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Teahouse (Chashitsu)

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In this Room

The Zenshin-an Teahouse replicates the Sa-an, an 18th century teahouse in the Gyokurin-in, a temple complex within the famous Zen monastery of Daitoku-ji in Kyoto. A wealthy merchant had the Sa-an built in 1742, and today it carries an official designation as an "Important Cultural Property."

Constructed in the "rustic" style preferred by Sen Rikyu (1522-91), Japan's most famous tea master, the teahouse is characterized by its simplicity and restraint. Deeply impressed by the contemplative quality of tea rituals practiced by Zen monks, Rikyu sought to recreate that atmosphere during tea gatherings he hosted. To suggest an ascetic's retreat in the wilderness, he perfected the idea of a soan, or "grass hut," as an appropriate setting for such ceremonies.

A carved signboard under the eaves here reads Zenshin-an, "Hermitage of the Meditative Heart," the name given this teahouse by Fukushima Keido, the current abbot of Tofukuji temple in Kyoto.

Typically, soan teahouses are small with roughly cut or completely unmilled wooden timbers. The great variety of bamboo, wood, reeds, vines, and straw suggests that such teahouses are created from materials found in nearby forests and fields. Their rough, earthen walls are made by spreading a mixture of clay and straw over a bamboo lattice. In such modest structures, seemingly far away from worldly concerns, tea can be enjoyed in a more meditative and philosophical way.

To enter the room, all guests, regardless of rank, need to crawl through a low entranceway, the nijiriguchi, to show their humility and social equality. And, unlike the ostentatious displays of wealth seen in aristocratic structures, teahouses like this had only limited decorations, usually just a simple flower arrangement and a hanging scroll, preferably with an edifying verse by a Zen priest.

Within this humble context, tea masters came to use sturdily potted, unglazed, and compellingly imperfect ceramics of Japanese manufacture, in addition to more refined wares from China.

Construction of the two Japanese rooms was done by the Japanese firm Yasuimoku Koumuten Co., LTD.

Gift of the Friends of the Institute, the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation, the Commemorative Association for the Japan World Exposition (1970), the James Ford Bell Foundation, Patricia M. Mitchell, Jane and Thomas Nelson, and many others.