The Japanese are recognized for their love of tea, an appreciation that dates back to the 12th century. Tea ceremonies did not really take root until the 16th century, where they involved the preparation and presentation of the traditional powdered green tea. The tea ceremonies were organized in architectural spaces known as chashitsu.
The Japanese tea ceremony has been perfected for over a thousand years. It all started in 1191, when Myoan Eisai brought tea seeds to Japan from China, in addition to knowledge on tea growing. He wrote a book called “Kissa Youjouki," which elaborated on the methods of drinking and growing tea. Tea gatherings were banned from 1336 to 1343 by the shogunate Ashikaga Takaui to discourage a rebellion from the Samurai fighting clans.
The Gekokujou nobles lived extravagant lifestyles and indulged in tea parties called “Toucha.” The Shoin architectural style was adopted during the Muromachi period, which featured alcoves and a pair of shelves (Chigaidana). There were also side-alcove desks called Tsuke-shoin. A number of articles and utensils were organized in an aesthetically-pleasing manner on these desks.
One of the masters of the Japanese tea ceremony is Murata Shukō, a Zen Priest. He popularized the idea of refined simplicity and sought to understand the best way of combining Japanese and Chinese tea utensils. Shukō emphasized the ideals of tranquility, cleanliness, respect, and harmony between the guests and the utensils used. He preferred small tea rooms that could fit five to six guests and took to serving his guests himself.
These buildings are simple wooden structures set in the grounds of private homes, museums, parks, and temples.
The popularity of tea houses is credited to advocates like Sen Rikyū and Murata Shukō, who popularized the practice of Wabi tea in the 16th century. Specially designed tea houses soon began to be built. Shukō mastermind the “grass hut” architectural style, which featured small “Sōan’ teahouses. The houses were made from available materials like bamboo, earth, and thatch.
Japanese tea houses are built in a simple style with subdued colors. The pathway leading to the house is known as the “roji” or dewy ground. The path is marked with stepping stones, and guests will admire the surrounding plants and trees. Guests will then wash their hands at a stone basin before proceeding to a low entrance. The entrance is designed to make everyone equal and rankless, and tea masters often likened the tea houses to a womb.
The guests will first head to the alcove, which is decorated with a hanging scroll and flowers. The windows and doors are often traditional Japanese shoji, while the sliding doors are covered with translucent paper that lets light from outside to filter in. The rooms will typically be measured by the number of tatami mats that will cover the floor.
There is no furniture other than the materials used in the preparation of tea.
These teahouses were simple, and the low entranceways required guests to humble themselves to gain passage. The Sa-an tea house is one of the best examples of this architectural style.
The most famous tea houses in Japan are:
This tea hut is situated in the Kodaiji Temple Gardens in Kyoto. It was designed by Kobori Enshu, who, along with being an architect, was a master at tea ceremonies. The hut was christened the “Cottage of Lingering Fragrance,” and it represents the architecture of Kodai-Ji temple's tea ceremonies.
The tea hut was frequented by Haiya Shoeki, a wealthy trader who married the notable dancer and beauty Yoshino Dayu.
The Katsura Imperial Villa is among the country’s most famous large-scale cultural treasures. Its gardens are noted for representing the brilliance of Japanese gardening, while the buildings are regarded as masterpieces of Japanese architecture.
The most important tea pavilion in the villa is the Shokin-tei, which requires visitors to cross a large stone bridge. The area where the hut was built was the first place that visitors could see the pond. The pond was, however, extended to the southwest, while the main villa was reconstructed, and the garden developed into more of a tour facility that a viewing station.
The Shokin-tei tea hut notably has unfloored loggia, where it faces the pond with an open pantry at the center for tea ceremonies. This aspect was unusual to find in the view of tea drinkers at the time when the hut was constructed. Three unprocessed oak logs support the elongated eaves of the loggia. A thatched roof also adds to the rustic appeal of the teahouse.
The first room features a blue and white checkered design on both the sliding door and the alcove (Tokonoma). Visitors can appreciate different perspectives of the Shokin-tei from the west, east, and north.
The Geppa ro is another tea pavilion in the gardens of the Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa. Its name translates to "House of the Moon” which is derived from a Chinese poem by Ju-Yi. It features a large opening in the central room while most of the house has no ceiling. All these features give it a spatial effect, which is further enhanced by a view of the pond.
This 17th-century tea house was recognized as a National Treasure in 1951. It was constructed un Kennin-Ji, Kyoto, for Oda Urakusai. He was the younger brother of Oda Nobunaga and a devotee of Sen no Rikyu.
The pavilion has been relocated severally, and it has been a part of the Urakuen Gardens in Inuyama since 1972. It is approached via the roji (‘dewy ground’) garden.
The teahouse features a tea room, a preparation room with three tatami mats, and a corridor room with a one-and-a-half tatami mat. The host and guest mats are carefully separated by the Nakabashira, which is the pillar next to the mat with hearth.
The entrance is characterized by a shake roof and a “crawling-in entrance.”
The pavilion is noted for several distinguishable features. Pages of old almanacs, for example, have been utilized as wainscoting along the lower walls. The use of Renjimado is illustrated in the windows covered by bamboo lathe work, while Shitajimado, where the lathe work in some windows is not plastered over the allow for sufficient light to expose the host’s mat.
The Jikouion Tea pavilion is the brainchild of Katagiri Iwaminokami Sadamasa, who is notably known as the founder of the Sekishu school of tea. He built the pavilion in honor of his father, Katagiri Sadataka.
The Shion and the tea room make up the original structures of this pavilion, where the former consists of a rustic exterior and a thatched roof. There are only a few supporting pillars along the veranda to offer unobstructed views of the beautiful gardens around the tea house.
The tea master Sakuma Sougen designed the Choushukaku Residence by Tokugawa Iemitsu. It was subsequently owned by Lady Kasuga, and later bequeathed to tea master Hara Sankei.
It is characterized by great attention to detail that is especially seen in the crafted railings, in addition to non-symmetrical interior design. The house has two stories in a bid to illustrate the lightness of form linked to the “shoin-zukuri” style.
These tea houses are situated at the Hashimoto Memorial Gardens in Kyoto. The landscape garden stretches for 2,200 meters, and it is a popular tourist spot, having been recognized as a national scenic spot in 2000. The famous Japanese painter Hashimoto, built the tea houses for his wife.
The tea houses are close to several ponds that are lined with various rock formations.
The Kasumidoko-Seki tea room is situated on the grounds of Daitokuji temple within the Sa-an Tea house. It features a four-Tatami mat shoin room.
The pavilion is distinguished by a scroll painting hung in its alcove featuring Mt Fiji. The surrounding shelves make the mountain appear to be covered in clouds or mist.
This 18th-century tea house is situated in the temple complex of the Zen Monastery of Daitoku-Ji, Kyoto. Its design is credited to Kounoike Ryouei, who used the Wabi style in place of the luxurious merchant status style.
The pavilion’s walls are plastered with a mix of rice stalks and mud. The wooden pillars have been preserved to make the bark still intact. A wooden plank divides the host and guests’ mats.
Also located in the Daitoku-Ji temple grounds is the Kan'in-no-Seki tea house. Its architect was Miyoshi Yoshitsugu, who built it in a three-tatami mat design with a center pillar. The alcove and center pillars are constructed from the same red pine wood. The room's ceiling is lowered on the location of the host to indicate the separation with the guests. Stories have it that the famed tea master Rikyu loved this tea room.
Japan has both traditional and contemporary tea houses that continue to practice tea-making ceremonies. Some ancient tea houses have been noted as cultural treasures for their architectural and historical importance. Their designs are linked to famous tea masters who relied on materials like bamboo, straw, vines, wood, and reed and skilled workers to build them.