Friday, November 16, 2012

Why should a tea room be dim?

At the end of the passage next to gardens at Kotoin temple, I found what I thought was a dark space.  It was a preparation room for a tea room.  I even found it gloomy.  I walked in there and peered at the darkness, and saw that there was a small tea room right beside this room.  This small tea room is the Sansai Hosokawa’s room that I mentioned in the last entry.  I found it too dark, maybe because I had just walked from the bright passage.  Or maybe the room was dark due to the cloudy sky.  It is said that it is good to be a little dark for a Soan-style tea room.  However, some people feel that it’s dismal and gloomy.  So why should a tea room be a little dim?

While I was wondering about it, I continue taking some more photos.  During this time, my eyes finally adjusted to the darkness, and I could see more.  Check out the bottom picture compared to the picture above; Isn’t it much better?  In this photo, the light from the windows brightly illuminates the tatami mats, but in the actual view the contrast between the bright and dark parts was not that high.  The very soft flowing light from the windows filled the room.  It’s still dim but there is enough light, which is very relaxed and laid back. 

So let’s think of some reasons why tea rooms should be a little dark.  One of the reason why is probably because it’s easier to relax, or focus on your concentration.  I found an intriguing idea in a book I read.  It says that you can see things clearly in brightness, but if it’s dark, the borders between things get blurred.  The distinction with others gets ambiguous and it can help you feel a sense of wholeness.  That’s why it’s ideal for a tea ceremony.  It is more of a spiritual concept and I agree with it.  Since the tea ceremony is also for enjoying others company, it is important to be able to mingle with others.  Therefore just like a nice cozy bar to relax in, a dim lit tea room is just as good, maybe even better.

This room was a reminder that I should be careful about how bright a tea room should be.  As I left the temple, I was dreaming to have tea in this attractive dim place.  


  1. Ah, yes, I hadn't thought about specific reasons why before, but what you say makes sense. And I hadn't made the connection between dark tea rooms and dark bars/restaurants before either. My teacher's tearoom is dark, so at home the past few times I have been trying to turn off the light and use candles. It definitely feels cozier. It also makes us focus on each other more. I wonder if it is because we focus on the bright areas more, even if those areas are still not very bright.

    I wonder, in your photo, how the bright and dark areas change or move during the course of the day, and how that changes the feeling of tea at different times of the day?

    1. Yes, as you say, it may be important to focus on people.

      I don’t know how the light changes during the course of the day. I also wonder about it. I’ve just checked the Google map and I guess that the windows of this tea room are facing to South and West. The tea hut has eaves, so I wonder how the the sun light will affect the lighting inside the room. The day I took these photos are a cloudy day and it was around noon on Oct. 28. I didn’t find direct sunlight coming through the windows. I wish someone goes there and take pictures to show the change of the lighting, haha.

  2. "As I left the temple, I was dreaming to have tea in this attractive dim place."

    I am too thanks to your photos. My guess is that it must be pretty amazing...

    1. Yes, it was amazing. I wish I could show you better photos with richer gradation (^^;;

  3. Dear Kohei san,

    Thank you for your pictures. Shoko-ken is probably my favorite sôan. I loved the mood and the structure (nijô daime) of this chashitsu. And I loved the roji too with those "sasa" every where. It's really an amazing place in Kyôto. But, sorry for that, I think there is a mistake about the name of this place. This temple is called Koto-in (Korin-in is an other sub-temple near this area in Daitokuji). as you can see here :ファイル:Japan_Kyoto_Daitoku-ji_Koto-in_2.jpg

    This is not necessary to publish this comment, but please, could you put the correct name ?
    I thank you very much by advance.

    Did you saw the Sansai 's grave with the "broken ishi-dôrô" ? This stone lantern was a gift from Rikyû sama.
    Did you know its story (why is it broken) ?

    Yoroshiku oneagaishimasu

    1. Thierry-san,

      Thank you for pointing out my mistake. You are totally right. The temple that I wrote about in this entry and the previous one was referring to Kotoin temple. I’ll make the corrections. I do appreciate for your comment very much indeed I admit it was an honest mistake on my end.

      Unfortunately I had no chance seeing the broken ishi-doro, but I have read about it. Rikyu broke it himself to elude Hideyoshi’s handover request of the stone lantern. I wished that I could see it while it was in Rikyu’s garden.

  4. Dear Kohei san,

    You are welcome. Everybody does mistakes.
    And I see you know well the story about Sansai's stone lantern, thank you for sharing it here. That's a great story !

    Yoroshiku onegaishimasu

  5. Dear Kohei-san,

    I wanted to ask you if you would allow me to use one of your tea room photos for my thesis.
    Of course i would reference your work as in linking it to this site of your blog.

    my very kindest regards