The Roji (露地), meaning “dewy ground” in Japanese, refers to the garden path that leads to the Chashitsu, the tea room where the Japanese tea ceremony takes place. It serves as a transitional space, allowing participants to leave behind their worldly concerns and immerse themselves in the serene and mindful tea world. This article explores the development, features, and influence of the Roji, as well as its symbolic significance in creating a harmonious tea ceremony experience.
Development and Influential Figures
Sen no Rikyū, a renowned tea master, played a significant role in shaping the Roji’s development. His Myōki-an tea house, known for its diminutive size, featured a garden with a distinctive pine tree. Rikyū’s tea house in Sakai utilized hedges strategically placed to obscure the view, revealing it only to guests when they bent over the tsukubai, an ablution basin. Kobori Enshū, another influential practitioner, further contributed to the refinement of the Roji’s design.
Features and Elements
The Roji typically consists of an outer and inner garden, with a machiai, a waiting arbor, serving as a resting place for guests. Key features of the Roji include the tsukubai, where guests purify their hands and mouths before entering the tea room, and the tōrō, a lantern that adds a serene ambiance. Tobi ishi, carefully placed stepping stones, guide guests along the path, while a wicket gate marks the entrance to the tea room. Rather than employing ostentatious plantings, the Roji favors moss, ferns, and evergreens, occasionally complemented by ume (plum) and Japanese maple trees.
Symbolism and Influence
The Roji’s harmonious proportions, simple suggestiveness, and serene atmosphere have had a significant influence beyond the tea ceremony realm. It serves as a model for domestic Japanese courtyard gardens, inspiring the design of tranquil spaces that promote tranquility and contemplation.
Beyond the Tea Ceremony
In the works of Japanese writer Nakagami Kenji, the term “roji” also takes on a different meaning. In this context, it refers to an alley and can be understood as a euphemism for the buraku ghettos, where burakumin people historically resided.
The Roji, with its meticulous design and thoughtful elements such as tobi ishi and tsukubai, creates a captivating and serene pathway to the tea room. Its influence extends to Japanese courtyard gardens, emphasizing simplicity and a sense of harmony. Whether appreciating the Roji’s beauty within the context of a tea ceremony or exploring its symbolic significance, this garden path holds a special place in Japanese culture as a tranquil gateway from the bustling world to the serenity of tea.