Tea Architecture:

Development of Soan (Rustic Teahouse)
Historical Background

During the Heian-period (794-1185), Japanese society was governed by an aristocratic class, whose residential architecture is known as shinden style. Some key aspects of that style are the absence of wall-to-wall tatami mats; no thin-paper doors, shoji; and a central hall (shinden) that faced southward onto broad, sand-covered entry court.

The following Kamakura period (1185-1333) witnessed the sudden ascendancy of the military class (buke) whose residential architecture was designed to suit their own requirements, becoming somewhat more defensive in nature. Although still south facing, entry to the main hall was through side antechambers (kuruma yose, genkan)

In the Muromachi period (1333-1568), with the pervasion of Zen Buddhist and literati cultures through the ruling classes, buke-style architecture developed into a "literate man's" architecture known as the shoin style, found both in Zen temples and military residences. The shoin is a writing alcove (a sign of a literate person) that gives name to the style of architecture in general. This style of architecture featured wall-to-wall tatami mats; shoji doors; a formal layout of rooms; squared and planed wooden posts and beams; walls covered with paper or white lime plaster; and a formal display alcove, tokonoma. One hall of the residence, called a kaisho or formal reception room (literally, meeting place) was a venue for social gatherings including tea competitions, tocha.

As early tea masters began their experiments with rustic tea, wabicha, they also began to develop a setting for their tea gatherings that was appropriate to the ideals of subdued aesthetics and introversion. They attempted to evoke the atmosphere of a mountain hermitage within the urban context by building simple huts in the rear portion of their properties: Zen temples, merchants townhouses, and military lord's residences. These were known as "hermitages in the city," shichu no sankyo, or shichuin.

Important Components of Rustic Tea Huts:

• Very small size; yojohan (about 9 feet square) or smaller
• Thatched or fine-shingle roof
• Exposed clay plastered walls, often finished only in "middle layer" clay naka-nuri
• Posts and beams, and other exposed wood members, are light weight and in their natural form (not squared and planed, some species with the bark still on)
• Sword-rack outside, katana-kake
• Small "crawl-through" entry door, nijiri-guchi
• Windows that appear to reveal wall structure, shitaji mado
• Wall-to-wall tatami mats
Tokonoma, display alcove, in which a scroll or flower will be displayed
Ro, brazier, in which water for tea will be boiled