If you have one teapot
And can brew your tea in it
That will do quite well.
How much does he lack himself
Who must have a lot of things?
— Sen no Rikyu
Chashitsu is the Japanese term for a tea room. It is a little hut, resembling a house, where Japanese tea ceremonies (chanoyu) would take place. Following tradition, matcha green tea is always served in the chashitsu, alongside with some simple sweets prepared by the tea master. It is said that chashitsu started appearing during the Sengoku period (mid-15th century to early 17th century). Before then, tea was commonly enjoyed in separate rooms and not in individual tea huts.
Chashitsu at Jikkoin Temple in Ohara, Kyoto
What Are The Characteristics of a Chashitsu?
Chashitsu are built similarly to old fashioned Japanese homes. There are always shoji windows and sliding doors (made of translucent Japanese paper), tatami mats, a tokonoma alcove (for item appreciation), and a sunken hearth for the charcoal and the brazier. The overall style is consistent and straightforward with the Zen mindset. Minimal with subdued colors.
Most chashitsu are the size of four and a half tatami mats, which is roughly 80 square feet. These are commonly separated into two rooms — one where guests are received and one where the tea master prepares the equipment, tea, and sweets.
Leading to the chashitsu is a roji (garden). The roji is simple and Zen, like the chashitsu itself. Guests often spend extended periods of time in the roji, in silent meditation and contemplation. The roji is a literal and symbolical pathway to the chashitsu. Coming from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the roji allows you to leave all daily thoughts before entering the chashitsu.
Back in the day, samurai would leave their swords outside of the chashitsu before entering. Leaving behind all duties and quarrels.
Outside of the chashitsu is always a water basin. It is for guests to wash their hands and mouth — a sign of purification still practiced at Japanese shrines and temples. Once crossing the border of the chashitsu, all common thoughts are left behind. The time and space are now reserved exclusively for the appreciation of nature, art, and tea.
Chashitsu can be located on private house grounds, as well as temple and museum grounds. During the Sengoku period, when the country was in pure chaos with a lack of a powerful centralized government, chashitsu were mostly built by Zen monks and samurai. To bring some peace and tranquility amongst all the war and chaos.
Decorations within the tea hut are minimal and located in the tokonoma alcove. These decorations are limited to a hanging scroll with calligraphy, and a simple flower arrangement called a chabana (tea flowers). These items are chosen daily by the tea master, often following the season and occasion. After entering the chashitsu, the guests will spend some time admiring these decorations. Otherwise, the room will be bare with nothing to catch one’s eye on. Wabi-Sabi is observed.
The chashitsu is usually reserved for three people only. The tea master, the main guest, and one more guest who the main guest will chose to bring along. The main guest is always honored first, after which the secondary guest will be served. The secondary guest must follow the main guest's lead when being served, and especially when requesting more tea.
To read more on how to observe tea ceremony practices within a chashitsu, please read Simplicity And Seasonality In Japanese Tea Ceremony.