Tea house has an entrance 60cm in height and width called Nijiri-guchi or Nijiri entrance. Nijiru means “to move forward on your knees with both hands down on the floor”.
Nijigi-guchi is said to be introduced by Sen no Rikyuu who had this idea when he saw fishermen ducking to enter their boathouse in Hirakata City, Oosaka, and applied it to his Nijyou tea house. It is customary that upon entering a tea house, visitors bow their heads, kneel down with their hands on the floor and move forward with their knees. Nijigi-guchi is regarded as a boundary to separate the inside of a tea house from the outside world. The low entrance makes any visitor regardless of their social status humbly bow upon entering and it allows the cleansing of impurities from the outside world before entering the tea room.
Nijiri-guchi also has a spatial stage effect. Tea house is usually small. But by entering through an even smaller nijigi-guchi, visitors feel that the tea house is higher and deeper than it actually is.
Nigiri-guchi is an original concept that embodies a spirit of humbleness which is a virtue unique to Japan.
A mizuya (literally “water room”) is the preparation area in a Chashitsu (Japanese tea house) or tea room used for tea ceremony. As its name suggests, a mizuya provides a location for performing tasks involving water, such as washing the utensils and boiling extra water for replenishing the pot in the tea room. In most cases, a mizuya is located in the adjacent space of the tea room so that the task performance will not be seen from the guest areas. If there is no such space outside the tea room, the mizuya space is partitioned by a folding screen.
The dimentions of a mizuya depends on those of the guest areas or tea ceremony schools. A typical mizuya is equipped with a traditional sink, several wooden shelves for storing tea supplies, and a furnace (large, long or round).
Since the water temperature is decisive of the tea ceremony, tasks performed in the mizuya are very important. A mizuya is the special space where a tea practitioner concentrates his/her attention on the tasks to offer hospitality to the guests. The famous tea master, Sen no Rikyu, must have worked sincerely in the mizuya with the spirit of “Ichigo Ichie” meaning every single encounter never repeats in a life time.
Agano Ware is magnificent pottery made in Agano, Fukuchi-co, Tagawa-gun, Fukuoka Pref. It has a history of 400 years and was designated as a National Traditional Craft Product in 1983. Agano Ware dates back to 1602, when Hosokawa Tadaoki, who had learned the art of the tea ceremony directly from Sen no Rikyu, became the feudal lord of the Kokura Province and ordered Korean potter Sonkai to construct a climbing kiln in Agano Village. In the Edo period, the Agano kiln became one of the seven kilns favored by Enshu, who was a famous tea master. Its distinctive warmth was favored by a lot of tea masters at the time. In the Meiji period, however, the Agano kilns had gone into a decline for some time, but it was restored in 1902. Compared with other ceramics, Agano Ware is thin and light in weight. It is characterized by the variety of glazes and the changes which occur during firing and usually no painting is given to create patterns.
Chasen (tea whisk) is a bamboo tool used in a tea ceremony to whisk or knead powdered green tea. The upper part of a bamboo cylinder is split into numerous tines that are then curled towards the center to form a shape of an ear. Takayama area in Nara Pref. takes 90% share of the chasen market and is famous as “the village of chasen.” The history of making chasen in this area is dated back to the middle of the Muromachi period, when a son of domain lord ruling Takayama area first made chasen by request of Murata Juko, the founder of tea ceremony. Later when tea ceremony flourished with Sen no Rikyu’s teachings, the production of chasen was expanded. The making techniques of chasen have been handed down by isshi soden method (the transmission of techniques and principals to one’s heir by blood). Different chasen are used by different schools and for different purposes. There are over 120 kinds of chasen that differ in the kind of bamboo, the shape of ear, and the number of tines. In 1975, Takayama Chase was designated as a Traditional Art Craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Takayama Chasen has played an important part in the history of Japanese tea ceremony culture.
The history of Nanshuji Temple dates back to 1526 when Kogaku-Soko, the chief priest of Daitokuji Temple in Kyoto, named a small ashram in Sakai “Nanshu-an.” Later in 1557, Nagayoshi Miyoshi built a temple to hold a memorial service for his father, Motonaga, and renamed it Nanshuji Temple. The temple had been burned down twice during the Warring States period; however it was rebuilt by Priest Takuan Soho. It is said that Japanese tea ceremony statrted at this temple. Famous tea masters, Takeno Jouou and Sen-no-Rikyu also studied the way of tea at this temple. In the precinct are the graves of Sen family, which remind us of Rokyu’s life. The stone garden in karesansui style is a nationally designated fine garden. The main hall in Zen style architecture in which the principla image of the Shaka sanzonzou (Shaka triad) is worshiped, San-mon (the main gate), and Kara-mon (the gate in Chinese style) are national designated Important Cultural Properties.
Sen no Rikyuu was a master of the tea ceremony in Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603). He was born in 1522, the son of a merchant in Sakai, Oosaka. His given name was Yoshirou. He studied the tea ceremony in his youth and age seventeen was apprenticed to Takeno Jouou, who developed and refined Wabi-cha. When Oda Nobunaga, who was the ruler in Japan at the time, took Sakai city under his direct rule, Sen no Rikyuu was hired as the head of the tea ceremony, and later, served Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Nobunaga’s successor. When Sen no Rikyuu was invited to host a tea ceremony at the Imperial Palace in 1585, in order to be allowed to enter the Palace, he had to be given a Buddhism rank of Koji, which is an honorary title given to a lay person who has lived as a pious Buddhist, and he was named Rikyuu. The biggest accomplishment of Rikyuu, who was also referred as a “tea saint”, was the perfection of Wabi-cha.
Tea practice, originally imported from China, was until this time mainly a leisure activity among wealthy society in Japan. Sen no Rikyuu elevated the ceremony to a higher level of artistic subtlety, expressing exquisitely the Japanese aesthetic
His simple and minimal use of space and atmosphere that eliminated anything superfluous, the sense of esthetic that embodied the beauty of nature, and his view on life that was expressed in his famous saying; “treasure every meeting, for it will never recur” allowed weary warriors facing life and death everyday to get back in touch with their trembling souls again. In 1591, at the height of his reputation as the greatest tea master, he infuriated Hideyoshi and was ordered to commit ritual suicide or hara-kiri. He was 70 at the time.
Powdered green tea was introduced from China in the Heian period (794 to 1192). It gradually became popular as a luxury item. In the meantime, as opposed to the enjoyment of tea at a lively banquet, Sado (way of tea) or Wabi-cha appeared. In Sado, unsophisticated ceramics are used and it puts emphasis on spirituality. Sen no Rikyu accomplished Sado, avoiding the play elements, putting an emphasis on the spiritual interaction between people and having a corresponding intensity. What Rikyu pursued was the mind that tries to obtain aesthetics and contentment. As is said that every aspect of Japan’s art craft is included in Sado, Sado is the integrated art that covers tea ceremony utensils, architecture of a tea house, Haikai (poems) and so on. Through its aesthetic concepts of motenashi (hospitality) and shiturai (manners concerning rooms), “kanjaku (a serene desolation)” and simple but refined state of mind, Sado has an incalculable influence on Japanese spiritual culture.