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Taking Tea in Ten

Thursday 8 June 2017

Passing through the Moriyama House, you’ll find yourself in a strange garden, filled with large moss mounds and an inviting house, high above the ground with a small ladder to climb inside…

This is the work of Terunobu Fujimori and a special commission created for the unique space of the Barbican Art Gallery.

But what happens inside a tea house? Here are ten tea facts to quench your thirst…

1. The Japanese tea ceremony history goes back more than 1,000 years.
The whole process is about not just making and drinking tea, but it about creating a work of art that can be participated in – like a performance or dance or meditation.

2. The full tea ceremony can last around four hours and consists of a light meal (kaiseki) with sweets, thick tea and thin tea.


3. In the 16th-19th centuries, tea ceremonies were mainly practiced by samurais and merchants.
The small door into the tea house would force a samurai to leave their sword outside and even the wealthiest merchant to enter humbly.

4. Tea culture in Japan gained popularity in the 16th century with the work of tea master Sen no Rikyu.
He first designed a simple building to house intimate tea ceremonies, based on a typical farmer’s hut.

5. The tea ceremony is linked to wabi-sabi – a way of thought that values simplicity, imperfection and the passing of time. It’s all about finding beauty in things that you could easily not notice. These simple ideas are linked with Zen Buddhism and the emphasis on meditation and acceptance that all things are impermanent – as well as a huge respect for nature.

6. While Fujimori’s tea house moves away from traditional designs, you’ll notice three simple principles from Rikyu’s tea houses – it’s small in size, has a hearth in the centre and a difficult-to-access entrance (nijiriguchi). The decoration you notice on the walls inside the tea house are pieces of discarded wood from during the charring process.

7. The tea house is traditionally adjacent to the house, and a tea room is still found in many Japanese homes.
This sense of a space that is adjacent to yet separate from everyday life is reinforced here by Fujimori’s garden.

8. By participating in tea, a person is believed to purify their soul by becoming one with nature. It’s a place to temporarily withdraw from the mundane world into a different world – a place to think differently.

9. The distinctive black colour on the tea house is the result of a centuries-old technique known as yakisugi, in which the wood is weatherproofed through an intensive process of charring. The teahouse was designed and built in collaboration with students from the Kingston University, find out more about this fascinating process here.

10. Terunobu Fujimori’s work is often compared to that of Tokyo-based animation company Studio Ghibli, due to their shared ability to merge the fantastical with the everyday. In fact, Fujimori is a friend of Studio Ghibli’s co-founder Hayao Miyazaki and previously worked on the exhibition Studio Ghibli: Architecture in Animation (2014) on the role and influence of architecture in the films.

Meet Fujimori as he explains more about the unique architecture of his tea houses

Visit Terunobu Fujimori’s teahouse in The Japanese House: Architecture and Life After 1945 until 25 June

Browse more content from The Japanese House on the blog