A tsukubai is to be found in a tea garden and is formally composed of a
Yaku-ishi, a number of special purpose
stones. It has a background and often a garden
or more often as
ishi doro. The term
tsukubai refers to the whole of this
composition as such. The tsukubai or crouching bowl,
literally "stooping basin" was designed to humble guest
and create the right state of mind before guests joined the tea ceremony.
Many Japanese gardens today have both the chozubachi
and tsukubai and are often fed with water from a
bamboo spout called "kakei".
Although Tsubo-en is not at all a tea garden as such, we did not want to do without some of the elements originating from or developed to perfection to serve the Japanese tea ceremony. In Tsubo-en we have two tsukubai. The most simple version in the front garden and a more complete composition in the back of the main garden compartment. Details on the construction mostly came from two books, the one by Wybe Kuitert  and the book by Bring and Wayembergh .
The tsukubai in the front garden is a composition of rocks, plants and a chouzubachi (ceremonial stone water basin) positioned at the front entrance close to the door.
The stone that lies behind the red maple (see
later) Tamukeyama (Acer
palmatum disectum garnet) is one of the few
stones in Tsubo-en.
Center-bottom: an over ten year old Asplenium trichomanes, Maidenhair Spleenwort fern (Dutch: steenbreekvaren).
To the left of the chouzubachi and the buxus you can just see the (Chinese or Lacebark) Elm.
Photo taken in spring 2008.
This specific water basin is called a
zenigata mizubachi, literally "coin
This chouzubachi is a so called shizenseki chouzubachi (made of natural stone) and a look alike of the one found in the Ryoan-ji temple garden at Kyõto. The shape was based on an old-fashioned Chinese coin, a circle representing heaven (yang), pierced by a square hole representing earth (yin) . The original is said to have been contributed by Mitsukuni Tokugawa (1628-1700), a feudal lord and the compiler of the great History of Japan known as "Dainippon-shi".
Viewed from above, the water basin has a fascinating inscription. Read clockwise from the left side, the characters mean: arrow, five, short-tailed bird. The fourth and last character, at the bottom, has no meaning on its own, and that is the clue. In combination with the square opening of the basin, it forms the character for sufficient. In fact, the mouth of the basin is an integral part of the inscription. Each character combines with it to form a completely different one.
The inscription of kanji combined with the square opening of the basin: Ware Tada Shiru Taru also seen as Ware Tada Taru wo Shiru. Roughly translated, this means "I know only satisfaction" or "I am content with what I have" or "I alone know I am content with things". The text is now found often on water basins in Japan. This is a Zen saying that can also be interpreted as: "If you learn to be content, you are rich in spirit!" or "I learn only to be contented". He who learns only to be contented is spiritually rich, while the one who does not learn to be contented is spiritually poor even if he is materially wealthy. This is an important concept in Zen philosophy, knowledge for its own sake is sufficient. A person who learns to become content is rich in spirit, even if not in material terms. The more you think about it, the deeper its meaning becomes. Just like the rock garden, if all you can see is a pile of rubble, you have missed the point.
In Netherlands rocks are rarely found. This is
an original stone in that it was found close to
our house in this ground that was "taken from
the sea" only around 1942 (also see: Where we live). It is said
to have got here from Scandinavia during the
second last glacial period (200,000 year ago),
transported by a glacier.
In the top (back) you see the Ulmus parvifolia"seijn" (Chinese or Lacebark Elm).
This photo better shows the
Ulmus parvifolia "seijn" (Chinese or
Lacebark Elm) and the main entrance path (roji)
that leads to the "Turtle island" and the main
The front-entrance door is to the left.
The pavement stones are a compromise between natural stone and affordable "look alikes".
The tsukubai in the main garden, next to the veranda,
is more complete in that it has more components,
utensils and streaming water. This tsukubai also gets
its outfit adapted to winter conditions.
Here we use a hakamazuri-ishi or tsukubai-ishi (also mae-ishi) as the front step stone, a candlestick stone ( teshoku-ishi , the higher one on the left) and a warm water-pail stone, ( yuoke-ishi, on the right) from the Yaku-ishi, special purpose stone-set of the tsukubai.
The tsukubai next to the veranda in operating
mode (in summer here).
On the candlestick stone the
bamboo ladle or dipper, "hishaku,
ready for use.
The ladle is used to take water from the chozubachi.
Via the bamboo spout, "kakei", water is continuously replenished to overflow the chozubachi.
In the back a red maple Tamukeyama (Acer palmatum "Bloodgood" ) that stands in between the chouzubachi and the Juniperusmedia "bleu" as the backdrop.
Bottom-right: Asplenium trichomanes, Maidenhair Spleenwort fern (Dutch: steenbreekvaren) in front of the karikomi shaped Buxus sempervirens. The bamboo left to the water basin is Pleioblastus pygmaeus.
hakamazuri-ishi or tsukubai-ishi (also
mae-ishi) as the front step stone has a
metal version of the "coin" as described for
the front garden tsukubai, chiselt in as an
It is customary not only to keep a basin filled with clean water, but to "refresh" its surroundings with splashes of water.
tsukubai (ceremonial water basin
facility) in its winter mode.
In front of the tsukubai ground area you see Asplenium scolopendrium, syn. Ceterach scolopendrium Hart's-tongue Fern (Dutch: tongvaren).
The "nach-ishi", black stones (the pebbles) where collected from around the globe.
|Here not only in winter-mode but in the middle of winter weather.|
Below you can see and hear the chouzubachi (water basin) in action in tandem with some of "our" birds.
Note: The examples will only display correctly after the page has fully loaded !
Part of these photos is from our own trips others
have been collected from different sources, including
but not limited to the Internet.
New examples will be frequently added.
In Japan, most water basins are fed with fresh water
through a bamboo fountain where water flows over the
basin into a hidden reservoir that contains a drain
pipe. Our construction is different from that as we
describe in the construction chapter.