokoku-chatei-meiseki-zue (諸国茶庭名跡図会 An Illustrated Manual of Renowned Tea Gardens in Japan), dating from the late Tokugawa period (1603-1868), has several garden plans that show streams separating the sotoroji from the nakaroji. These streams are crossed by bridges, but the intention is evidently the same: To symbolize the passage into a deeper level of consciousness.

Placed just to one side of the nakakuguri or chūmon is the Host’s Stone (teishu-ishi 亭主石 “host stone”). It is here that he greets his guests, as they pass from the secular world into the spiritual realm of tea.

The inner garden directly surrounds the teahouse, and contains the uchi-koshikake-machiai (内腰掛待合 “inner seat waiting place”). Close to the teahouse itself, the Inner Waiting Arbor usually consists of a simple, roofed bench where guests retire during the intervals between the serving of the various types of tea at longer gatherings. It may be furnished with a paper lantern (andon 行灯), a tobacco tray (tabakobon  煙草盆), and an ink-stone, brush, and paper for recording the names of the guests. During winter months, there may be a small portable hearth for warming the hands. The Waiting Arbor permits guests to compose themselves and relax during longer ceremonies, some of which can last for several hours. An ornamental latrine called a kazari-setchin (飾雪隠 “decorative snow-hide”; alt. suna-setchin 砂雪隠 “sand latrine”) is located close to the Waiting Arbor, or in the nakaroji, with a laver nearby.

The flora is often quite dense in the inner garden, and the ambiance is more somber than that of the outer garden, evoking in the guests an even greater detachment from the outside world. Close to the tea hut will be the ocha-no-i (お茶の井 “tea’s well”), which provides fresh water for making tea and cleaning tea instruments. Such wells are mostly ornamental now, although the upper garden at Ginkaku-ji contains a famous working example.

An ocha-no-i, (well for tea water), Kamakura

An ocha-no-i, (well for tea water), Kamakura

A Mountain Hut

Under the trees, among the rocks, a thatched hut:
verses and sacred commentaries live there together.
I’ll burn the books I carry in my bag,
but how can I forget the verses written in my gut?
- Ikkyū Sōjun (一休宗純 1394-1481)

 

Yokobue-an, a rustic teahouse, Sankei-en, Yokohama

Yokobue-an, a rustic teahouse, Sankei-en, Yokohama



At the heart of the tea garden lies the teahouse, often built to resemble an unsophisticated, rustic hut. Sukiya-zukuri (数寄屋造り “refined taste room architecture”) became the dominant architectural style during the Momoyama period (1568-1603), and dominated during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), and the term sukiya (数寄屋) first appears in a scroll dating from 1532. Some scholars ascribe the development of the style to Sen no Rikkyū (千利休 1521/2-1591); however, the term is older in origin, and is related to the aesthetic or poetic term suki (数寄). Partly in reaction to the massive grandeur of castle architecture, and certainly in response to the growing influence of wabi-cha tea masters, teahouse architecture shifted away from the grand formality of shoin-zukuri (書院造り) architecture towards a less ornate, more compact style. Nonetheless, elements of shinden-zukuri (寝殿造り) and shoin-zukuri lingered in the form of alcoves (tokonoma 床の間), built-in desks (tsuke-shoin 附書院, 付け書院), and stepped or floating shelves (chigaidana 違い棚). Wealthy tea enthusiasts spent disproportionately large sums of money on the design and construction of their teahouses, importing the very highest quality natural materials, and employing the nation’s top craftsmen. Such extravagance assured that most sukiya became elegant works of art fit for entertaining persons of power and status, and some examples of sukiya teahouses appear overly ornate, with elaborate transoms (ranma 欄間) and covered nails (kugi-kakushi 釘隠). However, the authority of the tea masters helped to tone down some of the eccentricities in style, reducing the sukiya to it fundamental elements. As a result, the term came to refer to any and all rustic, unpretentious teahouses as well as the sumptuous tea pavilions of the nobility.

A typical example of a tea house in a large stroll garden (this one in Shinjuku-gyoen, Tokyo): the use of traditional building materials and methods, but definitely not your average peasant hut!

A typical example of a tea house in a large stroll garden (this one in Shinjuku-gyoen, Tokyo): the use of traditional building materials and methods, but definitely not your average peasant hut!



The shift towards understatement and the artistically unpretentious gathered force during the early years of the Tokugawa period, culminating in the sōan (草庵 “grass hut”), a small, free-standing teahouse modeled on the rural farmhouse and the mountain hut. This style appealed particularly to the wabi-cha (侘び茶) tea masters as an apotheosis to the grandeur of aristocratic residences and their opulent tearooms. It was usually very modest, about three tatami mats 畳 or less, with a tokonoma 床の間 and a crawl-through door (nijiriguchi 躙口). However, the most interesting element of the sōan teahouse is that its windows and doors are opaque, affording no view of the garden outside. This deliberate ploy forces guests to focus their attention inward toward the ceremony and their inner selves.

A chiriana (refuse pit), Nezu Art Museum, Tokyo

A chiriana (refuse pit), Nezu Art Museum, Tokyo



A common exterior feature of most tea huts is the chiriana 塵穴 (“waste pit”), a small dust pit dug into the ground just beneath the eaves. Often lined with roof tiles and furnished with a pair of oversize bamboo chopsticks (hashi 階), it serves a symbolic role rather than a pragmatic one, implying an air of cleanliness and thoroughness about the host’s preparations. In some cases, a second pit might be located beside the stone laver, or near the latrine or waiting arbor. The shape of the hole may be square or round, although a small Peep Stone (nozoki-ishi 覗石 “peeping stone”) usually punctuates the rim. The chiriana was originally designed to temporarily hold the sweepings and clippings that the host accumulated while preparing the garden for the reception of his guests. In reality, however, such sweepings are more likely to be evergreen boughs deliberately clipped for the purpose of symbolizing the host’s care and attention to detail. Sen no Rikkyū claimed that before the ceremony the following should be mentally discarded: “Your religion, your neighbour’s treasures, your in-laws, the wars in the country, virtues and vices of men.”

A pile of swept leaves intentionally left along a gravel path to indicate due care and attention, Rakuju-en, Mishima, Shizuoka Prefecture.

A pile of swept leaves intentionally left along a gravel path to indicate due care and attention, Rakuju-en, Mishima, Shizuoka Prefecture.


Room for Tea

Tea is about the interaction between host and guest. An interesting comparison is that tea is like an interactive stage. You, the guests or audience, are actually an integral part of the art form. We both have our own lines and movements. In many other traditional arts, you are simply the audience or the observer.  - Randy Channell, Professor, Urasenko-Gakuen

Specifically, any room where the tea ceremony is practiced is a chashitsu 茶室 (“tea room”), whether it is a part of larger residence or within a detached, dedicated building. However, chashitsu is also used loosely to refer to a teahouse. Several synonyms refer either to the nature of the venue, or to the style of its architecture: chaseki (茶席 “tea place”); hanareya (離れ屋 “separate roof room or house”); kakoi (囲い “enclosure”); and kozashiki (小座敷 “small [tatami] sitting room”).

The nijiriguchi, Kyūsōtei tea hut Sankei-en, Yokohama, showing the katana-kake (sword shelf) and fumi-ishi (Entrance Stone)

The nijiriguchi, Kyūsōtei tea hut Sankei-en, Yokohama, showing the katana-kake (sword shelf) and fumi-ishi (Entrance Stone)



Entering the chashitsu is normally accomplished through a nijiriguchi (躙囗 “crawling entrance”; nijiri-agari 躙上り; kuguri-guchi 潜り口), a crawl-through entrance approximately 60 by 65 cm placed roughly at waist level on one side of the teahouse. Sen-no-Rikkyū (千利休 1521/2-1591) introduced the crawl-through entrance after noticing the small openings that local fishermen crawled through to enter their beach huts. A single large stepping-stone called a fumi-ishi (踏み石) is placed under this doorway to facilitate entrance, and because of the constrictive nature of the opening, samurai were obliged to remove their swords, the symbols of social and martial power, and place them in sword racks (katana-kake 刀掛 “sword shelf”) before crawling through them on their hands and knees. As Marc Keane points out, this represented “a radical frame of mind for a hierarchical society and one that only had partial success in becoming a reality.” The nijiriguchi had a practical function as well, as the enclosed space of the tea room would have appeared slightly more spacious after crawling through such a narrow entrance. The host normally enters through a separate entrance at the rear known as a katteguchi (勝手口, kitchen entrance; chatateguchi 茶立口 “tea standing entrance”, or a katoguchi (花頭口; “flower head entrance”; 火燈口 “fire lamp entrance”) if its lintel is rounded. Elaborate teahouses sometimes had an unobtrusive servant’s entrance (kayoiguchi 通口 “passing entrance”).

Interior of a tea house, Aizu Bukeyashiki, Aizu-Wakamatsu

Interior of a tea house, Aizu Bukeyashiki, Aizu-Wakamatsu

 

In sukiya (数寄屋) style tea rooms, only the finest of simple, natural materials are used for the construction of tearooms, and ornamentation and carving are discouraged. Ceilings of plain wood slats begin at around six and three quarters feet and reach a maximum height of about seven and a quarter feet. The rich patina of exotic woods, the swirling patterns of unpainted or unstained wood grains, and the asymmetrical twists and turns of undressed limbs elevate the construction of a tearoom to an art form. Interior walls are of earth or clay stucco, posts are of unfinished tree trunks, and the floors are tatami mats. Designs may be elegant in principle, but they nearly always aspire to simplicity and rusticity. As with most traditional Japanese architecture, there is no attempt to conceal construction techniques. Rooms are generally kept small, ranging anywhere from one or two to eight tatami mats in size (from about 6 x 3 to 12 x 12 ft), but the standard is four and a half (yojōhan 四畳半 “four [tatami] & a half”; about 9 x 9 ft). Larger rooms are hiroma (広間 “wide room”); smaller are koma (小間 “small room”). The teahouse at Konnichi-an, for example, is only 1¾ tatami inside, and yet its “influence in Japanese architecture has been inversely proportionate to its tiny size.”

The inner roji at a sub-temple of Engaku-ji, Kamakura. One approaches via a stepped pathway (upper left of photo).

The inner roji at a sub-temple of Engaku-ji, Kamakura. One approaches via a stepped pathway (upper left of photo).

The first view of the tea house. One foliows the path to the right to the tsukubai, where one performs ablutions…

The first view of the tea house. One foliows the path to the right to the tsukubai, where one performs ablutions…


… then awaits the host’s call in the waiting arbor (the tsukubai is hidden by the shrub lower left of photograph).

… then awaits the host’s call in the waiting arbor (the tsukubai is hidden by the shrub lower left of photograph).


One sees the teahouse from the arbor. Finally, after receiving the call from the host…

One sees the teahouse from the arbor. Finally, after receiving the call from the host…




The tearoom remains unfurnished, save for a centrally-located hearth, and possibly a paper lantern (andon 行灯). The majority of illumination is natural, provided by either small shōji (障子, paper-covered windows) placed low and obliquely from the seating area, or “plaster windows” set higher in the walls (nuri-nokoshi-mado 塗り残し窓 “plaster left [bare] windows”), where the bamboo rods of the wall are left unplastered and the windows unframed. These windows permit diffused light to enter, but prevent guests from being distracted by external visual stimuli. Guests are normally seated in front of the tokonoma (床の間, alcove), with the host seated before the charcoal hearth. More elaborate tearooms may contain chigaidana (違い棚), sets of staggered shelves for the display of a few carefully-chosen art objects. There may also be a built-in cupboard known as a dōkō (道幸, 道庫), where the tea ceremony utensils could be stored.

… one enters the tea house through the nijiri-guchi (“crawl-through entrance”), and, after the eyes adapt to the half-light...

… one enters the tea house through the nijiri-guchi (“crawl-through entrance”), and, after the eyes adapt to the half-light…


… one sees the tokonoma (alcove), moon-shaped shoji window, and the host’s entrance (far door). The mizuya is located just inside the host’s entrance to the immediate left.

… one sees the tokonoma (alcove), moon-shaped shoji window, and the host’s entrance (far door). The mizuya is located just inside the host’s entrance to the immediate left.


A final look at the teahouse and waiting arbor from the left, showing the approach path disappearing downwards to the right.

A final look at the teahouse and waiting arbor from the left, showing the approach path disappearing downwards to the right.



Many tearooms include a mizuya (水屋 “water room or house”), a side room or kitchenette, with chadana (茶棚 “tea shelves”) for storing tea articles, and a small sink for cleaning them. In rare cases, the mizuya is a separate building. The first mizuya was attached to Fushin-an, a tearoom built by Sen no Rikkyū, and it derives its name from the original practice of drawing water from a stream or well and leaving it to settle in a large water jar in this room.

The mizuya (preparation room), Aizu Bukeyashiki

The mizuya (preparation room), Aizu Bukeyashiki

 

The four tea huts in the grounds of the Katsura Rikyū Imperial Villa in Kyoto are fine examples of the sukiya architectural style, especially the Shōkintei (松琴亭) tea hut. Another fine example, said to have been constructed by Sen no Rikkyū, is the Taian (待庵) tea house at Myōki-an. The Kyūsōtei (九窓亭 “nine windows place”) tea hut was designed by Oda Urakusai (織田有楽斎 1547-1621), the younger brother of Oda Nobunaga (織田信長 1534-1584) and a recognized tea master. An important cultural property, Kyūsōtei follows an orthodox style; it is 3 ½ tatami in size, and, not surprisingly, it has nine windows. It was moved from Uji, near Kyoto, to Sankei-en, in Yokohama in 1918.

 

“Tea” Plants

The tea garden evokes the remoteness and tranquility of the mountains, and provides an illusion of depth. Guests are made to feel as if they were walking along a simple mountain path, so the prevailing colors are greens and browns of various shades and intensities. Sen no Rikkyū (千利休 1521/2-1591) discouraged the use of exotic or flowering plants because he felt that they competed with the single bloom on display in the tokonoma (床の間) of the tea hut, and undermined the prevailing atmosphere of wabi (侘び) so crucial in establishing the correct tone for the tea ceremony. Seasons are subtly reflected in the tea garden through autumn leaves or spring buds, and variety is assured through the diverse shapes and levels of shininess of the leaves. There is a subtle reflection of the nuances one finds in sumie (墨絵) ink paintings, where the various shades and intensities of black ink are offset by the single vermilion accent of the artist’s signature block. In the tea garden, this vermilion accent is present in the red felt cushion in the waiting arbor.

The term zōki (雑木 “miscellaneous trees”) is used to denote the palette of trees and woody shrubs found in a traditional tea garden. A mix of local shade-tolerant deciduous (D) and evergreen (E) trees and shrubs are chosen for their natural, unassuming qualities, and might include the following:

  • momiji (Acer palmatum) - maples (D)
  • akagashi and arakashi (Quertus acuta and Q. glauca) - red oaks and ring-cupped oak (E)
  • shidare-yanagi (Salix babylonica) - weeping willows (D)
  • sendan (Melia azedarach) - Japanese bead trees or Chinaberries (D)
  • akamatsu and kuromatsu (Pinus densiflora and P. thunbergii) - red pines and black pines (E)
  • hinoki (Chamaecyparis obtusa) - Japanese cypresses (E)
  • inumaki (Podocarpus macrophyllus) - Japanese yew or buddhist pine (E)
  • sugi (Cryptomeria japonica) - cryptomerias (E)
  • daimochi and inutsuge (Ilex integra and I. crenata) - bird-lime holly and holly in general (E)
  • aoki (Aucuba japonica) - Japanese spotted laurels (E)
  • tsubaki and sazanka (Camellia japonica and C. sasanqua) - Japanese camellias (E)
  • yatsude (Fatsia japonica) - Japanese aralia (E)
  • katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) - Judas trees (D)
  • momi (Abies firma) - Japanese firs (E)
  • kurochiku and mōsōchiku (Phyllostachys nigra and P. edulis) - black bamboos and moso bamboos (E)
  • ume (Prunus mume) Japanese apricots (D)

This last tree is usually restricted to specimens only, and is one of a select few flowering deciduous trees that find their way into the tea garden. As a rule, flowering plants are eschewed as overt and ostentatious, and the exceptions tend to be selected for seasonal color only, such as the camellias. The term shinzan-no-tei (深山の庭 “deep mountain gardens”), associated with tea gardens attached to castles or daimyo estates, capture the tenor of remote mountain villages (yamazato 山里 “mountain village or hamlet”), and such tea gardens might include peach trees, mountain cherries, and loquats (biwa, Eriobotrya japonica; E). Ground cover is usually restricted to mosses such as sugigoke (Polytrichum commune cryptomeria moss) and grasses.

The trees and shrubs in a tea garden are never pruned or shaped in the same way as they are in other Japanese gardens, but merely thinned. Lower branches may be lopped to reveal the spidery trunks and inner branches. The inspiration for the roji is primeval, and visitors will “pick up the same signals in woodland all over the world: the stillness, the smells and the light.” In the choice and maintenance of tea garden plants, then, designers seek always to invoke the tranquility of the mountains: “To walk the length of a roji is the spiritual compliment of a journey from town to the deep recesses of a mountain where stands a hermit’s hut.”


Bibliographical Notes

There is a plethora of literature on the tea ceremony and tea gardens, but the following books are highly recommended:

  • Furuta, S. (1964, June-September). The philosophy of the chashitsu. Japan Architect.
  • Houser, P. L. & K. Mizuno (1996). Invitation to tea gardens: Kyoto’s culture enclosed. 3rd ed. Kyoto: Mitsumura Suiko Shoin.
  • Keane, M. P. (2009). The Japanese tea garden. Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press.
  • Koren, L. (1994). Wabi-sabi for artists, designers, poets & philosophers. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press.
  • Naita, A. (1977). Katsura: A princely retreat. Tokyo, New York & San Francisco: Kodansha International.
  • Nishi, K. & K. Hozumi (1996). Entertainment: Architecture in the sukiya spirit. In What Is Japanese Architecture? Trans. & Introduction by H. M. Horton. Tokyo: Kodansha International.
  • Okakura, K. (1995). The book of tea. Foreword & Biographical Sketch by E. Grilli. Rutland & Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle.
  • Sadler, A. L. (1963). Kakoi and sukiya; The rōji; The setsuin or privy; and The varieties of tea-Room. In Cha-no-yu: The Japanese tea ceremony. Rutland & Tokyo: Charles E Tuttle.
  • Sōshitsu Sen XV (Ed.)(1998). Chanoyu: The Urasenke tradition of tea. Trans. by A. Birnbaum. New York & Tokyo: Weatherhill.

Tea is a complete art form… Cited in Kosaka, K. (2011). Canadian martial artist finds the way to tea of tranquility. The Japan times (16 July); p. 12.

The grand master was undoubtedly Sen no Rikkyū… Keane, M. P. (1996). Japanese garden design. Photographs by Ōhashi, H. Drawings by the author. Rutland & Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle; p. 75.

Since the Dewy Path… Sen no Rikkyū, cited in Sadler, A. L. (1963). Cha-no-yu: The Japanese tea ceremony. Rutland & Tokyo: Charles E Tuttle Co.; p. 20.

The Ashikaga shoguns continued this tradition… Nitschke, G. (1993). Japanese gardens: Right angle and natural form. Köln: Benedikt Taschen; p. 147.

“Everything is performed with a maximum possible degree…” Nitschke, G. (1993); p. 155. “At its zenith, realizing the universe of wabi-sabi in its fullness was the underlying goal of tea” (Koren, L. (1994). Wabi-sabi for artists, designers, poets & philosophers. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press; p. 32).

and according to A. L. Sadler… Sadler, A. L. (1963); p. 19n.

Marc Keane suggests that the term originates… Keane, M. P. (1996); pp. 78; 176.

In Buddhist circles, roji carries a specific meaning… Nitschke, G. (1993); p. 149.

It is probable that Sen no Rikkyū’s teahouse… Sadler, A. L. (1963); p. 12. Sadler also cites the Yamasato, a teahouse built by Takeno Shōō (武野紹鴎 1502-55), as a second early specimen with an early roji-style tea garden.

The roji “is an artistic work that expresses the spirit of nature… Keane, M. P. (1996); p. 75.

The light in here seemed softer, older… Eng, T. (2012). The Garden of Evening Mists: A novel. NY: Weinstein Books; p. 194.

therefore, “Everything is designed… Nitschke, G. (1993); p. 150.

Many tea masters thought of tea gardens quite literally… It was common for pilgrims to travel to mountain retreats where they would stay in rustic thatched huts to meditate and purify themselves spiritually and physically. Thus, Sunniva Harte believes that the narrow approach to the tea house is designed to evoke such pilgrimages (Harte, S. (1999). Zen gardening. London: Pavilion Books; p. 22).

A maxim attributed to Sen no Rikkyū… Keane, M. P. (1996); p. 164, n.6.

The first machiai was probably constructed by Kanamori Izumo-no-kami… Sadler, A. L. (1963); p. 8.

a euphemistic term cobbled together from two kanji… Sadler, A. L. (1963); p. 32.

The naka-kuguri, an innovation of the tea master Furuta Oribe… Nitschke, G. (1993); p. 151.

Under the trees, among the rocks, a thatched hut… Ikkyu [citation needed].

At the heart of the tea garden lies the teahouse… It is interesting to note that because many teahouses were detached from their residences, they were sometimes used for trysts and private conversations of a sensitive nature.

Some scholars ascribe the development of this style to Sen no Rikkyū… Nitschke, G. (1993); p. 157.

Sen no Rikkyū claimed that before the ceremony… Nitschke, G. (1993); p. 151. Marc P. Keane adds that the chiriana is often interpreted as a place for leaving the “dust of the mind” before entering the teahouse (Keane, M. P. (1996); p. 82).

Tea is about the interaction between host and guest… Cited in Kosaka, K. (2011); p. 12.

Sen-no-Rikkyū introduced the crawl-through entrance… Sadler, A. L. (1963); p. 15.

As Marc Keane points out… Keane, M. P. (1996); p. 82.

The teahouse at Konnichi-an, for example… Horton, H. M. in Nishi, K & K. Hozumi (1996). What is Japanese architecture? Trans. & Introduction by H. M. Horton. Tokyo: Kodansha International; p. 7.

Sen no Rikkyū (1521/2-1591) discouraged the use of exotic or flowering plants… Marc P. Keane, M. P. (1996); p. 164 n. 5.

“To walk the length of a roji…” Keane, M. P. (1996); p. 80.

and visitors will “pick up the same signals in woodland all over the world: the stillness, the smells and the light…” Hobson, J. (2007). Niwaki: Pruning, training and shaping trees the Japanese way. Portland & London: Timber Press; p.34.

 

 


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