Tsukubai (traditional facility for tea ceremony) (つくばい)

A tsukubai is one of facilities for Japanese traditional gardens and installed in an entry garden to a teahouse. It includes a low-height chozubachi (basin) provided for visitors to purify their hands before entering the teahouse, and several yaku-ishis (functional stones) arranged around the chozubachi. The term tsukubai literally means "stooping", and it is so named because one has to stoop down to wash one's hands using the chozubachi.

It is originated from a tea ceremony custom of visitors purifying their hands while stooping down. It also serves as a gate to enter a special area for tea ceremony, or the teahouse.

Structure of tsukubai

Those having a height which requires visitors to stoop down to use them are commonly called tsukubai. A traditional tsukubai provided beside a teahouse includes a "chozubachi (mizubachi) "at the center, three "yaku-ishis (a mae-ishi, a teshoku-ishi, and a yuoke-ishi)", and a "suimon (umi)".

It is also called a mizubachi (water bowl)
During tea ceremony, visitors purify themselves by washing their hands using a scoop of water from the chozubachi before entering the teahouse.

It is a front stone placed forward of the chozubachi. Visitors step on the stone when they wash their hands. (In some cases, another stone is provided forward of the mae-ishi. It is called a tobi-ishi.

It is a stone placed to the left (*) of the chozubachi. During night tea ceremony, a light (a candlestick, for example) is placed on the stone.

It is a stone placed to the right (*) of the chozubachi. When it is cold, a hot water bowl is placed on the stone for tea ceremony.

It is also called as an umi. It is an area on the ground surrounded by the chozubachi and yaku-ishis. It is covered with gravel, etc. in order to handle water spilled over the chozubachi.

* The left and right positioning of the teshoku-ishi and the yuoke-ishi varies depending on the school of tea ceremony.

A chozubachi, provided near a veranda of a building, for washing hands is called an ensaki-chozubachi or kazaribachimae. Unlike the tsukubai, the ensaki-chozubachi can be used while standing. For this reason, a tall chozubachi is commonly used as an ensaki-chozubachi, and if one of low height is used, it is placed on a stone stand.

Yaku-ishis for the ensaki-chozubachi include the following four types of stones.

A kagami-ishi is a stone placed between the ensaki-chozubachi and the open veranda in order to prevent water spilled over the ensaki-chozubachi from wetting the veranda. Stones having characteristics different from those of other yaku-ishis, such as ao-ishi (blue stone), are used.

It is a stone on which an attendant steps when he or she serves a scoop of water to his or her master to wash the hands. Those stones having a flat top surface are used.

It is a stone which is also called a nozoki-ishi, and is provided to maintain a balance with the mizukumi-ishi.

It is a stone used for cleaning, or replacing the water of, the chozubachi. It is often placed rearward of the chozubachi and arranged in a continuous manner with the tobi-ishi.

These yaku-ishis may be arranged the other way around, depending on whether the installation site is to the left or to the right of the veranda and whether the installation site is close to a sodegaki (low fence flanking the entrance).

It is said that the distance between the veranda and the chozubachi is preferably about 75 cm.

[Original Japanese]