A Japanese tea house in Sweden
The first Japanese tea house in Europe was built in 1935 in Stockholm, Sweden. It burnt down 34 years later, but in 1990 – 25 years ago – a new tea house was built, and it can be found in the garden of the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm Sweden. The museum has a collection of historical and cultural objects from all over the world, including a lot of items from Japan, and until spring 2016 there is an exhibition about Japan at the museum, called “Japan takes place“. We recently went to the exhibition, and we took the opportunity to attend a guided tour of the Japanese tea house, Zui ki tei. The name Zui ki tei (瑞暉亭) translates to “The dwelling of the light of promise” but it can also be read as Sweden and Japan.
A Japanese tea house, where you leave your worries behind
The Zui ki tei tea house was designed by Japanese architect Masao Nakamura. It was built in Japan, taken down, and re-built in Sweden and now stands in a garden next to the Museum of Ethnography, called “Dew’s ground“. During the summer months, when the trees and bushes are covered with green leaves, the tea house is quite well hidden. When you are standing in the garden, it actually feels like you’re cut off from the work outside. Everything is quiet and peaceful.
When you walk up to the tea house, you start by stepping on a stone and then walk along a pathway, and this symbolizes that you’re now leaving all the stress of your every day life, and stepping into the calm. You leave all your worries aside and slow down and enjoy the moment. Before entering the tea house garden you go through two gates, another symbol of leaving stress and entering the calm.
Tea Philpsophy and Wabi
Before you are invited into the tea house, you have a sit in the waiting hut. You can have a chat with your friends and you can enjoy your surroundings. Wabi is part of the tea philosophy, and it stands for “Appreciating the beauty of things that are simple and natural”. In the autumn when the leaves start to fall, the leaves are left on the ground. It’s all part of Wabi – that’s how nature is and it is enjoyed that way. The waiting hut wooden pillars are left raw and unpainted, another part of Wabi, they’re left to look just like nature. There is a stone lantern, used during darker evenings.
Entering the tea house
The photo below to the left is of the entrance to the tea house. All guests enter via this small door, no matter of your status. Even though there are different levels of statuses, this is a symbol of how we are all equal. Unless you’re part of the Emperor’s family, then you will enter via another, bigger, door.
The photo below to the right shows where the samurais leave their swords before they enter the tea house. The shorter shelf is for the seppuku / harakiri sword, the shorter sword a samurai would use for suicide to avoid shame.
The design of the tea house
Even though most tea houses may look very similar to an untrained eye, they are all very individually designed. This specific tea house is close to Djurgårdsbrunnsviken Bay, so the element of water has been incorporated into the design as waves along the sides. It recently went through a renovation and restoration process, by craftsmen from Yasuimoku Komuten Company from Kyoto. They used traditional Japanese tools when doing the restoration.
The tea house consists of two tea rooms. The smaller room is more simple and the bigger room is more formal. The sliding rice paper walls inside the house (which are not actually made of rice paper) are designed to block off what’s happening outside, but still let the light through. This is so you can concentrate on the moment and the tea ceremony, without any distractions.
The interior is kept simple. Tatami mats cover the floor, and there is a built in space called tokonoma where you display a piece of art to appreciate. It can be a painting, and it follows whatever is happening in nature at that specific time. For example, during autumn there could be a painting of a tree with falling leaves. It is also displaying a vase with a simple flower arrangement, ikebana.
The tea ceremony
The bigger room can take up to 20 guests, but because of the intimacy of the ceremony, the number is kept down to 12. The conversation is polite and typical discussions can be about the pottery that is being used. To study the Japanese tea ceremony takes years, and you study with the same master, you don’t change tea schools. Together with the Japanese Tea Society, you can attend beginner courses in the Japanese tea ceremony at the tea house in Stockholm. You can also host your own private tea ceremony for business events or family celebrations, or for a private experience of traditional Japanese culture. There are also open house days and demonstrations of the tea ceremony during the warmer half of the year, but you have to book beforehand to attend the demonstrations.
If you want to know more about Zui ki tei or Japanese tea houses in general, here are some links:
Museum of Ethnography
Zui ki tei tea house
Japanese Tea Society Sweden
Japanese tea ceremony