Monday, 10 June 2013

On Waterbasins


The water basin, also known as a tsukubai, so widely found in gardens, is a symbol of cleansing and purity.  Although the washing of hands as a symbolic act has been practised at temples for centuries, it was with the popularisation of the tea ceremony, Cha no yu, particularly in the 16th century that the water basin became ubiquitous. The Tea masters looked to incorporate, or re-use, elements from formal settings in a new way. This was also the origin of the use of stone lanterns in the garden.

Essentially there are two types; the shoin type, a tall upright basin adjacent to and used from, a veranda, and the tsukubai or 'crouching' basin; the tsukubai is usually set in the context of its own arrangement and does not depend on being sited within reach of a building. For example it can be set beside a path, or set beside a branch of the path leading to the tea house.


Stone basins are of numerous forms, from formally carved pieces to naturally hollowed out stones. The significance is that the user is forced to stoop to use it, so adopting the position of humility - an important aspect of the preparation for the tea ceremony, representing a fusion of Shinto, Buddhist and Taoist elements.


The arrangement and key elements are fairly standard.  The basin is usually be approached by stepping stones leading to the mae-ishi or 'approach' stone, with the basin in front at a comfortable arm's reach.  To the left is generally a flat-topped stone, teshoku-ishi, the ’hand-lamp’ stone, where a small portable light would be set for early morning or late evening ceremonies.  Another flat-topped stone to the right is the yuto seki or 'hot water’ stone; in the winter a basin of hot water may be set here for the guests.  The gap between the mae-ishi and the basin acts as a soakaway and is surfaced with rounded pebbles known as the 'sea' (umi).  The basin itself usually rests on a flat stone just visible beneath it.  In some settings fresh water is delivered to the basin by a bamboo pipe.  A bamboo water dipper is provided.  The space between the basin and its attendant stones is usually enclosed by edging stones or short wooden stakes.  Planting to the rear of the basin is usually generous, evergreen and unassuming.