Interior space of the National Treasure tea room Tai-an by​​ Sen no Rikyū

from “Japan in Architecture : Genealogies of Its Transformation” (April 25-September 17, 2018 @ Mori Art Museum)

Japan in Architecture

The architect and architect historian Fujimori Terunobu says the basic strength of Japanese architects in wooden construction.  Contrarily to the Western architecture which developed stone construction techniques. Since Japanese architecture is based upon wooden construction, it is has created originality.

Wooden structures are mainly composed of a framed structure which wooden columns are assembled in grid. And a paper-covered shoji is inserted between the columns, and a large roof is used to protect trees and paper that are vulnerable to rain. A deep eave has developed. It can be said that the delicate and simple expression and the affinity with the external space and the natural environment also originate from the wooden building.

<Part 1> <Part 2> divided into two times, let’s look at the work by the two giant models that are the highlights of this exhibition.

The first one is a full-size model of Myouki-an Tai-an, 1581, Kyoto Prefecture. This tea house is said to be the oldest tea house in Japan, and said to have been made by Sen no Rikyū and is designated as a national treasure. The original house in Kyoto is prohibited from entering the inside and even taking photography, however the feature of this exhibition is this full-size model can be touched or walk/crawl in inside.

The entrance door is narrow, the floor is high, and it’s hard to get in. At the time of passing through the entrance door, you are forced to take a posture to knee the tatami and move forward, so you will be prompted to go into the room and sit down on the tatami. As a result, the view will be from the lower point, you do not feel tightness and pressure as much as it seems. It is not an exaggeration to say that a space of 2 tatami in size and a ceiling height of 1,800 mm is more spacious than expected.

It seems that the entrance door is intentionally made difficult to enter. Therefore once you enter, your body will ease and able to naturally feel the space.

entrance door Sen no rikyu tea room tai an Japan Architecture

Unexpectedly it is bright inside. This is more than expected. Outside light is softly drawn into the room through the shoji and the windows which randomly positioned . The relative position of the window and the unevenness of the space create subtle contrasts of light and shade. An unfinished mud wall, called a rough wall, absorbs light and creates a shade contrasts with the light on the window surface.

entrance door Sen no rikyu tea room tai an Japan Architecture

Unfortunately, the subtle nuances of light and shade are unclear on photo since the entrance door was widely opened at the time. but the side of the screen that transmits the light, the wall that receives the light, the wall that the light does not reach You can understand the difference in above photo.

How does the space of light and shade contrast that Sen no Rikyu intended can be felt in reality ? I am tempted to close the entrance door in a real building and experience it.

The spatial modeling that can feel “deviation” is also wonderful. Between the floor is a width of 4 sha-ku/bar ( 121cm/ 47 inches ), and the windows are slightly offset in height. An asymmetric floor post. A three-sided ceiling, a construction of a wall like a constructionist painting, materials and colors. It is a space without arrangement work.

it is said that the message of Buddha’s teaching, house is good as long as does not leak rain,  food is enough if you are not in starve the intention of the tea ceremony is true. You must have known enough to be certain.

The full-scale model of Myouki-an Tai-an displayed is valuable since it can simulate the internal space of a national treasure. And even the value of “wabi-sabi”, even for a short while, work created by Sen no Rikyu, ca be experienced. It is an extraordinary opportunity to feel the space of the creative.

If you are interested in simple design, Japan and the West, wabisabi and modernism, it will be an opportunity to think about those things again.

However, it may be better not to expect much image of “wabi-sabi” with regard to the appearance, for example, it is clearly understood that it is covered with plywood because the eaves are low.

As for the wabi sabi and modernism, it may be interesting to read <Wabi Sabi and modernism-Leonard Koren’s>

You can watch the inside of the actual Myouki-an Tai at <NHK Archive Shin-Nippon-Fudoki >

text by Tetsuya Omura