Matcha and Tearoom-Design in the Course of Time: A Project Inspired by Miumori Kirishima Matcha

In our blog article on the topic of the Miumori Kirishima Event in Paris, October 2016, we already asked some spontaneous and free questions at the end of the article, which concerned in the broadest sense the embedment of Matcha in different cultures as well as its styles. Though, because these questions were asked a bit liked doing brainstorming or even like being a kind of provocative, the deeper sense of this topic may not have been so clearly expressed. The trigger of this conceptual game was a photo-session with the Miumori Kirishima Matcha in Paris, which placed the Miumori Matcha in a kind of environment, which may not have been the seemingly ‘traditional’ environment for a Matcha, like a Japan-insider probably would anticipate it.

As already announced at this point of time, in the meantime we began to commit ourselves to this topic in a deeper sense, step by step. Still in a way like brainstorming we worked on the following artwork, which was created following the mentioned photo-session in Paris, inspired by Miumori Kirishima Matcha, shortly after the event in Paris, where we presented this tea.

In the course of time – Miumori Kirishima Matcha

Main topic of this artwork in the conjunction of the tea culture regarding milled green tea [ Japanese: Matcha ] with different styles of artworks, tea ceremony ceramics and tea room interior in the course of time. Even a bit provocative is the strong contrast of the yellow and black, which may remind of a warning signal, being combined with the Matcha-still-life. Seen from the perspective, that Matcha often is associated with minimalistic and seemingly simple style and material like walls made of earth, which is close the style of a straw hut of an eremite, this already may be provocative. But, is it not even more provocative, if we reflect that this style was not as poor as is seemingly was, but that only the rich aristocrats living in the former capital Kyoto could afford having a tearoom? While tea teacher Sen-no Rikyu propagated the simplicity of tea ceremony and tearoom style, there was also a strong power of rich aristocrats who connected the way of tea with rich furniture, comparable huge rooms as well as tea ceremony utensils using elements made of gold and other expensive a rare material. Therefore, we can always see Matcha in the free space between simplicity and luxury. Furthermore, the culture of Matcha does not only include the art of making the utensils for preparing Matcha, and the art of using it to prepare the Matcha, but it also includes the architecture of the tearoom, the design of the furniture inside, art of paintings and calligraphy, music, the way of how talking to the guests, as well as the Matcha itself, which can be seen as a product of nature or as an artwork coming from the interaction of human with nature. Bearing all this in mind, we see that the culture of Matcha includes many spheres of art, inspired by the philosophy of well-known tea teachers as well as inspired by people drinking and celebrating Matcha in many epochs of time.

In order to go deeper in understandig all the facettes of this topic, it is very helpful to have a look in the book „Der japanische Tee-Weg – Bewußtseinsschulung und Gesamtkunstwerk“ (The Japanese way of tea – consciousness training and total work of art), written by Franziska Ehmke (1991).

Franziska Ehmcke (1991): The Japanese Way of Tea

Proposed that the preferred taste character of a tea also tells us something about the stylistic conceptions of those who preferred this taste, let us begin at a quite early point of time in history, during the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-906). As also mentioned by Ehmcke (1991: p.11), at this time the steamed tea leaves were pounded in a mortar and then formed like a brick, until this kind of tea was finally boiled with other ingredients like ginger, orange zests, rice, salt and other spices. Though, in his “classic book of tea” LU YU strictly refuses all these admixtures – except the salt. Thanks to this, the tea’s bitter accent became more obvious, which may be seen as an expression of simplicity, self-sufficiency and modesty.

But already during Song-Dynasty (960-1279) this style of preparing tea was replaced. From now on, the preparation of powder tea [ Chinese: mo-cha; Japanese: matsu + cha à matcha ] came into the foreground. First of all, the fine tea leaves have to be grinded or milled into smaller parts, until it becomes a green powder. This green powder is then “pounded” with a bamboo whisk in a bowl with warm water and is then ready to be drunken. This means, at the time when the kind of tea changed [ leaf tea à powder tea ] also the utensils for the preparation of the tea, underlay a change.

As Franziska Ehmcke (1991: p.13) explains in details, during the Tang- and especially during the Song-Dynastie an artistic-aesthetic culture grew up, with its center around the topic of enjoying tea. This kind of tea culture was supplemented by sportive games, social amenities of all kind as well as tea literature. Many of these elements of “tea culture”, though not all of them, later became parts of the “Japanese Way of Tea”. This includes the reception of simplicity and modesty, associated by the bitter taste components of tea, the medical and magical qualities of tea, the social get-together within the tea-communities with sophisticated etiquette and artistic standard. Even all this were already elements of tea culture in China, there was no “way of tea” growing up in China in the meaning of the “Japanese Way of Tea”. In China, the culture was extremely sophisticated, but it remained a social event or amusement.

pen Magazin 2007 „cha no yu design“

While on the cover of this edition of the Japanese pen magazine from 2007, which talks about the design of Japanese tea ceremony (“cha no yu design”), still as familiar there is shown a traditional Japanese tearoom, inside the edition we already find more about history as well as present time topics: It talks about the different historical artistic streams of Matcha bowls as well as chasen [ bamboo whisks ], as well as about contemporary tea room designs.

pen magazine 2007 on the topic of tearoom design

Also well-known elements like the picture roll are discussed. The tea ceremony utensils like the most important one – the Matcha bowl itself [ chawan ] – as well as the water ladle [ hi-shaku ] and iron pot for heating the water [ kama ] are still designed very closely to the historical versions. Only some detailed are changed, sometimes the forms with quite hard edges, or the glazes comparably uniform. Though, while the tea room showed on the picture above still uses the traditional material wood, it uses it for the walls, for which traditionally earth is used, and furthermore it is cut into rods, which has the effect that the atmosphere of the whole tearoom is changed.

Franziska Ehmcke (1991: p.123) delineates a classification of the evolution of tearoom-architecture in four main periods: the first evolutionary phase covers the time when tearooms still were located in the part of a building, where people lived, which is called the period of the “style of the tea in the study”. Already during the second phase, separate little tea huts were built, or tearooms as annex to the living place. The style of these tea rooms were the style of the “Tea of the Eremite’s Hut” [Japanese: sô-an = straw hut ]. During the third phase these small tea huts were enlarged, and in the fourth phase there was a comeback of the “Tearoom in the Style of a Study”.

This categorization does not yet tell the reader so much about the detailed design of the different categories of tea rooms, but already having a closer look on the naming of the categories helps understanding a bit more. For example the naming “straw hut” may anticipate the reader that in this phase of tea room design the element of idealized poorness is very important. But, even these kind of tearoom with the ideal of a straw hut, which looked like the poor hut of an eremite, used very expensive materials, which is not easy to see without a closer look on the design conception and materials. From this point of view, even the “Tearoom of the Eremite” was a tearoom, which only the rich aristocrats could afford, but at the same time it is to be seen as a criticism of the luxury of the aristocrats’ tea culture with expensive tea games and material like gilded Matcha bowls.

Let us have a closer look on the „straw hut“, which Franziska Ehmcke (1991: p.124f.) describes as follows:

The oldest still existing little tea house in the „Style of the Eremite’s Straw Hut“ [ so-an / sôan ] is the tea house Taian [ tai-an ], which is annexed to the sub-temple Kyôkian [ kyo-ki-an ] of the Daitokuji. The Taian tea house is a two tatami-mats-sized room, which a cut firing place, niche for a rolling picture and flowers [ tokonoma ] and low entrance [ nijiri-guchi ]. The latter one is still higher than the low entrance of types of entrances of Sôan tea houses later in history. The walls of the Tokonoma are also completely covered with clay like the pillar, which is a style that RIKYÛ [ also: RIKYU or RIKYUU ] developed. Right besides the tokonoma there are two windows, of which one is designed as a hanging window [ kake-shôji / kake-shoji ]. This means it is a window made of paper that can be taken out. It is installed in inside of the tearoom in front of the window-frames. Through a “neighboring room” [ tsugi no ma ] people can go into the preparation-room [ katte; not to be mixed up with the kitchen, which is named mizuya ].

Between 1583 and 1587 RIKYU also designed two-mat-rooms (tearoom in the size of two tatami-mats) without neighboring room. Only walls covered with clay – even the tokonoma was covered by clay – surrounded these rooms. There were only three windows, the low entrance [ nijiri-guchi = crawling entrance ], and an separated entrance for the host (besides the tokonoma), as well as a wall cupboard for the tea utensils, which brightened the very plain construction.

Tearoom for Japanese tea ceremony – new architecture in Tokyo

Also in the book „Tokyo Houses“, which was released in 2002 and which mainly emphasizes new architecture, and which in addition talks about houses in Tokyo, like the title already says – a town, which more famous for other things than tea culture – we find the topic of tearoom-architecture. Like to be found on page 67, the architect’s office, which designed to house shown on the photo above, follows with its design the book “Inei Raisan”, which was written by the famous novelist Junichiro TANIZAKI (1886-1965). The topic is the relation between light and shadow. The light comes into the room through the shoji (sliding doors) and therefore is lessened when it falls through the paper windows of the shoji.

Though, how did die idea come into existence to have a room especially for drinking tea or drinking Matcha? To find an answer, we have a look in the book “Chasho – Geist und Geschichte der Theorien japanischer Teekunst” (Chasho – Ideas and History of the Theories of the Japanese Art of Tea) written by Horst Siegfried Henneman, published on Harrassowitz publishing in 1994. Already in the second chapter “Yoriai-Tea-Associations of the Kitayama- and the shoin-culture of the Higashiyama-aera” we find the answer on this questions:

In the neighborhood of the Ginkoku of the Jishô-temple in Higashiyama, which YOSHIMASA let build up in imitation of YOSHIMITSU’s Kinkaku of the Rokuon-temple in Kitayama, YOSHIMASA raised up a prayer-hall Tôgudô with a four-and-a-half-mats hermitage called Dôjisai, which is hold to be the first example in history of a tearoom [ chashitsu ], as Hennemann (1994: p.58) explains.

The name given for this first architectural style of a tearoom comes from the name of the writing- and reading-niche, which is annexed besides the decoration-niche [ tokonoma ]. The idea of the writing- and reading-niche [ tsuku-shoin ] has its origin in the Buddhist temple-architecture. Now, for the first time in history, the buke-aristocrats’ stately home was divided in separate rooms by the sliding walls [ fusuma, shoji ] (compare: Hennemann 1994: p.58).

Following this concept, living spaces as well as reception rooms were created. For each type of room the right decoration had to be designed. The basic elements for this kind of decoration were work of art that had their origin in Chinese Song- and Ming-Dynasty. The works of art that came from China were named as “karamono”, which distinguishes them from the works of art having their origin in Japan, like they were used in later periods of tearoom history. For the first tearoom in history, of which we spoke above, the works of art were collected and arranged by the San-ami-art-adepts. The San-ami-art-adepts also were responsible to classify the objects of art for the tearoom and to judge about their intended use. Therefore, these objects of art built the absolute authority of the buke-aristocratic normative order of esthetics (compare Hennemann 1994: p.58f).

The conscientious election and stylistic perception of these Chinese works of art, and the thereby agglomerated experiences were one of the roots that finally led to the development of the stylistic norm “shin”. The stylistic norm shin has the function of building up a contrast. It is the contrast to the room-design of the tôcha [ also written: tou-cha ], the expensive tea game culture of the aristocrats, which were mainly used to show preach and richness (compare Hennemann 1994: p.59). How far and how deep the rules of the stylistic norm shin go, is easy to understand having a look on the following:

The decoration-niche [ tokonoma ] is found in early times in the form of a wooden board laid on the ground [ oshita ]. In front of a tripartite or pentamerous roll-picture-group, mostly a triptych [ sampuku-ttsui ], the decoration is arranged on a red-lack-table, and has to include the three utensils of a Buddhist altar [ mitsu-gusoku ]: incent-holder [ kôro / kouro ], crane-turtle-candleholder [ tsuru-shokudai ] and vase of flowers [ kabin ], including the incent-utensils, which is the spoon [ kyôji / kyouji ], sticks [ koji ], holder [ tate ] and incent-box [ kôgô / kougou ], as well as left and right flower vases. In case of the pentamerous decoration [ morokazari, tsutsumazarai ] a second candleholder and second vase are added to the first one on the left or rather on the right to become a pair. According to the size of the decoration niche and according to the pictures that are used, there is to option to simplify the decoration following the appropriate rules.

(compare Hennemann 1994: p.60)

It is an important question to be discussed, in which extend all rules have to be met, or in which extend the individual artistic freedom can be acted out. Probably there is no need to talk about this question in regard to the performance of Japanese tea ceremony [ cha-no-yu / cha-dô / cha-dou ] itself, because there are very clear rules, which only differ in a certain extend depending on the different tea-schools like Ura-senke or Omote-senke. Much more we have a look on the question above regarding the style of the tearoom and tea utensils used during tea ceremony. Probably the most central utensils during tea ceremony is the Matcha-bowl [ cha-wan ]. Let us have a look on the words of ORIBE:

In the closing words of his guiding principles, which are to be seen as performing instruction of his own tea perception of RIKYU’s wabi-tea, he expresses clearly, that he has the opinion that the target is to individualize the wabi-tea of RIKYU, and doing so to overcome it. Seen from the perspective of ORIBE, the chanoyu [ warm water for the tea = Japanese tea ceremony ] has an inherent heterogeneity, which is a field for free artistic evolvement. While RIKYU emphasis the introversion, which has the goal of reaching intensification, ORIBE’s form of intensification is directed outwards, and finds its expression in the deformation, for example the deformation of the Matcha-bowls [ chawan ]. A special form of deformation is to be found in the style of the kutsugata-matcha-bowl, which ORIBE invented. The ornamental painting of ORIBE’s tea ceramic accessories, which use strong colors, and the proportions of the “eight-window” teahouse-architecture of the Hassô-an, are examples where ORIBE’s style of deformation is to be found (compare Hennemann 1994: p.169).

This means that with ORIBE, not only the style of his matcha-bowls, but also the style of the tearoom [ chashitsu ] changes. ORIBE considers the sô-an-tearoom-style [ tearoom in the style of an eremite’s hut ] of RIKYU as constricting. Therefore, he moves the place of the tea from the tearoom into the “chain-room” [ kusari no ma ], which means the establishment of an intermediate for in-between the sô-an and the sho-in with an elevated seat of honor [ jôdan / joudan ] for guests belonging to high aristocratic ranks, and well with a writing-niche [ tsuku-shoin ], which we know from the knights’ living place’s architecture (see Hennemann 1994: p.169f).