The architecture of the tea pavilions: eremitic and mystical quest of the first tea masters

Wednesday February 17, 2016: The architecture of tea pavilions: an eremitic and mystical quest of the first tea masters, lecture by Nicolas Fiévé, Director of Studies at EPHE.

A tea party, chanoyu, consists of the meeting of at least two people, a tea master and a guest, gathered to share a cup of tea. The tea master officiates: he prepares the meeting, sets the date and time, decorates the pavilion with calligraphy and a flower, chooses the utensils he will specifically use for this meeting. These utensils are most often collector's items, meibutsu, whose appreciation by the guest is part of the ceremony. On the date and time indicated, the guest arrives at the pavilion. He waits outside and enter it only when the master invites him by ringing a bell.

The tea used is in the form of powdered young green tea leaves crushed, the matcha, which is mixed with water and beaten with a whip, chasen. A meeting of tea can last more or less long. In its longest form, different light teas are first served, then a meal, kaiseki, finally the bowl of matcha. These stages are done in silence, according to a ritual and a gesture codified by the tea masters. It is only at the end of the meeting that master and guest exchange on collectibles and on the experience felt during the performance. Enclosed in a closed pavilion, the master and his guest seek a metaphysical experience, during which they deeply feel the passage of the seasons, the loneliness of existence and the precariousness of life.
This practice is codified in the XVe and XVIe centuries in the upper echelons of the warrior class in Kyoto. The conceptualization then established by the masters, most of whom were educated in Buddhist monasteries, is based on a background from the Meditation School, Zenshu. The experience of poverty, humility, loneliness and the impermanence of things is the source of this practice. The Way of Tea, sadisticis a spiritual practice based on the Buddhist idea of ​​material deprivation. If the use of drinking tea developed in the monastic sphere, the elites of Kyoto also made use of it and enjoyed the tea competitions, awase momo, jousts in which it was necessary to recognize the origin and the essence of the teas that were served. These refined meetings were marked by the importance given to the presentation, the luxury, the elegance, the beautiful clothes, the choice of the decor of noble architectures and sumptuous gardens. The paradox of the Way of Tea is related to the diversity of these influences, Buddhist foundation and material deprivation, on the one hand, entertainment and aesthetic pleasure, on the other. Since XVIe century, over generations and schools, sometimes the spiritual practice, sometimes the aesthetic research, dominate in turn this form of expression, but basically both have always remained complementary.
Until XVIe century, drinking tea and appreciation were practiced in the usual rooms of a noble house or in a pavilion for entertainment. Most often, there was a screen in the room to delimit a space called kakoi, the enclosure. During the time of Muromachi (1336-1573), the evolution of this practice leads to the design of a singular space and an architectural style that differs strongly from the decor of other rooms of a palace. During the Edo period (1603-1867), tea architecture has a significant influence on the ornamentation and architecture of the noble habitat.

16.02.29.Travelling Tea Service, Japan, 19th century

Travel tea set, Japan, XNIXXth century. Museum no. M.19-39, © Victoria and Albert Museum


Inside the tea room of Togudo. Ginkakuji. Kyoto.

It is from XVe century, that the aesthetic research of the tea masters will take a new direction: luxury and ostentation are abandoned in favor of naturalness and simplicity. When he retired, shōgun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436-1490) undertook the construction of a retreat on the outskirts of Kyoto, on the grounds of Jōdoji Temple, a temple affiliated with Enryakuji Monastery. Of this retreat, only the building dedicated to Kannon (the Silver Pavilion, 1487) and the Quest for the East pavilion (Tōgudō, 1485) remained. This last pavilion is of particular interest in that one of the back rooms would have hosted the debut of the chanoyu. This small room, with an area of ​​four tatami and a half, had a fireplace, equipped with a kettle for tea. It was decorated with a shoin, a kind of work table fixed on the wall in front of a window, and a shelf where were presented a tea bowl, a pot for green tea powder, a whip, a spoon, all arranged on a tray. Two calligraphy of the monk Musō Soseki (1275-1351) adorned the walls. This piece is believed to be the work of Murata Jukō (1422-1502), the shōgun tea master who retired Yoshimasa. All ancient books on the chanoyu make this room the first tea room in the history of chanoyu. Its particular dimensions of four tatami and a half arranged in the shape of a swastika, a motive of good fortune conveyed in Japan by Buddhism, have since become the orthodox form of the plan of a tea pavilion.
The emancipation of the tea room as an autonomous architecture (the tea pavilion) was spurred on by two masters: Takeno Jōō (1502-1555) and Sen no Rikyū (1525-1591).
It is written in the Notes from Nanbō attributed to the monk Nanbō Sōkei: “The pavilion of four and a half tatami mats is a creation of Murata Jukō. It's a real zashiki (reception room) whose walls are covered with fine white paper of superior quality. The ceiling is made of cryptomer wood and has no border. The roof has four slopes, made of small wooden shingles. The ornamental altar measures a span and Jukō has hung a precious painting of Yuan Wu [Chinese Buddhist monk Chan, 1063-1165]. He decorated it with a shelf daisu. He equipped this room with a built-in fireplace. Overall, the ornamentation is that of a shoin, although there are fewer elements there ”.
According to this document, Takeno Jōō brings two major innovations to the architecture of tea. He isolates a specific space from the rest of the house and designs a room reserved for the tea ceremony. Freed from the constraints that custom imposed on the interior decoration, he transformed the style to bring it into harmony with the simplicity and modesty of his art. The natural bamboo that was outlawed in the noble habitat is now appreciated and replaces the well-cut pieces of wood. The mud of the walls is left visible. Usually lacquered architectural elements are presented in raw wood. These stylistic novelties, symbol of a rural architecture, have been a real revolution for palace architecture. century celadon teacup with stand

Tea cup and its support. Celadon. China. XIIIth century. © Amore Museum.


Sen no Rikyu by Hasegawa Tôhaku.

16.02.29.White Raku teabowl Fuji-san (

Tea bowl. Fuji-san (Mount Fuji) by Honami Kōetsu, Edo, XNIXXth century. Ceramic Raku. National Treasury.

With Sen no Rikyū, trends become radicalized and the tea ceremony becomes a form of spiritual practice, inspired by the practice of Zen meditation. All the elements that compose it are chosen by the master who thus sets up the elements of a performance, unique, implemented for a particular guest. Rather than the luxury and taste of precious objects, especially collectible Chinese objects, it is the marks of time that has passed and even imperfection that become the criteria for choosing the objects and materials used in the tea pavilion. With Sen no Rikyū, the tea room becomes a small thatched roof pavilion, sōan chashitsu (Soan = thatched cottage, chashitsu = closed room, resting place - for tea). The work of purification of forms proposed by Rikyū results in a limitation of the number of objects and utensils and their simplification: a simple calligraphy replaces landscape painting, a single flower is substituted for the large bouquets then in vogue in the decor. livingrooms. Rikyū opts for increasingly small rooms lit only through narrow windows. He chooses ceramics with a rough appearance, such as pieces imported from Korea or stoneware bowls from Karatsu ovens. He rejects the splendor of beautiful colored silk clothes to clothe himself in coarse canvas, in dark and dark colors like the monks, an environment from which he comes.
Tai-an (Hermitage of Waiting), which is located at Myōki-an Temple, south of Kyoto, is a good illustration of Rikyū's aesthetic research. In a small space of two tatami mats auxquels, to which is added the tatami of the adjoining room used for the service, Rikyū resorted to a systematic use of simple, not to say crude materials (earth, straw, un-debarked wood). ). It replaces the usual sliding doors with a very small door, whose small size (about 60 cm x 65 cm) requires the visitors to bow down when they enter and to feel fully the separating function of the door - ultimate stage of the passage of the outside world towards the interior universe of the pavilion.

16.02.29.Tai-an teahouse plan

Plan of the Tai-an Pavilion. Myokian Temple. Kyoto.


Tai-an entry. Myokian Temple. Kyoto


Interior of the Jo-an pavilion. Inuyama. Aichi.

From this time (late XVIe century), the small-sized pavilions became Rikyū's favorite architecture. He designs one of two tatami mats for Toyotomi Hideyoshi at Osaka Castle and one of three tatami mats in his own house near the castle. It is in this place that he designed a "central post" for the first time, naka-bashira, piece of wood independent of the structure of the building which introduces a slight separation between master and guests. This naka-bashira stands out as a major architectonic element of the pavilion, by the natural shape of the trunk and by its verticality, in an architecture that favors horizontal plans. Shortly after designing the Tai-an, Rikyū introduces the thatched roof into the architecture of the tea pavilions and thus perfect the image of a humble hermit hut. This quest for minimalism led to the design of a tatami-and-a-half pavilion, which he built at the end of his life in his home near Jūraku Castle in Kyoto.
Rikyū frequently uses three terms to describe the art of tea he practices: wabi, sabi et suki. The tea man is a man of suki, who experiences in a hut the wabi and sabi. The term suki expresses the idea of ​​surrendering to the things you love, of letting yourself be penetrated by an art or absorbed by an idea. The term takes on importance to the point of designating "the tea man", sukisha and the tea pavilion is called sukiya at the time of Rikyū. The latter gives its name to the architectural style very fashionable during the Edo period, sukiya-zukuri, a mix of the architecture style popular among warriors and tea architecture. The term wabi, arguably the most important aesthetic concept of Rikyū's vocabulary is more complex. It originally has a sense of melancholy pleasure, but also evokes the search for tranquility and isolation. When Rikyū expresses that in his modest hut he experiences the wabiit refers to the metaphysical experience through which one feels the passage of time, the cycle of the seasons, the fragility of existence, through the experimentation of poverty or material deprivation. Sabi, finally, has the meaning of silent, calm, it is the solitary rest. Sabi has the idea of ​​serenity and gravity. It also includes the idea of ​​time passing through his homophone which means patina, rust, the mark of time. For Jukō, Jōō and Rikyū, the chanoyu is something cold and dry like dead wood. In order to express the meaning of their art, Jōō and Rikyū show, to one who wants to see spring, not the cherry blossoms, but rather the desolate landscape of a village under the snow and the splendor of spring in the first blade of grass of the year. For Rikyū, the man who looks for spring only in cherry blossoms or autumn in red maple leaves, is only interested in the world of forms and experiences a superficial emotion, all in all common.
The garden, roji, which surrounds the pavilion differs from the other gardens of a dwelling, insofar as it assumes a concrete function of approach to the pavilion and preparation for chanoyu. It is a spatial device of "spiritual isolation", an intermediate space between the everyday world and the enclosed space of the pavilion, a place of contemplation and purification which leads to the path of the Buddha. This garden is made up of elements necessary for the accomplishment of the meeting and for meditation before entering the pavilion, but it does not include any particularly remarkable decoration. A stone path (a Japanese step) makes it possible to organize the progression according to a determined route. The "Japanese step", which is becoming an archetype of the pleasure garden in Japan in modern times, is a creation of the tea masters. A stone basin located near the pavilion is filled with pure water. As for the vegetation that adorns the garden, it is essentially composed of a neutral set of evergreen plants, excluding all ornamental shrubs, all flowers and flowering shrubs. At the time of Rikyū, the tea garden was only a modest path to access the pavilion, about ten meters long. During the XVIe and XVIIthe centuries, the tea garden is sometimes considerably enlarged. It is enriched with new architectural elements: a hedge that isolates the roji from the rest of the property and a gate, surmounted by a thatched roof, which marks the entrance to the garden; near the door, a kiosk where guests can wait, a waiting bench near the pavilion and a stone lantern. These elements all have a well-defined physical function. In the large residences of the tea masters of the Ura Senke and Omote Senke schools, the tea garden is divided into an exterior garden, an intermediate garden and an interior garden. In this case, an interior door marks the spatial division, emphasizing the fact of entering further into the secluded space of the tea pavilion.
The metaphysical experience of material poverty advocated by Rikyū led to an aesthetic of minimalism. In the centuries that followed, tea masters gradually replaced austerity with a search for elegance and refinement more in keeping with the flourishing society of Edo. Sometimes the simplicity of the forms is associated with an excessive preciousness of the materials, sometimes it is a modest material which is chosen for its singular appearance. One appreciates such tree trunk not barked but oddly twisted, such window to the simple bars of bamboo but in the form of the most eccentric. tea pavilion

Pavilion Jo-an. Inuyama. Aichi.

16.02.29.Entree garden katsura

Entrance to the garden of the Katsura villa. Kyoto.


Pavilion of tea. Kodaiji Temple. Kyoto.

Moreover, although the design of the first tea pavilions represented a revolution in the architecture of the ruling classes, the style that was formed will very quickly influence all the architectures of the habitat: the rich and solemn constructions. palaces gradually integrate many elements of tea architecture, just as the austere popular architecture of townhouses adopts the softness of certain elements of tea architecture (simple materials, variety of shapes, narrowness and complexity of spaces, interweaving of buildings and gardens). As for the architecture linked to the world of entertainment, that of the flower districts in particular, it is deeply inspired by the architecture of tea, but developing with great sensuality the refinement and elegance of these constructions.


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