Japanese tea gardens are a fairly new garden concept, only being introduced to the Japanese culture sometime between 300 and 500 years ago.
Tea has been used in China for over 2000 years and the tea bush is an indigenous plant that grows in the Chinese landscape. Through their travels to China, the Japanese introduced tea to their own culture during the 6th century. With the influence of the new Zen religion during the 12th century, tea took on more meaning to the populace. By the 15th century, the Zen monk, Juko, transformed the drinking of tea into a ritual that is still often followed today.
When these tea ceremonies first began (more properly known as “chanoyu or sado – the Way of Tea”), invited guests would gather in simple, rustic gardens. Due to this, the gardens themselves became an important part of the ritual and Japanese tea gardens were born.
A tea garden is most often found in a small area and actually consists of two gardens in one: the outer garden (soto roji) and the inner garden (uchi roki). A middle gate called a “chumon” separates the two gardens. This gate is simple in design, often consisting of a panel of loosely woven split bamboo which is attached to upright bamboo posts. The outer garden designed like a passageway to give the feeling that you are entering a new, spiritual world. Visitors enter the outer garden through a roofed gate (called a “sotomon”), which divides the outside world from the sanctuary of the tea garden.
In the Japanese tea garden design, stepping stones and plants are placed to lead the visitor to the middle gate and the inner garden. A lantern is found along the path to light the way, as the tea ceremony was often performed during the evenings. The owner of the garden would be sure to prepare the area before the visitors arrived by sweeping it clean and sprinkling the grass and stepping stones with water. (The Japanese tea garden is also referred to as the “Roji”, which means “a dew covered path.”)
As the guests pass through the middle gate and enter the inner garden where the tea house is situated, they would find a water basin (tsukubai). Here a ritual is performed where they would cleanse their face and
mouth before entering the hut. The basin is kept low to the ground to require guests to bow down before the water, which shows humility to the “wellspring of life.” This cleansing was performed as an act of ridding oneself of worldly cares and short- comings. Once this was done, the guests would wait outside until the host invited them in. Often times a stone bench or a roofed bench (koshikake machiai) is provided outside the tea house for guests to sit on while they waited and to give them time to commune with the elements of the garden and nature.
The doorway into the tea house is called “nijiriguchi, and is deliberately made small so that the guests are once more forced to bow down in humility. This is to remind them that all that are taking part in the ceremony are equal.
The Japanese tea garden design is a wonderful choice for someone with a small to medium size backyard. The tea house itself is not large and is of an open concept. A wooden floor on the inside of the hut is where the ceremony is preformed and the inner garden provides a sense of tranquil calmness to the senses.