Calmed by rippling water

The Sagawa Art Museum is located in Moriyama along the shores of Lake Biwa. Its Raku Kichizaemon Pavilion was designed by Raku Jikinyu, the fifteenth generation of the Raku family, and was completed in 2007. This gallery, expressing a contemporary sensibility towards the tea ceremony, is a manifestation of the artist’s aesthetic sense, and also a space for his activities. The museum's distinctive feature is its magnificent water garden, which appears much like a lake. Below ground, there is a hall, five exhibition rooms, an anteroom, a waiting room, a stone wash basin, a tea ceremony space with a koma (small room) and a hiroma (large room), and a passageway leading to these rooms.

The guests are not immediately ushered into the tea room, but first prepare themselves in the anteroom, known as the yoritsuki, where they store any belongings not needed for the tea ceremony in a furoshiki (wrapping cloth) and change into tabi (split-toe socks). Next, they are taken to the waiting room (machiai) where they await the other guests’ arrival.

The surrounding water garden is dotted with floating islands of greenery: a mixed planting space of reeds and cattails. A chashitsu (teahouse) is a different world that exists in ordinary daily life, and these plantings seemed to function as a boundary between the large space of a modern art museum and this isolated other dimension. I timed my visit to allow me a dawn view of the pavilion’s exterior. Reeds and cattails, which thrive vigorously in summer, obscured all but the roof. From this serene outward appearance, we get our first sense of this facility’s unique feature: that most of it stands underground, below the water's surface.

In the deepest part of the underground, there is a hall and a group of exhibition rooms. Here, Raku Jikinyu's work and activities are presented, revealing his influences and inspirations, from regions to handicrafts to collaborations with other artists. Here, I sensed the aura of the artist, struggling with the over 400 years of tradition of the Raku family and the tea ceremony, and with the concept of shuhari, the three stages of learning an art from a master: shu-following; ha-breaking out; ri-separating. The artist's close association with antique Balinese wood carvings is particularly interesting, as is his devotion to the use of recycled Balinese wood in the details of the entire pavilion.

The luminous interior of the museum, evoking the shimmering surface of the water, makes it apparent that it was designed to highlight the sensation of being in a deep underwater space. The hall that is the first large space one encounters downstairs, is a large minimalist space with black concrete walls and a North American pine floor. The surface of the black concrete bears the marks of the cedar planks used for the formwork. Around noon, the wavering light falls like a waterfall through the glass on the upper level of the space, which is a large black wall when viewed in a retracted position.

The passageway is lined with railroad ties, and the light shining through the partial slits on the cylindrical concrete wall deeply penetrates the shadows of the space. The waiting area before the koma is a bright void-like opening, where dazzling direct light reflects off the water film dripping along the wall and glistens. After stepping along the black stones, I seated myself on a rustic bench and admired the waterscape for a while. The passageway that then leads to the small room darkens completely, and a black stone basin buried in the earth stands by quietly in the darkness.

The koma known as Banda-an, is a 3.5-mat space. The space, like underwater shadows, emerges in the pale light that arrives as the reflection of the water surface is filtered through the washi paper. The alcove and alcove post are both recycled Balinese wood. After a short time in the dim interior, one senses that the sacred aura of this ancient wood may penetrate one’s very being. When participating in the tea ceremony, it must be pleasant to enjoy koicha (dark matcha) and a traditional kaiseki-ryori meal here. Suddenly I was visited by a vision of a scene in which Jikinyu’s teaware and tea ceremony utensils shone in their element in this lustrous dark space in the water’s depths.

When you go up to the large room, Fugyoken, it is completely bright. This space is open to the outside. It is at the same level as the ground and the water, and rippling light reflected off of the surface of the water seems to warp and sway the eaves and ceiling of the room. The transition from the dark small room at the bottom of the water to the spacious room with its undulating light is dramatic. Presumably, the artist intended the end of the tea ceremony to be in the evening, when guests enjoy a bowl of weak tea; the low light flows into the room like waves, intensifying the orderliness of the tatami mats and the constructivist alcove.

Black stones imported from Zimbabwe are arranged between the water surface and the tatami mats. The texture of the stone suggests nature’s providence, but the precision of the elaborate and meticulous masonry form also conveys the keen sensibilities of stone garden artisans. Tatami mats are exquisitely and precisely fitted between the stones. There are various means available to divide the spacious tea room, including hanging shoji screens and latticed shutters, but I felt the most original and wonderful perspective was that offered by opening all the partitions and looking out from the area by the alcove.



2891, Kitagawa, Mizuho-cho, Moriyama-shi, Shiga