Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Roji: A Path Between Worlds


Stepping stone path Koto-in, Kyoto

The name given to the Japanese tea garden, can be translated as ‘Dewy Path’ or 'Dewy Ground'. The word ‘Roji’ is derived from the Lotus sutra, one of the most important Buddhist texts, and occurs in the phrase, “Escaping from the fire stricken habitations of the Three Phenomenal Worlds they take their places on the dewy ground.” The Roji   is often attributed to the Tea master Sen no Rikyu, as originally there was not always a specific garden attached to the Tea room, one simply entered straight into the room itself.
Soto niwa or Outer garden at Daishin-in, Kyoto
The Waiting Arbour is where guests wait the call to enter the Tea room
Essentially the roji is a path that leads from the outside, everyday, world to the Tea room. There are few rules laid down as to the exact configuration of a Tea garden, though one important principle  stands out,  and that is the garden should be as simple and unostentatious as possible. Unusually for the Japanese garden it is often prescribed that the roji  should not contain any stone arrangements. It is often divided into two parts, the Inner (uchi niwa) and Outer gardens (soto niwa), separated by the Middle gate, chumon. In the Outer garden is found the machiai, or Waiting Arbour. The path itself is often composed of stepping stones, though in the outer garden there may be pavement style paths employed to some extent.

A typical water basin arrangement with a stone lantern
The roji will always contain a water basin arrangement, and this is very much the heart of the purpose of the garden. To traverse the path is to prepare for entering the tea room, ablution and cleaning oneself of the'dust of the world' is one expression of the transformation that ties place in the garden. Rikyu would always carry a bucket of fresh water to the water basin so the guests could rinse their hands on entering the garden. This ‘cleansing of the dust of the world” reveals the role of the garden space as a buffer between the 'outside' world and the less secular 'inner world' of the Tea room. The garden has a transformitory function,the guest whilst walking calmly along the garden path  gradually leaves behind the cares of the everyday world, thus enabling him to enter the Tea room with a fresh and unencumbered mind and heart. 

where paths cross a large stepping stone is lain as a 'Turning Stone'
The most common style of path found in the tea garden is that composed of stepping stones. They were first used to prevent the hems of visitors kimono hems trailing on the ground, and so being soiled. Stepping stones are usually set so that they stand proud of the ground by a few centimetres. Being flat and unobtrusive stepping stones are viewed as carrying a sense of humility. The placement of stepping stones is not random, despite appearances; they are carefully laid out bearing in mind the experience of walking over them. They are very often staggered, so the stones fall quotably under the right foot, then the left. The stones can be laid in patterns of three, five or seven. Tea masters favoured the concept of mitate (literally, 'seeing again)that is the use of materials outside of their normal function. The garan semi is an example. These were large circular stones used as foundation pads for pillars supporting temple pillars. In tea gardens they can be used as resting points along a path, or at intersections where paths may cross. In keeping with the overall tone of the tea garden the colours of the stones are muted and understated, and stones with pronounced striations or colouring are not used.

Garan semi provides a resting place to observe the garden scenery
Tea gardens and the roji are a unique development in Japanese gardens. Their form emerges with the development of cha no yu (tea ceremony) by masters such as Murata Shukõ (1423-1502) and Sen no Rikyū (1521-1591)  Rikyū is attributed with developing the form of the tea garden that we are familiar with today. The roji has had an influence beyond the tea garden itself, and many of its attributes can be found in gardens that are not strictly tea gardens. Stepping stones (tobi ishi) came to be widely used in all types of gardens (Katsura Rikyu Imperial palace has over 1700 stepping stones). Likewise water basin arrangements and stone lanterns can be found as focal points in many Japanese gardens. 

The path leads to the tea house and fuji seki or Entry stone to step into the tea room

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