This is the first of a multi-installment posting that will track the progress of the construction of a traditional tea garden (roji) at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, CA.
The immediate work of garden design and construction is being directed by master gardener Hoshino-san of Ogata Kai, a professional gardening organization from Japan. The Ogata Kai group will be working at the tea house site for one week in February 2018 with the intent of completing placement of key elements of the garden, including the footing for the waiting arbor (machiai) that Kezurou-kai USA will later construct. The all-volunteer team will consist of members of Ogata Kai leading the work with members of Kezurou-kai USA and Hakone Gardens staff and volunteers supporting Ogata Kai. During this one week of intensive work, Hoshino-san estimates that 200 hours of labor will be required. This work has already begun.
But let's back up and fill in how we got to this point. The stimulus that got everything going was a request from the Hakone Dai Chakai, a tea ceremony group, that needed help designing and building a garden for Hakone Garden upper tea house, Shogetsu-an. The tea house was donated by a famous tea person from Osaka, and shipped to California in 1999. So while the tea house went up quickly, the garden for the tea house has been 19 years in the making. The design and planning work has been a cooperative effort of many individuals and groups in both Japan and the US, but a garden design has now been approved by the Hakone Foundation and work is to proceed.
The Shogetsu-an tea house is located 150’ above the Moon Viewing (upper) House at Hakone Gardens. The isolated location on a steep hillside will require quite a bit of coordination and substantial soil movement. While the garden is relatively small by western standards it has many hard-scape details which are intrinsic parts of the design.
The tea house is used four or five times a year for special events focused on the tea schools from around the region in their gathering called Dai-cha kai Hakone, or large tea gathering event. The tea room is also used as a special seasonal destination for intimate groups. During the Dai Cha-kai events, the formal tea ceremony is performed in the three-mat room, several times in rotation. This is typical of the way similar buildings would be used in Japan today. Participants in an actual tea ceremony would usually gather and wait for about twenty minutes prior to the tea ceremony in a separated waiting arbor (machiai). It is this machiai that has so far been absent at the Shogetsu-an garden. Such a structure needs to be located precisely so that the participants are not conflicting with the activities of the final preparations happening in the actual tea room.
Traditionally the tea master would prepare the room by careful sweeping and lighting incense, stirring the charcoal brazier a few minutes before inviting the guests to walk from the machiai to the tsukubai, a hand washing basin. The spatial design of the area has to result in an uncrowded approach, as it is considered the "pathway for spiritual preparation" before entering the tea room.
Each guest must allow privacy, or proportional space between themselves and those who are ahead of them on the pathway leading from the waiting room to the tea house. Stepping stones are placed in such a way as to create the illusion of a large transitional space between the waiting areas, hand cleansing area, and stoop-entry-doorway nigiriguchi, of the tea room. These are but some of the considerations taken into the design of a typical tea room garden.
About Ogata Kai:
Ogata Kai is a group of some forty gardening professionals who have visited the US more than fifteen times donating their services to many public Japanese gardens in an effort to promote authentic Japanese garden architecture and design. They usually plan their travel for several years and always have a seasoned team of professionals who have cultural ties with the gardens they work on. This team has traveled to Hakone Gardens three times before, and worked on the existing Hakone tea gardens at the Lower House. The team they will bring for this project consists of eight professionals, who will be housed by members of the Saratoga Rotary Club and Sister City Committees.