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Teahouse at the Asian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum’s teahouse was designed by architect Osamu Sato as a functioning teahouse, as well as a display case. It is a three and three-quarters (sanjo daime) mat room. It is complete with an alcove for the display of a scroll and flowers, an electric-powered sunken hearth used in winter for the hot water kettle, and a functioning preparation area (mizuya) with fresh running water and drain. Its three interior ceiling levels display three different ceiling treatments.  The teahouse has a sliding glass front that opens fully when in use for live tea demonstrations, but secures the space as a display case when not in use. It was constructed in Kyoto by the distinguished firm Nakamura Sotoji Komuten, long famous for refined traditional Japanese architecture built by specially trained, artisan carpenters and craftsmen. In September 2002, the teahouse was installed in the museum’s second-floor collections gallery devoted to Japanese art. Four carpenters came from Kyoto to construct the teahouse and apply the final wall finishes. Learn more about this teahouse on the Asian Art Museum's education website.

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Video transcript

The Japanese tearoom is specifically built for the tea ceremony, a vibrant living practice.   This handcrafted structure creates a rustic environment for tea, and is a work of art in itself. The tearoom at the Asian Art Museum was designed to fit into the gallery space, and is fully functional. It has an electric burner to heat water for tea, and a kitchen, or "mizuya," with running fresh water. The lighting coming through the windows is timed to simulate natural light. There is a morning, afternoon, and evening setting. The alcove, or "tokonoma," is a special area for the display of objects, selected to set the theme and stimulate conversation in the tea gathering. A calligraphy scroll, flowers, and incense container are among the items that might be placed here. The tearoom was constructed at Nakamura Sotoji in Kyoto. Mr. Nakamura's workshop was chosen for its renown for making high quality, traditional Japanese buildings, and because of its stock of beautiful and rare woods collected over generations. A variety of woods are used in the tearoom: cedar, cypress, pine, bamboo, and camellia. This wood is carefully selected and then weathered and dried over a period of time. Tearoom artisans are trained in a Kyoto carpentry tradition called "teahouse-style building." In keeping with tradition, the museum's tearoom was built using handcrafted joinery techniques. The architect Osamu Sato and four highly specialized artisans came from Japan in September of 2002. They spent two weeks in San Francisco assembling the tearoom, which had been shipped in pieces from Kyoto. Once in the U.S., some pieces were cut to fit to account for the wood shrinking or expanding during transit. The three layers and final coat of wall plastering were also applied here. The installation of the tatami mat flooring provided the finishing touch. The Asian Art Museum's tearoom, used both for the display of objects and tea gatherings,   provides a living environment where one may experience tea and study its related arts.