Ceremonial Teahouse: Sunkaraku (Evanescent Joys)
, c. 1917
Designed by Ōgi Rodō, Japanese
Wood, bamboo, stone, metal, rush, plaster, paper, ceramic, fabric, and mulberry bast cord
Purchased with Museum funds, 1928
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About This Teahouse
This ceremonial teahouse takes its name from the wooden signboard
under the eaves of the tearoom itself, which reads Sunkaraku
(sun-kah-rah-ku or "fleeting joys"). It originally stood on the
grounds of Japanese architect Ōgi Rodō's (oh-ghi ro-do) private
residence in Tokyo. The architecture reveals a special delight in
natural materials: cedar thatch for the roof, branches from nandina
and red pine trees with the bark intact for the pillars, bamboo
stalks for the ceiling and rainspouts, and earth-colored plaster for
the walls. The small size and rustic simplicity of the house create
a temporary refuge from the complexities of daily life and reflect
the spirit of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
Performed today as it has been for centuries, the tea ceremony in
Japan serves both social and religious functions. The ritual serving
and drinking of tea is choreographed almost like a dance. The host
and guests delight in the quiet ceremony surrounded by simple but
beautiful architecture and objects. On a deeper level, the tea ceremony
provides the basis for a way of life: chadō
(chah-do, the "way
of tea"), in which the arts of ceramics, metalwork, painting, calligraphy
garden design, and architecture are united with the spiritual
practice of Zen Buddhism
The Japanese tea ceremony, called chanoyu
"hot water for tea") has its roots in the eighth century, when
Japanese monks visited China to study Buddhism and found
Chinese monks drinking tea (cha
) in order to stay awake during
long meditation sessions. In the twelfth century, a Japanese monk
brought tea seedlings from China along with the Buddhist ritual of
drinking tea. By the sixteenth century the tea ceremony and the
building of teahouses like this one had spread among Japanese
Buddhist monks and their upper-class patrons.
Qualities of Tea Ceremony
The tea ceremony is a significant part of Japanese culture. There are four qualities in a proper tea ceremony: respect, harmony, purity, and tranquility. The art of hospitality encourages these qualities, in which the host and the guests gather together in an atmosphere of mutual respect to enjoy moments of peace and beauty. The actions and words used during the ceremony are understood by both host and guests, and are designed to encourage respectful attention to the thoughtfully selected tea objects (tea bowl, tea scoop, tea whisk) and the carefully arranged teahouse setting. Attention to small details creates a harmony that may then be carried back to everyday life. The qualities of the ceremony help participants to experience a suspended moment in time and they leave renewed and refreshed.
The spirituality of the tea ceremony is based on two aesthetic
is expressed in the tea ceremony's rustic and plain, yet precise and elegant setting. The garden, tearoom, tea objects, food, and ceramics share honest and humble qualities.
suggests the subtle but rich exterior that comes through age and wear, as with an antique tea bowl, or a rock path worn smooth, which are enjoyed for their imperfections. Sabi
expresses the ideals of harmony and simplicity, and often implies loneliness.
This description is taken from Learning from Asian Art: Japan
, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont. Additional information and activities are included in Learning to Look: 20 Works of Art Across Time and Cultures.