The Landscape Guide

Tea-Cult and Japanese Garden Design

A perfectly new style made its appearance in the fifteenth century. This was the so-called Tea-Cult, which was a reaction against the luxury then spreading in the palaces of the rich and great, and was connected with a ceremonial partly æsthetic and partly moral. The word Cha-no-yu means literally “tea-with-water,” and is meant to express in a veiled way the fundamental idea of this ceremonial, that is, an education in simplicity of life. To attain this end there was a ceremonial that went beyond all European ideas, a Tabulature, the study of which might be the task of a lifetime. Its full signification is for ever the secret of the Eastern-Asiatic mind. In this case also the germ, the essential element in the ceremonial, was imported from China, together with the tea. Not that tea-plants and the use of them were altogether unknown to the Japanese, for as early as the twelfth century the choice kinds of tea had been brought over by a Buddhist monk belonging to the Zen sect. But cultivation went on so slowly in Japan at first that the finest present one could give to great warriors was a chest of Chinese tea.

To bring the ceremonial into relation with European ideas, it has been compared with freemasonry, and in both cases the point is to educate people in certain virtues by wrapping these up in a covering of quaint ceremonial. The Japanese consider the cardinal virtues to be politeness, kindness, purity, and equanimity. It was towards the end of the fifteenth century that the ways of the feudal nobility in the country began to approach the more refined manners of the court nobility, which had been centuries ahead of them. These ceremonial tea-meetings, to which, as in freemasonry, only men were admitted, supplied a ground on which the two classes could meet. The warrior class, who, as following the severe and simple customs of the preaching sect of the Zen, had so far only respected such virtues as ascetic practices, were readily inclined to exercise them in connection with a ceremonial which was on the lines of extreme refinement. The court nobility, who on their side were accustomed to ceremonial, were prepared to bring within their sphere of influence something that was lofty and moral, having up to this time worn ceremonial only as a cloak for extravagance and dissolute living, Allied with all this, and arising from the aristocratic side, there was an æsthetic sort of education coming from the numerous objects required for ceremonial purposes.

The tea-meetings were originally very simple. Special and rare kinds of tea were put before a friendly group, who were expected to use their delicate, aristocratic sense of taste to classify the different kinds, By the end of the fifteenth century, however, this had grown into a highly complicated ritual. The combination of severe simplicity with æsthetic refinement of taste, of an outward conformity to ceremony (which ruled every smallest movement) with an education in moral freedom and complete submersion in Buddhism—all this must have made a special appeal to the Japanese nature.

Like the Chinese, the Japanese are fond of setting some particular task at their parties. At one time it was the fashion to write verses, and this became almost a mania. Before tea-tasting came in there was a fancy for distinguishing between different kinds of agreeable scents. But there had been nothing so famous as the tea ceremonial became. In its long history there appear the names of all the well-known artists, who were also the instructors; and of the heroes of war, who were pupils and furthered the movement. Even at the present day, though much has been simplified and reorganised, the cult is a great force. The house or pavilion, where the host received his guests, was strictly regulated. The size of the two rooms included in the pavilion varied according to the importance of the different teachers, who were really the rivals of the great artists and warriors; and every- thing was fixed and arranged, from the size of the rooms down to the thickness of the window-bars and the number of nails in the doors. Then the garden had to correspond to the house, which in its simplicity was only meant to be a kind of symbol of a dwelling-house (Fig. 575).

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We have observed already how the garden had to accommodate itself to the places from which it was overlooked, the picture being made to suit the sort of rooms and their arrangement, according as this was simple or grand. The garden at the tea-house was generally divided into an outer and an inner garden. The outer one contained a little hall, where the guests had to wait and to change their clothes. In this place there were only the most necessary objects, such as washing-basins. There was a path of stepping- stones leading past a few bushes into the inner garden. Here the Japanese could indulge themselves with their signs and symbols. Here they might express such ideas as Feeling for the Country, Humility, Simplicity, even Gloom—and all these must be conjoined with an immaculate purity. The fencing of the garden must be of a very slight and delicate kind, unless it was desired to produce the impression of melancholy and sadness, and in that case walls of earth were thrown up.

The plan of imitating famous landscapes was not given up in these places. The Tamagawa tea-garden is so called after one of the six great rivers of Japan, but it sufficed to have a clear stream that was winding, and was spanned by several bridges. Provided the chief stone, the Watchman Stone, was there, also a good lamp, a vessel for water, and a few trees and bushes, the landscape was complete. To represent a mountain moor, only a bank of stones, some grass and a few moorland plants were required; for the mind of the spectator at once grasped the scene that the artist intended to convey. Conder gives an account of a garden at a tea-house (Fig. 576), which presents a scene near Fujisan; its river is the Fujikawa, and the pines on the far side of the hedge indicate the Miopine forest. Another river is hinted at by flowers that grow near it; and so on.

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The first person who offered a site for the tea ceremonial at his own house and garden was Yoshimasa, one of the Shoguns of the Ashikaga, under whose patronage the arts of Japan (again influenced by China) attained to their highest glory. He was the patron of Soami, the painter and garden artist, whom he commissioned to design the famous Silver Pavilion after he had himself retired from the cares of state in 1472. This place was the wonder of its age, and traces of its beauty remain to the present day. Soami made a whole series of different scenes, which he called by names that give a good idea of the aims of his art. Some of these are: The Law of the Waters, The Roar of the Storm, The Soul of Scent, The Gate of the Dragon, The Bridge of the Mountain Spirits, The Valley of Golden Sand, and The Hill that beholds the Moon. The last is the name of a view-point that is still excellent for observing the effect of the moon upon the landscape.

Soami drew the attention of his patron to the priest of the Zen sect, Shukô, who was the most distinguished teacher and professor of Cha-no-yu, and who saw in this cult an occasion and opportunity that would lead to complete absorption in religion. Yoshimasa seized on the new teaching with all eagerness, and had the first tea-house and its proper garden set up in his park under the direction of the master. He decided on the name Shukô-an, and wrote it with his own hand on the shield fixed above the pavilion. At one stroke he hereby brought to his side the whole of the aristocratic class, and it is obvious from Japanese history that these curious ceremonies had the power of inspiring and stirring to action men of all conditions. It is very easy to see how favourable to garden art the feudal system would be, and this was continually growing stronger in the centuries which followed. It is also very clear that the surprising adaptability of Japanese gardening to the size of the place and the means of its owner was greatly assisted by an organisation so strict and so regulated.