Chozubachi – Hachimae – Tsukubai: Water basins

The next garden element on my list is the water basin!

I guess, the best-known examples for these water basins are the ones in front of Japanese shrines but also the ones in Japanese tea gardens.

Both are meant to symbolically purify oneself before entering a special place. To fulfill this, we are washing our hands and rinsing our mouth in a special way.
Purifying has deep roots in Japanese culture until today. For example, the public apologizing of leaders or famous people in Japanese television is a form of purifying and less a real apology.

Only at the end of the Edo period (1603-1868), the water basins found their way as decorative elements from tea gardens into private gardens.


Different uses

Hachimae FundainThe traditional Japanese house often had its toilet in a small room next to the main house. A corridor or veranda made it possible to reach it without touching the ground.
In front of the toilet, next to the veranda, a water basin was placed to be able to wash the hands after visiting. Of course, the basins had to be high and were often hewn in a cylindrical shape. These water basins, placed in front of a veranda, are called Hachimae 鉢前.


In Shrines, a Chouzubachi 手水鉢 is placed in the Chouzuya. Chouzubachi is the general term for a water basin and the term is also used for the low water basins in (Japanese) gardens.


Such a Chouzubachi is also used in a tea garden. However, the whole arrangement including drainage, water supply, accompanying stones, etc. is called a Tsukubai 蹲踞.


Different styles

There are several different styles of Chouzubachi: round ones, square ones, with carvings or without. These can be put into three main categories: original water basins, recycled basins, and natural basins.

Ryoanji Original Original basins (Sousaku Chouzubachi) were designed and carved for one customer. If the place is public and famous, other places might copy this style. However, it usually is known under the name of its original place. A good example is the water basin of Ginkaku-ji which is known under the name Ginkakuji-gata Chouzubachi or the one in Ryouan-ji (picture).

Recycled Water Basin with BuddhaRecycled basins (Mitatemono Chouzubachi) can have various different shapes since they are made of previously existing objects like stupas, lanterns, foundation stones, millstones, and so on. Into these existing objects, a Mizuana (water hole) was carved and made it into a water basin.
Famous are the water basins with Buddha carvings on the four sides. They are called Shihobutsu-gata Chouzubachi.
During the try to make Shinto a state religion, many Buddhist temples became abandoned and elements from these temples like lanterns or stupas made it into gardens through people who collected them.

Natural water basinNatural stone basins (Shizenseki Chouzubachi) are, like the name suggests, made of natural stones with the Mizuana carved in.


Use in the garden

A water basin is essential in a tea garden which is used in an intended way. There, it is placed next to the pathway leading to the entrance to the teahouse.

Else, there is no restriction on how to use a water basin in a garden since it is a mere decorative element.

Of course, meaning can be added by putting it in a place where we want to wash our hands in the garden like next to a sitting area where we use to eat. Another meaning can be added by placing it in an area where birds like to be. A water basin can provide a nice place for birds to bathe and drink.

Parts of the Tsukubai

The Tsukubai in a tea garden is always made of the same four essential parts but not of the same layout.
These essential stones are yakuishi, stones that serve a function while being aesthetically pleasing.

Tsukubai Parts ExplanationThe first essential part is the Chouzubachi water basin. In front of it, we find an area (Suimon 水門 or Umi 海) covered with cobblestones. Here, the water from the water basin is drained.

To the right side of the drain is a flat rock called Teshoku ishi (手燭石) it was meant as a place to put a small hand-held lantern while using the Tsukubai.

On the left of the drain is another flat rock, called the Yuoke ishi (湯おけ石). Here, a container for water could be placed since not every Tsukubai has an automated water supply. The water in the handwashing basin was filled manually from the container before the guests arrived. The rock is often set as an extension of the tobiishi path leading to the Tsukubai.
Depending on the setting it can change sides with the Teshoku ishi.

In front of the drain and opposite to the Chouzubachi is the Mae ishi or Zenseki (前石).

Sometimes, a lantern (石灯籠) is set in the background of the Tsukubai.


Different Tsukubai Layouts

We find two main layouts of Tsukubai in the tea garden.

Mukoubachi TsukubaiOne is called Mukoubachi (向鉢). Here, the water basin is set at the border to the Suimon area, opposite to the Maeishi.

Chuubachi TsukubaiThe other one is called Chuubachi (中鉢). Here, the water basin is set in the middle of the Suimon area. This is often the case when the water basin is not natural and meant to be seen.

However, next to these two, there are other layouts existing.

nagare no tsukubaiHave you ever seen a Tsukubai placed in a stream? These are called Nagare no Tsukubai (流れの蹲踞) and they exist within real streams but also in dry riverbed.

Another form of the Tsukubai is the Ori Tsukubai (降り蹲踞). This is used as a drainage for the garden. A deep hole was dug (up to 3m) and filled with cobblestones. A hand washing basin was placed on top.
It is necessary to wash all the cobblestones every few years to guarantee the drainage still working.

Layout of a Hachimae

The arrangement of the Hachimae is looking a little bit different than the Tsukubai.

To the left of the arrangement is the Mizukumi ishi (水汲石) and to the left the Shoujou seki (清浄石).

While the Mizukumi ishi is flat to stand on while using the basin, the Shoujou seki isn’t, it is a standing rock and creates the balance towards the Mizukumi ishi.

Another rock called the Mizuage ishi (水揚石) is placed behind the water basin. This one is used similarly to the Yuoke ishi to place a water container that is used for filling the water basin or for cleaning.

The Mae ishi is replaced by the Kagami ishi (蟄石). This rock has the purpose to block water, which is splashing from the Suimon. This protects the building from becoming wet.


This article was first published on Patreon!



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