|Tokonoma written in kanji and hiragana|
The TokonomaLike the fireplace mantel in a Western-style living room, the tokonoma is a focal point. It is a small recessed area in one corner of the room, usually raised a few inches from the main floor of the room. Its size depends on the dimensions of the room. In general, it is about the size of a quarter or half of a full-sized tatami mat. One outer corner may be a decorative pillar called tokobashira, made of some unusual gnarled wood, specially shaped and polished. The "floor" of the tokonoma is generally covered with tatami, but it can be plain wood, or wood surfaced with black lacquer.
|Tokonoma in a famous teahouse with a decorative |
pillar of gnarled wood on the right. The scroll has only
one "grass style" character. There are no flowers in
the tokonoma because there is no tea ceremony going on.
|This simple tokonoma has a lacquered wood|
floor. The simple ikebana flower arrangement
is suitable for a tea ceremony.
The tokonoma is a feature of the Shoin-zukuri residential architectural style, which originated in the Kamakura Period (1192-1333). Characteristics of this style were the incorporation of square wooden posts in rooms, and rooms that were completely covered with "permanent" tatami mats. The word shoin originally meant a study or place for lectures at a Buddhist temple, but later it came to mean "drawing room" or "study." This style was used in the homes of military leaders and Zen abbots' quarters. In Buddhist priests' homes, there was a small, private alter called butsudan, which was a small alcove containing a narrow wooden table, on which was placed an incense burner, votive candles, and flower vases in front of a hanging scroll.
|The size of the tokonoma fits the size of the room. This|
tearoom is at least 10 mats, maybe more, so the
tokonoma is huge.
|I love the bonsai display in this tokonoma.|
In a tea ceremony, or when a guest visits the home, the most important guest is sitting near the tokonoma, which is always as far away from the door as possible. (The door is the least "honorable" place in the room, and the tokonoma the most "honorable.") The guest is invited to sit with his back to the tokonoma, so if you are invited to sit there, admire the tokonoma first before sitting down. The reason that the honored guest sits with his back to the focal point of the room, rather than being seated in a position to admire it, is that the host doesn't want to seem too proud or arrogant, since the items in the tokonoma are likely to be expensive art objects. Also, I was told that since the tokonoma is the focal point of the room, everyone looks there, so you place the most honored guest in a space that everyone wants to look toward. That makes sense.
|Many rooms have a space next to the tokonoma for |
storage and display like the one shown above. Other rooms have a closet
with sliding doors, just for storage.
Hanging ScrollsHanging scrolls are called kakemono or kakejiku. They are usually mounted on a brocade fabric so that they can be rolled up for storage when not in use. There are scrolls in Japan whose width is longer than their length, but these are not used for the tea ceremony. Only the vertical scrolls (tatejiku) are used, and they are always intended to be hung vertically. Their purpose in a tea ceremony is to set the mood, in a spiritual sense. The first thing the tea guests do is to examine and remark on the scroll and accompanying flower arrangement in the tokonoma, since they know their host has gone to a lot of trouble to find just the right things to display there. The scroll will most likely also be the subject of conversation when the tea has been served.
|Kohitsu scroll with|
|Gasan scroll with|
famous tea master
The paintings may be kara-e, which show scenes of nature in China, suiboku, charcoal paintings, or nanga paintings from the period of Japanese history known as the Edo Period (1603-1867). If paintings are used for the tea ceremony, they must be seasonally appropriate images. Nature images generally include landscapes, flowers, and birds.
|Kara-e scroll with Chinese nature scene|
|Suiboku are scrolls with scenes painted entirely in charcoal.|
|Nanga style scrolls look a lot like suiboku. They were done by|
artists who considered themseles literati in the late Edo Period (1603-1867).
|Another vintage suiboku style hanging done all in charcoal.|
|The calligrapher is writing the character for love.|
There are three styles of calligraphy. One is kaisho, or "correct writing," in which the character is written precisely, with each stroke made separately. When writing Chinese characters, one "stroke" means the line you make from the time your writing instrument hits the paper until you lift it from the paper. Strokes have to be made in a particular order, or the character won't look right. This is the first style that anybody learns, and anybody who can read a particular character in printed style can also read the character in kaisho style. All Japanese school children are taught this style of calligraphy.
Here is the character for yume, or "dream." On the left is the kaisho style calligraphy, and on the left is the character as it is printed in books.
|Kaisho style of calligraphy. Correct writing.|
|Gyōsho style of calligraphy. Traveling writing.|
The third style is sōsho, or "grass writing." In this style, the brush rarely leaves the paper, and the character becomes somewhat simplified. Form is more important than readability, and generally speaking, only trained calligraphers can read these. These characters are intended as works of art, rather than as a means of communication.
|Sōsho style of calligraphy. Grass writing.|