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Japanese Aesthetics and the Garden

Tea Gardens

Features:

· Outer Gate “soto-mon”

· Inner/middle gate “chu-mon” largely a symbolic barrier

· Wash basin “Tsukubai” for ritual cleansing

· Lush, dense, enclosed feeling , few if any flowers.

· Meandering path from soto-mon, through chu-mon to the soan.

· Stone lanterns or pagodas - originally “rescued” from old temples.

· Thatch-roofed tea hut “soan”.

· Usually attached other gardens on the grounds of private homes.

The tea ceremony evolved from the Zen Buddhist monasteries where monks would use tea to help them meditate (read: stay awake). The ceremony quickly became a popular activity with the Imperial and Samurai classes. Elaborate tea villas were constructed (the term referred to the building as well as the garden) where tea parties would serve as occasions for relaxation, poetry, etc. Tea was drunk from expensive vessels in opulent environments designed to show off the wealth and culture of the host.

In the late sixteenth century, however, the Wabi-cha “rustic tea” movement developed. Lead by such figures as the lay-priest, Sen no Rikyu, the movement sought to throw away the pomposity and grandeur of past tea pavilions and gardens. Rikyu all but invented the “modern” tea garden and soan (tea hut). The idea was to create an enclosed, serene space for reflection; an appropriate place for a meditative, self-examining form of tea ceremony.

The tea garden was the transition from the outside world to this calm world and was designed to represent a tiny path meandering up a mountain side to the dwelling of an ascetic hermit. The garden prepared the visitor and the tea-maker for the ceremony. Guests arrive at the soto-mon and walk up a winding path to the chu-mon where the tea master greets them. As they approach the soan, they admire the foliage which is generally sedate. They pause at the tsukubai to ritually cleanse themselves before entering the soan.

The guest enters the soan by crouching through a tiny doorway. (designed to inspire humility) The first sight he sees within is a special piece of art displayed in the tokonoma (alcove). After admiring this ikebana, bonsai, poem or painting, the guest is now relaxed. His senses are heightened for the aesthetic. He is ready for tea.

Rikyu’s ideas on aesthetics continue to permeate Japanese thought Centuries later, his descendants continue to teach his practice. This poem describes it...

In my hands, I hold a bowl of tea
I see all of nature represented in its green color
Closing my eyes, I find green mountains and pure water within my own heart
Silently drinking, I feel these become a part of me.