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Tea Garden: a purifying journey

padiglione cerimonia tè tempio Kodai-ji Kyoto giardino giapponese

Let’s enter the tea garden, a particular type of japanese garden which features the pavilion used for the tea ceremony. This space is used to perform a purifying journey in order to reach our guest with the right spirit.


The Japanese words for “Tea ceremony” are “tea’s hot water”. This sequence of slow, accurate gestures results in a sacred rite comparable to a mass, to a ceremony. The simple preparation of the hot water used for the tea, becomes a difficult goal, the reaching of a final void. Japan imported tea for the first time in 1200, and, at first, such beverage was used only by nobles and rich merchants. As time goes by, Buddhist monks started to use the tea as beverage during their rituals. Based on Buddhist spiritual ideals, the art of the tea has become a “Way” to overcome human fragility and transience. The Japanese garden in which the tea pavilion was located had to be a special garden: that’s how the Tea Garden was born.

katsushika hokusai tea house tea garden snowfall painting

Katsushika Hokusai, Morning tea house in Koishikawa after the snowfall


The historical context where the tea ceremony arose let us understand such needs. The samurai, warriors involved in the fighting among nobles, used to the sight of death, were able to take comfort from the reciprocity of the Tea Ceremony. In the pavilion of the tea garden there weren’t hierarchies, and the relief was also due the peaceful conviviality among peers. Four were the rules of the ceremony: harmony, respect, purity, serenity, and each one of them concurred in creating a communicative symbiosis. The environment used to hold such meeting, the tea pavilion, had to incarnate the meaning of such teachings.

Hand washing sink Chōzubachi tea garden

Hand washing sink, Chōzubachi


The Way, the “garden of the tea” which leads to the pavilion, has to prepare for such moment. Traversing the roji (ro means «show your self» and ji refers to hearth or mind), equals to «show your own nature», denude our original nature. Taking off the wraps of worries, pushing away the biological drives, becoming free from the weight of conscience, this rite increases its value and the connexion with other people.


The therapeutic journey approaching the tea pavilion is strengthened by the Japanese garden. The key principles used to design a Japanese garden are the aesthetics and purity, without any redundancy. The objective is to reach the pure atmosphere of a mountain hermitage, the loneliness that allows for spiritual research, which is capable to distance the worries coming from the city life. In the Japanese tea garden man’s job is to recreate an artificial nature. The intervention of the man is the same as in Italian gardens, but the difference is in the fact that Japanese gardens represent the chaotic harmony of the nature.

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Before the start of the path towards the the pavilion, the guests change their clothes in a special room, called machiai, then they begin to follow to path. Roji – the path – is often marked with tobiishi, partially buried stones, to prevent mud stains on the guests feet during the rainy days. At the end of the path, before entering in the pavilion, there’s a bench, called koshikake, which is the spot where the guest waits for the host. During the itinerary, at the soil level, there’s an handbasin, chōzubachi, with a bamboo spoon, the yuoke, used to fetch the water, to wash the hands and the mouth, and lastly a small stone lantern to have some light during the evenings. The entrance of the pavilion has to be very low, in such way that the guest, before entering, needs to bend down with its head, in order to fulfil the attitude that should have been attained during the roji, a humble gesture to get ready to listen, forgetting its own self.

liriope muscari japanese tea garden Kew garden

Liriope muscari used in the Japanese garden in the Kew Gardens.


Even the plants which are chosen to be present in the tea garden follow precise rules. Trees are chosen among conifers, and deciduous trees with very dark leaves, in a way that allows to garden to be under a very strong shadow all year long. Among conifers; pines, firs, cedars, yews, and podocarpus. Among broad leaved evergreen trees, oaks, osmanthus, ligustrum, and camellias. Magnolias, acers, plums, paulownias, are added to underline the seasonal changes, and to add some colors. The bushes are preferred when they produce red berries, like for example with Nandina domestica, Ardisia crenata, Sarchandra glabra. The other bushes used are: Lespedeza thunbergii, Euonymus sieboldianus, Aucuba, Deutzia, Rhododendron and the heavily scented Yuzu (Citrus ichangensis x Citrus reticulata var. austera). Among perennials, Begonia grandis, Ophiopogon japonicus, and Liriope muscari are used.

This article was first published on Bullettino n. 2/2016 of the Tuscan Horticulture Society.


Our Studio designed a preliminary proposal for the japanese garden of the Stibbert Museum in Florence. Japanese culture had reached great importance in the late years of F. Stibbert’s life. His collection of arms and armors in the Museum is one of the richest in the world. The park of the Museum is an example of Eclecticism where asiatic and european elements coexist. Our japanese garden aims to strenghten the historic park’s spirit of the place.

japanese tea garden stibbert museum florence park

The japanese garden designed by our Studio in the Stibbert Museum Park in Florence.

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