Font Size
Return to Previous Page

Ceremonial Teahouse: Sunkaraku (Evanescent Joys)
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
[ More Details ]

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 (chah-no-you, literally "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 principles: Wabi 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.

Sabi 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.


Return to Previous Page