You can find the primitive form of “chashitsu of Souan” in the teahouse of “rinkan-no-cha (淋汗の茶),” which is a custom of taking a light bath and then eating and drinking in the summer.
Early chashitsu (tea room or tea house) were used not only for taking tea but also for various purposes such as banquets. The “Chashitsu of Souan” is architecture specialising in the tea ceremony. It’s architecture based on free ideas, combining various materials from lofty compositions to commonly used materials such as bamboo in contrast to the early prestigious “chashitsu of Shoin-zukuri” that praised Karamono (Chinese artworks). It was also tolerant of manners that did not emphasise formality. Attempts have been made to utilise the natural shape of the material as it is, without forming it in a rectilinear manner, and menkawabashira (bark-surface pillars), marutabashira (log pillars) and tsuchikabe (mud walls) were often used.
It is no exaggeration to say that the “chashitsu of Souan” is a complete form of Japanese architecture and Japanese aesthetics. They were sophisticated ones, tiny yet making you feel great expanse, simple yet delicate, and mind-soothing yet getting tension to the spirit. Souanification may be rephrased as Japanification.
Development of the Souan chashitsu
“Tea of Souan” is also called “Wabi-cha (tea of Wabi).” Murata Jukou, who was a Buddhist priest in the Muromachi period (1336-1573), is famous as a tea master and is said to be the founder of “Wabi-cha.” After that, Takeno Jouou, who made a name for himself as a wealthy merchant in Sakai during the Sengoku period (1467-1590), further developed and established chashitsu (tea room or tea house) of 4 and a half tatami-mats. Then, Sen no Rikyu, a merchant who was a disciple of Takeno Jouou, sought tiny chashitsu from 2 tatami-mats to 1 and 3 quarters tatami-mats, and completed it at the end of the Sengoku period. Sen no Rikyu, who is also described as the tea saint, did not like to decorate chashitsu with luxury goods but emphasised being hospitable to guests with sincerity by making bamboo chashaku (tea ladle) and chawan (tea bowl) by himself.
That time coincides with the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603), when Momoyama art flourished. It is no coincidence that the establishment of the Souan chashitsu, which continues to the present time, and the rise of Momoyama art happened at the same time. (Chashitsu and Momoyama culture)
The “Chashitsu of Souan” embodies the perspective of the world of “Shichuu no sankyo” (Mountain-residence in the city ) where you can feel the nature of mountains and rivers in the city. The atmosphere resonates with us today as urbanisation progresses.
The Chashitsu of Souan is designed with the concept of “Jikishin no majiwari” (Straight heart exchange) that allows people to communicate directly with each other. Therefore, the intention is to narrow the space to “1 and 3 quarters tatami-mats” (Ichijou-daime) and to bring the host closer to the guests. It’s said that Sen no Rikyu created the smallest chashitsu by narrowing it from 2 tatami-mats to 1 and 3 quarters tatami-mats. Naturally, the number of guests will be 1 or several.
In order to pass through the extremely narrow entrance “nijiriguchi,” even high social rank samurai need to remove the swords from their bodies, bend their heads and place their hands on the shikii (threshold) from the stepping stone to get through. It is customary to give a small bow when crawling into the gateway.
Everyone was equal in chashitsu even though It was an era of vertically‐structured society in war-torn Japan where power talked. Through the special experience of entering the space that expands from a small nijiriguchi, you experience that chashitsu is an extraordinary place. Chashitsu is not just a place to drink tea, but a space for special communication.
In the feudal era, Japanese society had a strict social class system, but we can see exceptions at times in places for enjoying cultural activities. For example, sumo open tournaments across social statuses took place. Also, at the time when male dominance was ordinary in martial arts, there were cases where men and women were not distinguished in the field of Kyudo (Japanese archery).
The chashitsu of “Kirei-Sabi” which is a new tributary developed from the “chashitsu of Souan.” It can be said to be a swing-back phenomenon that reminisces about the “chashitsu of Shoin” contrasting to the extremely simplified “Wabi-cha” (tea of Wabi).
Author: Takuya Nagata. Amazon ProfileFollow @nagatackle
Novel writer, Creator. Graduated from UCA, the UK’s university. Discussed Japanese minimalism in the senior thesis. Founder of “MINIЯISM” (minirism), the art movement that contributes to the development of societies, such as ecology and lifestyle. Covered various fields as a writer in different parts of Europe, and later launched the knowledge hub “The Minimalist.”
Once travelled to Brazil and trained football at CFZ do Rio (Centro de Futebol Zico Sociedade Esportiva) in Rio de Janeiro. Played soccer for the Urawa Reds (Urawa Red Diamonds), one of the biggest football clubs in Japan, and toured Europe. Retired at a young age and voyaged alone to England. Established careers as journalist, football coach, consultant, etc. across Europe such as Spain. Knowledgeable in creative and technology fields as well. The founder of “Propulsive Football” (PROBALL), the world’s first-ever competitive mixed football, facilitating diversity and spirit for equal participation in society.