Tsukubai and chozubachi

A tsukubai is to be found in a tea garden and is formally composed of a wash basin, chouzubachi and Yaku-ishi, a number of special purpose stones. It has a background and often a garden lantern, tourou 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 [1] and the book by Bring and Wayembergh [3].

Front garden tsukubai

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.

1741 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 shaped".

coin kanji

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)  [3]. 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.

1024 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).
2130 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 garden.

The front-entrance door is to the left.

The pavement stones are a compromise between natural stone and affordable "look alikes".

Main garden tsukubai

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.
Water spout (Arjan Baan)

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.
The 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 inlay.

It is customary not only to keep a basin filled with clean water, but to "refresh" its surroundings with splashes of water.
1127 The 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.
0788 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.

Flowplayer is a free video player for the web.

Tsukubai and chozubachi examples

Our main garden tsukubai uses one of many ways to construct a water basin fountain.
How we constructed ours you see here: Constructing the Main Tsukubai and Turtle Island lakes.

This section shows a selection of fine authentic examples that all originate from Japan. These examples show how design principles and rules are applied and interpreted and how and what materials are used in genuine Japanese gardens. These examples should be of help and inspiration during realization of your own Japanese garden.
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.
The world famous Ryoan-ji Tsukubai in close-up.   The world famous Ryoan-ji (Kyoto) tsukubai in context.   A tsukubai next to the ginshanada in the Komyozen-ji Buddhist temple in Dazaifu, Fukuoka.   A heavy chozubachi, stone wash basin in Ryusui,in the garden of Ryoan-ji, Kyoto.   Chozubachi winter-cover in Taiko-an temple, Machida.   Chozubachi winter-cover in Taiko-an temple, Machida.   A cube-shaped chozubachi in Zuiho-in, Daitoku-ji sub-temple, Kyoto.   An extraordinary (extreme?) tsukubai composition and chozubachi in Housen-in, Kyoto.   A more traditional tsukubai setting with a more ordinary chozubachi in Housen-in, Kyoto.   Tsukubai next to the front-door of a private house in the center of Tokyo.   Tsukubai in Toji-in temple in Kyoto.   A close up of the bamboo utensils of the tsukubai in Toji-in temple in Kyoto.   The temple Chishaku-in in Kyoto   Chozubachi in the subtemple Ryogen-in in Daitoku-ji in Kyoto   The temple Kennen-ji in Kyoto   The subtemple Keishu-in in Myoshin-ji in Kyoto   The subtemple Taizo-in in Myoshin-ji in Kyoto   The subtemple Hojo-in in Nanzen-ji in Kyoto   The temple Sennyu-ji in Kyoto   Sokoku-ji in Kyoto   To-ji in Kyoto   Tofuku-ji in Kyoto   Isui-en in Nara

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.

Related to:
  The main garden compartment
  The front garden compartment

Most relevant related construction chapters

These are the most relevant related construction and build chapters.

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