Sunday, July 11, 2010

Japanese Tea House お茶室

In the low ceilings
Of my mind There is no choice
But to enjoy simplicity

The Tea House

A Japanese Tea House can best be described as meticulously planned inadvertent simplicity. A tea house for Tea Ceremony is built to highlight the event of the ceremony. Its rough cut lumber and barren walls are made to highlight the rare occasion to join in a Tea Ceremony.

The Tea House varies in every way from its European and Chinese counterparts. Chinese tea houses are much like European Cafes. It is a place to meet friends and usually a busy and lively locale. The tea house I visited in Shanghai was meticulously built with luxurious hardwood tables, artwork, decorative benches, and epic view of busy parks and walkways. In Victoria BC I've participated in 'High Tea' which is just a multi-course brunch with English Tea; A ritualized meal in a restaurant.

The Japanese Tea House (Ochashitsu) is more of a safe haven or quiet respite from everything. It is a small and unimposing building that segregates you from everything pressing or bothersome outside. Unlike its Chinese and British counterparts, the act of the ceremony takes precedence over the social aspect of in meeting.

The Exterior

The exterior is secondary to the interior as far as the aesthetic dictates. The building itself must be unassuming and fit in with its surroundings. From the outside one may have no idea the building serves as anything other than a small house.

While not all tea houses will have the same features a stone path leading to the entrance is a common occurrence. While inside the tea pot, cups, and utensils will all be meticulously cleaned the exterior should also have this appearance. One demonstration of the purity of the house is the ceremonial rinsing of the stone walkway before guests arrive. If timed correctly the guests will arrive with the stones still wet. The wet pathway not only shows the meticulous care of the host, but the cooling feel of the water is relaxing and welcoming.

The tea room may open out into a modest and simple garden. The garden should reflect the season with simple native plants. Nothing should detract from the ceremony, only facilitate reflection and hospitality.

The entrance to the Tea House is of an interesting design. Japanese Culture has always had rigid class structure and names, clothes, houses, jobs, and speech all reflected ones social status. In the classic Tea House's design lay a peculiar modification to negate social status. The doorway which guests entered was deliberately short. So short that it forced those entering to crouch or shuffle in on their knees. This caused even the most high in status to enter the room like a peasant. In this way everyone can relate as friends and confidants in the ceremony.
(This entrance can been seen in the photo above, just right of the lit round shoji screen.)

The Interior

The interior layout of the Tea House is the most important aspect of the building. Its sole purpose is to facilitate and highlight the Tea Ceremony. For the most part this room will be completely bare. There will be no furniture in the room and in Japan will likely be furnished with Tatami Mats. There may be a small fire pit for the tea or shelving for utensils but nothing else. As the guest enters the room their attention should be drawn to the tea setting that sits before them.
Most if not all tea rooms will have a Tokonoma. Tokonoma is one of those Japanese words that has no real English counterpart. The Tokonoma is a small alcove, usually stretching from the floor to the ceiling and may be one to several feet wide. The floor inside the Tokonoma is usually raised, symbolic of the important status of the Tokonoma. Japanese houses will often have a Tokonoma in the Tatami Room.

The Tokonoma in the Tea House may hold a couple important items, sometimes in combination or alone. Often times there is a scroll with a thought provoking script, a drawing, or a flower or plant arrangement. These items will have a seasonal reference specifically to the time of year the ceremony is being held. The items will have a subdued nature as they are merely there to accentuate the event, not to distract from it.

Here's a suitable quote from, "The Japanese House";
'From the Moment you enter the garden pathway until the time you depart. you should hold the host in most respectful esteem, in the spirit that the gathering will occur but once in a lifetime.'(1)

The Tea Ceremony

How convenient that this post should cover the Tea House, a perfect set up for the next post on the Tea Ceremony!

The Photographs

These photos are all different perspectives of the Tea House at Kodaiji, which stands as it was originally built in the 1600's.

View the Night photograph in full size.


"The Japanese House," Alexandra Black, Tuttle Publishing, 2000. pg: 14-18.

Wikipedia; Tea house

Get a design to build your own Tea House here!

All photo's, original works, and comments are my personal property. Please be respectful of the effort I've taken.Your comments are welcome, be polite: No throwing pebbles in my pool of zen.


  1. Between this post & the "Cup of Tea, Japanese Sencha 煎茶" post, I think I'm beginning to finally appreciate the stuff.

    Though it suffers a bit at higher resolution, I really do like that first pic. And the haiku too of course.

    Good one.

  2. Great post. Very well described. Makes me want to go get some tea... (contrary to expectations, this man is often lacking in tea.)

    Btw, though, where is this Kodaiji?

  3. Very well done! Its about time for a new post! Thanks. I enjoyed it!

  4. K-Dan, Thanks for the comment. Lived in Japan for 10 years and just now starting to get into Green Tea huh... all work and no play I guess.... :) I've put a link to the full photo for your viewing pleasure!
    -The haiku started as a joke, but it fits so well....

    Chaari - Do you know Chaari means "bike" in Kansai-Ben.... just saying.... HA!
    -I am not often lacking in Green Tea... I AM often lacking in Zen... (my pool is often a mud puddle!)
    -Kodaiji is between Gion and Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto. A must see. for fans of Hideyoshi or Ieyasu.

    Anon... I don't know who you are... (because your Anonymousnous is quite secretive...) But thanks for the comment! Always glad to have regular readers, am hoping for a new post this weekend.

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

  5. I've always loved everything bout Japan as well, and watching these pictures and reading this stuff is giving me a real good vibe. I love it and it looks sooo peacefull to be there and the tea tradition is amazing! it's like an intimate moment, looking way different from the european tradition!

    thanks for sharing the all of this with us all

  6. Hi Dreaming Mary,

    Thank you for your comment. Its nice to run across someone who has similar feelings about something. Something about Japan I've always liked is a tradition where even the most hardened warriors take the time to balance their violence with something like Tea Ceremony, Haiku, or Blossom viewing.

    I think it leads to a more well rounded person beyond the one sided perspective of Western Culture where a warrior must always be a hardened individual with no weakness. An unachievable goal.

    Thank you for your comment, I hope you enjoy my future posts on Tea.


  7. This was a fantastic write up. My kind of thoughts. Great stuff.

  8. Soul of Japan

    Thank you for stopping in and thanks for the gracious comment.

    Swing by again some time.



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