Japan's ruling warrior elite first held lavish tea gatherings in their formal reception halls. As tea masters like Murata Shuko_ (1422-1502), Takeno Jo_o_ (1502-1555) and Sen Rikyu_ (1520-1591) began to advocate the practice of wabi
(rustic) tea in the 16th century, separate, specially designed teahouses began to be built. Shuko_ introduced an architectural style called so_an
, literally "grass hut." So_an
teahouses were small and constructed from humble materials including roughly milled lumber, bamboo, thatch, and earthen walls. In its simplicity, soan
teahouses were meant to suggest a monk's retreat in the wilderness. The low entranceway required all participants to humble themselves as they entered the tearoom from the garden. Although a built-in alcove for the display of art was adopted from more formal structures, its size was greatly reduced--sufficient only to display a small painting or simple floral arrangement.
The museum's teahouse is based on the Sa-an, an 18th century teahouse within the Zen monastery of Daitokuji in Kyoto that is now designated as one of Japan's "Important Cultural Properties." A small, carved signboard under the eaves of the museum's teahouse reads "Zenshin-an," Hermitage of the Meditative Heart -- a name bestowed on the structure by Fukushima Keido_, the current abbot of Tofukuji temple in Kyoto.