The next garden element on my list is the water basin!
I guess, the best-known examples for these water basins are the ones in front of Japanese shrines but also the ones in Japanese tea gardens.
Both are meant to symbolically purify oneself before entering a special place. To fulfill this, we are washing our hands and rinsing our mouth in a special way.
Purifying has deep roots in Japanese culture until today. For example, the public apologizing of leaders or famous people in Japanese television is a form of purifying and less a real apology.
Only at the end of the Edo period (1603-1868), the water basins found their way as decorative elements from tea gardens into private gardens.
The traditional Japanese house often had its toilet in a small room next to the main house. A corridor or veranda made it possible to reach it without touching the ground.
In front of the toilet, next to the veranda, a water basin was placed to be able to wash the hands after visiting. Of course, the basins had to be high and were often hewn in a cylindrical shape. These water basins, placed in front of a veranda, are called Hachimae 鉢前.
There are several different styles of Chouzubachi: round ones, square ones, with carvings or without. These can be put into three main categories: original water basins, recycled basins, and natural basins.
Original basins (Sousaku Chouzubachi) were designed and carved for one customer. If the place is public and famous, other places might copy this style. However, it usually is known under the name of its original place. A good example is the water basin of Ginkaku-ji which is known under the name Ginkakuji-gata Chouzubachi or the one in Ryouan-ji (picture).
Recycled basins (Mitatemono Chouzubachi) can have various different shapes since they are made of previously existing objects like stupas, lanterns, foundation stones, millstones, and so on. Into these existing objects, a Mizuana (water hole) was carved and made it into a water basin.
Famous are the water basins with Buddha carvings on the four sides. They are called Shihobutsu-gata Chouzubachi.
During the try to make Shinto a state religion, many Buddhist temples became abandoned and elements from these temples like lanterns or stupas made it into gardens through people who collected them.
Use in the garden
A water basin is essential in a tea garden which is used in an intended way. There, it is placed next to the pathway leading to the entrance to the teahouse.
Else, there is no restriction on how to use a water basin in a garden since it is a mere decorative element.
Of course, meaning can be added by putting it in a place where we want to wash our hands in the garden like next to a sitting area where we use to eat. Another meaning can be added by placing it in an area where birds like to be. A water basin can provide a nice place for birds to bathe and drink.
Parts of the Tsukubai
The Tsukubai in a tea garden is always made of the same four essential parts but not of the same layout.
These essential stones are yakuishi, stones that serve a function while being aesthetically pleasing.
To the right side of the drain is a flat rock called Teshoku ishi (手燭石) it was meant as a place to put a small hand-held lantern while using the Tsukubai.
On the left of the drain is another flat rock, called the Yuoke ishi (湯おけ石). Here, a container for water could be placed since not every Tsukubai has an automated water supply. The water in the handwashing basin was filled manually from the container before the guests arrived. The rock is often set as an extension of the tobiishi path leading to the Tsukubai.
Depending on the setting it can change sides with the Teshoku ishi.
In front of the drain and opposite to the Chouzubachi is the Mae ishi or Zenseki (前石).
Different Tsukubai Layouts
We find two main layouts of Tsukubai in the tea garden.
However, next to these two, there are other layouts existing.
Another form of the Tsukubai is the Ori Tsukubai (降り蹲踞). This is used as a drainage for the garden. A deep hole was dug (up to 3m) and filled with cobblestones. A hand washing basin was placed on top.
It is necessary to wash all the cobblestones every few years to guarantee the drainage still working.
Layout of a Hachimae
The arrangement of the Hachimae is looking a little bit different than the Tsukubai.
To the left of the arrangement is the Mizukumi ishi (水汲石) and to the left the Shoujou seki (清浄石).
While the Mizukumi ishi is flat to stand on while using the basin, the Shoujou seki isn’t, it is a standing rock and creates the balance towards the Mizukumi ishi.
Another rock called the Mizuage ishi (水揚石) is placed behind the water basin. This one is used similarly to the Yuoke ishi to place a water container that is used for filling the water basin or for cleaning.
The Mae ishi is replaced by the Kagami ishi (蟄石). This rock has the purpose to block water, which is splashing from the Suimon. This protects the building from becoming wet.
This article was first published on Patreon!
- Garden Technical Series 3: 蹲踞作法 (Book)
- Design Parts Collection In Japanese Traditional Style Garden 和の庭図案集 (Book)
- Japanese Gardening in Small Spaces: Step-By-Step Illustrations
by Isao Yoshikawa (Book)
- Japanese Gardens by Seiko Goto and Takahiro Naka (Book)
- Wikipedia in different languages (Website)
- Jaanus: Terminology of Japanese Architecture & Art (Website)
- Oomi Teien: これだけは知っておきたい。日本庭園における役石の種類 (Website)
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