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The Tsukubai: Ritual Water Purification Within the Japanese Tea Garden

'a place for spiritual and physical cleansing before entering the Japanese Tea Room'

There is a significant power that the flow of water has for purification.

As humans we are made up of more than two-thirds water so, naturally, we are all affected by the presence of water. In fact, the presence of water within Eastern culture has held immense spiritual significance since the dawn of time. This is no more evident than when it comes to the Japanese Tea Garden and the Japanese Tea Ceremony itself.

Tsukubai (蹲) (Tiny stooping purifying basin)

A Tsukubai is a low wash basin found in most classical Japanese tea gardens, temples, and shrines.

In the Tea garden, the tsukubai is near the entrance to the tearoom and not in direct view from the tearoom. It is somewhat hidden by carefully placed shrubs and trees. A lantern is oftentimes placed nearby.

They are usually made of stone with water which flows from a bamboo pipe. A stone with a depression serves as a wash basin, and a bamboo ladle is sometimes provided for the guests use. Sometimes the water that is poured into the basin from the bamboo pipe stops and starts the flow of water depending on the weight of the water flowing into it.

One has to stoop down to use the basin, a custom that was adopted from people washing their hands in streams or purifying themselves at holy washing troughs at shrines before worshipping the gods.

Before entering the Chashitsu (the tea room) all guests are required to wash their hands and rinse their mouths. This ritual purification is done themselves by pouring some water over their hands with a Hishaku (bamboo ladle) and finally rinsing out their mouths with some from the palm of their hand. This is a similar process to what can be seen at most Buddhist Temples around Japan.

It is believed that the act of using the water from these wash basins purify the minds and spirits all those who are entering a sacred space.

My Very Own Tsukubai

In lieu of my own personal Japanese Tea Garden, I recently procured a mini tsukubai as an addition to my indoor garden space.

Do you have any water features in your home garden? What does it represent to you?

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