What is Chashitsu? The smallest extraordinary space

What is Chashitsu? The smallest extraordinary space Design

Chashitsu (tea room or tea house) is, as the name implies, a tatami room where you drink tea. However, that’s not all. Chashitsu is a magical space where people connect with each other, and humans and nature come into contact with each other.

The oldest record in which the word “chashitsu” was confirmed is “Nanpo-bunshuu.” This book was written by Nampo Bunshi, a Buddhist priest who was born in the Kouji year 1 (1555) and passed away in the Genna year 6 (1620), however, it was not a common name at that time, and it was in the late Edo period (1603-1868) that the term “chashitsu” became a household word.

Until then, it was also called “kakoi,” “kozashiki,” “chanoyu-zashiki,” “sukiya” and “chaseki.”

Chashitsu has greatly contributed to the formation of the Japanese architectural style and aesthetic sense that continues to this day.

Table of contents

Notable chashitsu
Relationship between chashitsu and nature
Chashitsu as a hideout
Ro (fire pot) of chashitsu
Roots of chashitsu
The chashitsu of Shoin
The chashitsu of Souan
The chashitsu of “Kirei-Sabi”
Chashitsu and Momoyama culture
Chashitsu and directions
Elements that construct chashitsu
Procedure to enter chashitsu
Introduction of tea to Japan
Distinguished masters of the tea ceremony
Proverbs and phrases related to chashitsu and tea ceremony


Notable chashitsu

Doujinsai of Ginkakuji (Jishouji) in Higashiyama, Kyoto is a  chashitsu (tea room or tea house) where Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the eighth shogun of the Muromachi shogunate, spent time and soothed his mind. Designated as national treasures.

The chashitsu that was originally in the temple, Kenninji-Shoudenin in Higashiyama, Kyoto City. It was made by Oda Urakusai. After several relocations, it is located in Inuyama, Aichi today. Designated as national treasures.

The chashitsu at the temple “Myoukian” (Myoukizenan) in Ooyamazaki, Kyoto. It is said to have been made by Sen no Rikyu. Designated as national treasures.

The chashitsu at the temple Daitokuji-Ryoukouin in Kyoto City. It’s said that Kobori Enshuu made it. It’s a secret chashitsu that is not open to the public and it can rarely be viewed. Designated as national treasures.

The chashitsu at the temple “Kohouan” in Murasakino, Kita-ku, Kyoto City. Made by Kobori Enshuu. It was destroyed by fire in Kansei year 5 (1793). After that, Matsudaira Humai rebuilt it based on the remaining drawings. It may be open to the public in rare cases. Designated as national treasures.

Relationship between chashitsu and nature

Chashitsu (tea room or tea house) is a place where people and nature come into contact. A garden called roji is attached even in the city.

Chashitsu cannot be talked about without nature, and has an inseparable relationship. It’s like a relationship between a baby and a mother. Isn’t it based on instinct that people seek chashitsu?

People enter chashitsu and feel the infinite natural space. Otherwise, it cannot be called chashitsu.

Relationship between chashitsu and nature (More details)

Chashitsu as a hideout

Traditional Japanese architecture is characterised by its open structure, but chashitsu has very few windows and is a very small space. Why does being in a chashitsu make you feel at peace? This is probably because it’s a small, closed and dimly lit space.

Chashitsu has many features of hideouts where animals instinctively feel calm.

Chashitsu as a hideout (More details)

Ro (fire pot) of chashitsu

As it’s called “chanoyu” (hot water of tea), hot water is indispensable in chashitsu (tea room or tea house).

In summer, the “fuuro” (wind fire pot) is placed in a well-ventilated place. In winter, “ro” (fire pot) is used, which is embedded in cut tatami-mats.

Ro which is important for chashitsu is also important for humans. People manipulated fire, and have made great strides. Mankind has seen a landscape with fire since ancient times.

Ro infuses breath into chashitsu and lights the human soul.

Ro (fire pot) of chashitsu (More details)

Roots of chashitsu

The early chashitsu (tea room or tea house) was the shoin style, and later the souan style was established. It’s said that Sen no Rikyu, a tea master, contributed greatly to the completion of the souan style.

The standard size of chashitsu is 4 and a half tatami-mats, koma is smaller and hiroma is larger. Traditional chashitsu has a garden called roji.

The oldest record confirms that Japan had a custom of drinking tea during the Heian period (794-1185). Tea drinking became popular at Zen Buddhist temples in the Kamakura period (1185-1333).

The appearance of enjoying tea while composing waka poems is depicted in the picture scroll “Bokiekotoba” Vol. 5 produced in Shouhei year 6 / Kannou year 2 (1351). 

The chashitsu of Shoin

In the early chashitsu (tea room or tea house), the samurai housing style “shoin-zukuri,” which was formed by developing the aristocratic housing style “shinden-zukuri,” became established. These were originally developed from Chinese-style architecture introduced from China in Japan.

“Tea of shoin” is a tea ceremony that was held at Buddhist temples in China and was brought to Japan and developed. The influence of China remains strong, and Chinese-style Karamono (Chinese artworks) were praised for tea utensils, tea bowls, hanging scrolls and ornaments.

What is the chashitsu of Shoin? (More details)

The chashitsu of Souan

You can find the primitive form of “chashitsu (tea room or tea house) of souan” in the teahouse of “rinkan-no-cha (淋汗の茶).”

The “chashitsu of souan” is architecture specialising in the tea ceremony. It’s based on free ideas, combining from lofty compositions to commonly used materials, and it was also tolerant of manners that did not emphasise formality.

The “chashitsu of souan” is a complete form of Japanese architecture and Japanese aesthetics. souanification may be rephrased as Japanification.

“Tea of souan” is also called “wabi-cha (tea of wabi).” Murata Jukou is said to be the founder of “wabi-cha.” After that, Takeno Jouou further developed and established chashitsu of 4 and a half tatami-mats. Then, Sen no Rikyu completed tiny chashitsu from 2 tatami-mats to 1-and-3-quarter tatami-mats.

That time coincides with the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603), when Momoyama art flourished, but it is no coincidence. (Chashitsu and Momoyama culture)

What is the chashitsu of Souan? (More details)

The chashitsu of “Kirei-Sabi”

Furuta Shigenari (commonly known as Furuta Oribe) brought further innovation to the “tea of souan.” Sen no Rikyu accomplished the perspective of the world of “wabi-cha” (tea of wabi). Furuta Oribe inherited that methodology and built up his creativity such as “Hachou-no-bi” (aesthetics of ripped tunes).

Kobori Masakazu (commonly known as Kobori Enshuu) used expressions going in reverse from Sen no Rikyu.

The chashitsu (tea room or tea house) “Joan” left by Oda Nagamasu (commonly known as Oda Uraku and Oda Urakusai), the younger brother of Oda Nobunaga, is characterised by the nakabashira (central pillar) and the sodekabe (wing wall) of the lotus petal shape.

The strong influence of Zen Buddhism can be seen in the tea master Kanamori Shigechika (commonly known as Kanamori Souwa), the founder of the sadou Souwa-ryu (tea ceremony Souwa school).

The chashitsu of “kirei-sabi” which developed from the “chashitsu of souan.” It was also a swing-back phenomenon that reminisced about the “chashitsu of shoin” contrasting to the “wabi-cha” (tea of wabi).

What is the chashitsu of “Kirei-Sabi?” (More details)

Chashitsu and Momoyama culture

The Momoyama tea pottery, born around the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603), has splendidly coincided with the imperfections of “wabi-sabi” that Sen no Rikyu, who lived in the same era, was aiming for.

At the time, the sense of values ​​was about to change from Chinese-born Karamono (Chinese artworks) to Japanese-style wamono.

The Azuchi-Momoyama period was the next era of the Sengoku period (1467-1590). It was a time when Japan was about to change from a turbulent society to a peaceful society, and Japanese-style art blossomed greatly.

It can be said that the chashitsu (tea room or tea house) of souan, which pursued coarse aesthetics, is unique in the gorgeous “Momoyama culture.” Complex elements entwined and “Momoyama culture” was formed.

In the next Edo period (1603-1868), the common people’s culture reached its heyday. “Momoyama culture” was the cornerstone for the budding of Japanese culture.

Chanoyu has sublimated from the attainment of the upper class into sadou (the way of the tea ceremony), and has spread throughout society.

Chashitsu and Momoyama culture (More details)

Chashitsu and directions

Japanese architecture and capital city planning are influenced by ancient China.

It’s said that the capital construction of Chang’an of Tang China was used as a reference for Heijou-kyou, which was in Nara of the present-day, and Heian-kyou of Kyoto, which was the capital of Japan for a long time. For this reason, envoys to the Tang Dynasty often risked their lives to cross the sea.

The architectural styles of Chang’an Castle etc. as well. In Chinese architecture, there is the “Thought of Yin-Yang Five Elements,” which has progressed in Japan as Onmyou-dou (also called Onyou-dou or Inyou-dou; meaning the way of the cosmic dual forces). This influence can also be seen in Japanese architecture. The capital cities at that time faced the south side.

Although chashitu (tea room or tea house) made unique development in Japan, it inherits the basic thinking of Onmyou-dou about directions. For example, it is customary for the guest’s entrance, the nijiriguchi, to be in the south.

Elements that construct chashitsu

Chashitsu (tea room or tea house) consists of 3 main areas: “roji,“ “machiai,“ and “chaseki.“ The important elements, that construct chashitsu, include the following:


Chashitsu (tea room or tea house), which is a point of contact between people and nature, basically has a garden called a roji. It’s also known as chatei.


It’s a gathering place for guests in the roji. You sit here and wait until the host is ready to receive you.


It’s a series of stepping stones laid on the ground. As you walk along this path, take off your footwear at the last fumiishi (stepping stone. Also called kutsunugiishi; meaning stone to take off shoes) and enter the nijiriguchi.


It’s a small washbasin in the roji. It’s for making your hands clean before entering chashitsu (tea room or tea house). Suikinkutsu (water harp cave) is sometimes used.


It’s a tatami room where the tea ceremony is held. This is the name of the inside of the chashitsu (tea room or tea house) structure.


The height is about 2 shaku 3 sun (69.69 cm) and the width is about 2 shaku 2 sun (66.66 cm). It is customary to remove personal ornaments such as swords before passing through the nijiriguchi. To open and close the wooden doors, mechanisms such as ”hasami-shikii” and ”hasami-kamoi” are used.


It’s an entrance where high-class noble people can enter and exit while standing without crawling. Nimai-shouji (the double-leaf sliding door of shouji) is mainly used. Before the nijiriguchi was invented, the general entrance for chashitsu (tea room or tea house) was kininguchi.


It’s an entrance for the host. It’s located between chashitsu and the mizuya, and is passing through when making tea. It’s also called katteguchi, chatateguchi and teishuguchi.


It’s a place to prepare tea and clean up. There are shelves where you can wash and dry teaware. Tea utensils are also stored. It is equivalent to a kitchen.


It’s for boiling the water used for tea. It depends on the seasons and you use ro (fire pot) embedded in cut tatami-mats to keep warm in winter. During the summer, the heat is released by the fuuro (wind fire pot). The early chashitsu (tea room or tea house) did not have ro, and it came to be equipped around the time koma (small chashitsu) hit the scene.


The place where kakemono (hanging scroll) and hanaire (flower vases) are displayed is called toko (tokonoma). There are cases where wooden boards are used and tatami-mats are used. Depending on the location of toko, there are various names such as jouza-doko and shimoza-doko.

Nakabashira, Yugamibashira, Daimebashira

It’s a pillar located by ro. Various trees are used. You tend to take advantage of the natural curves of the wood rather than rectilinear sawing.


In chashitsu (tea room or tea house), the tenjou (ceiling) on the side where the guests sit is higher than tenjou on the side where the host sits. In the traditional Japanese shoin-zukuri style, guests sit on jouza (upper seats) with raised floors. However, since chashitsu is a small space such as 4 and a half tatami-mats or 2 tatami-mats, it’s not practical to create a level difference on the floor. Therefore, instead of the floor, the ochitenjou (lowered ceiling) which makes different heights in the ceiling was used to express respect for the guests. In addition to the height, you can also see the ingenuity to make a difference in design and materials.


Unlike ancient Japanese architecture, chashitsu (tea room or tea house) tend to have fewer or smaller mado (windows). The types of windows in chashitsu include shitaji-mado, renji-mado, tsukiage-mado, musou-mado, mushiko-mado and shikishi-mado.

Procedure to enter chashitsu

Chashitsu (tea room or tea house) basically has a garden called roji. In some cases, tobiishi (stepping-stones) are laid down to the nijiriguchi.

Before entering chashitsu, you wrap items that would not be used for the tea ceremony in furoshiki to prepare at a place called yoritsuki.

Then, you pass the time in a room called “machiai” until all the guests are ready.

You put on roji-zouri (roji-sandals), sit on koshikake-machiai (waiting bench), and follow the host’s welcome to enter chashitsu through the nijiriguchi.

You wash your hands and mouth before entering if a water withdrawal such as spring water is provided.

Introduction of tea to Japan

Chashitsu (tea room or tea house) cannot be talked about without tea. Saichou, a Buddhist priest who accompanied the envoy to Tang China to study and later became known as Dengyoudaishi, brought back tea seeds, which is the beginning of tea history in Japan. Saichou is said to have planted tea in Sakamoto at the foot of Mount Hiei.

When Emperor Saga made a royal visit to Bonshakuji Temple in Kanzaki, Oumi-no-kuni in the 6th year of Kounin (815), Eichuu, Daisouzu, decocted and presented it, which is the oldest surviving record of the tea ceremony.

The tea culture in Japan became obsolete for a while, but the Buddhist monk Eisai (Yousai) returned from Song China (Southern Song) in the Kenkyuu year 2 (1191) and cultivated the tea he brought back at Reisenji Temple in Hizen-no-kuni, and wrote the first tea book in Japan, “Kissa-youjouki” (Tea-taking regimen records).

The event called “toucha,” which is to drink and predict the type of tea, gained popularity during the Muromachi period (1336-1573).

Events called “chakabuki” similar to “toucha” to guess brands and production areas are held even today.

“Kaisho,” the venue where people gathered for “toucha” was an opportunity for chashitsu to be born eventually.

Later, tea-taking became sadou (the way of the tea ceremony) and developed as a culture unique to Japan together with chashitsu.

Introduction of tea to Japan (More details)

Distinguished masters of the tea ceremony

Eisai or Yousai (栄西)

Murata Jukou (村田珠光)

Takeno Jouou(武野紹鷗)

Sen no Rikyu (千利休)

Hechikan or Bechikan (丿貫)

Furuta Oribe (古田織部)

Honami Kouetsu (本阿弥光悦)

Kobori Enshuu (小堀遠州)

Oda Urakusai (織田有楽斎)

Sen no Soutan or Sen Soutan (千宗旦)

Kanamori Souwa(金森宗和)

Matsudaira Humai (松平不昧)

Chashitsu (tea room or tea house) is filled with various thoughts and ideas. The vocabulary of Zen Buddhism, which it was greatly influenced, also appears frequently in sadou (the tea ceremony). Further, many wise sayings representing Japan were born in this small chashitsu.

Ichizakonryuu (一座建立)

Ichigo-ichie (一期一会)

Ishindenshin (以心伝心)

Wabi-sabi (侘び寂び)

Kire-sabi (綺麗さび)

Hachou-no-bi (破調の美)

Ocha-wo-nigosu (お茶を濁す)

Shuhari (守破離)

Rikyu-shichisoku (利休七則)

Wakei-seijaku (和敬清寂)

Nichinichi-korekoujitsu, or Nichinichi-korekounichi (日日是好日)

Matsu-ni-kokonnoironashi (松無古今色)

Buji-korekinin (無事是貴人)

Kissako (喫茶去)

Ensou (円相)

Shoza-kissa, or Shaza-kissa (且座喫茶)

Saen-kowoidete-fukashi (茶煙出戸深)

Shikai-minachajin (四海皆茶人)

Chawa-chikiniaite-kissu (茶遇知己喫)

Byoujousin-zedou, or Heijoushin-koredou (平常心是道)

Kankyakka (看脚下)

Honrai-muichimotsu (本来無一物)

Author: Takuya Nagata. Amazon Profile

A novel writer and 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. Later opened 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 a journalist, football coach, consultant, etc. across Europe such as Spain. The founder of “Propulsive Football” (PROBALL), the world’s first-ever competitive mixed football, facilitating diversity and spirit for equal participation in society.

Knowledgeable in creative and technology fields as well. Launched the SPACE Culture & Entertainment hub “The Space-Timer 0.”

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