The teahouse called “Tai-an” is inside a small temple called “Myoki-an” slightly outside Kyoto. Tai-an is designated as a Japanese national treasure, as it is the only extant teahouse designed by Sen no Rikyu, who was pivotal in the development of Japanese aesthetics and whose influence went beyond the tea ceremony. It is the oldest teahouse in Japan.
I learned of Tai-an two years ago, but there was not a lot of information about it. I could only find a few pictures which seemed old, and I was unsure where it was, what it looked like, and whether you could visit it.
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect, I thought that maybe it would not have an effect on me. After all, it is only a small two-tatami empty teahouse. I did not know where it was or it what condition it would be.
I am grateful for visiting Tai-an, where I was charmed not only by the teahouse but also by those who take care of it at Myoki-an. The temple is really small, perhaps like a large house with a garden. Yet, a throw’s stone away from the JR station, in this small temple, there is this historic and serene teahouse, next to a third-generation pine tree called (Sode-surino-matsu, the old pine tree), in the middle of a small moss garden.
I was given a private your by the son of the temple, who is perhaps around my age. Upon seeing that I was genuinely interested, we spoke for half an hour through Google translate. He told me that this small temple is run by a family of 5. He lives at the temple and works there, but he also studies growing matsutake mushrooms. I was surprised at how nice the small garden was, with the moss extremely luscious even in the winter and the garden being extremely clean and well-maintained. He told me that he spends one hour every day cleaning up the small garden and picking up the fallen leaves.
I would say the tea house was in pristine condition. Inside the tea room, the calligraphy says the name of the temple, and a small wooden plaque on the ceiling says the name of the tea house, Tai-an. I think the tea room looked big even though it is only two tatami, plus the tokonoma and preparation room. It was made for one-on-one meetings.
Tai-an and Myoki-an was all about simplicity. Myoki-an is only a large house with a tea room in a small garden, yet everything is of the highest quality and ultimate simplicity. I think this is what temples were meant to be.
At the entrance, three shodo were on sale. They were made by the grandfather of the family, which passed away. One calligraphy said "古今無二路", meaning: “There was never two ways”. Another calligraphy said something like: “the sound of the wind on the bamboo leaves”. The last calligraphy said: “春(spring) 千林 (thousands of woods) 処々(everywhere) 花 (flower)”, literally meaning: “In spring, flowers bloom everywhere”. Two of these Zen sayings speak of nature, and perhaps metaphorically of the state of mind necessary to see the true nature. The other saying is quite mysterious and can be interpreted in many ways.
I was touched by the simplicity of this temple and tea house. We build incredible castles today, but will they stand the test of time? And do they truly fulfill us? Maybe there is something special at this small temple where you don't take pictures, that requires an appointment by postcard, with an empty tea house taken care of by a family of five, and whose grandfather left some hand-written Zen sayings after a life in Zen Buddhism.
Simplicity is always best and always what is most difficult.
Reservations: Ask your concierge to send a return postcard (往復, ofuku hagaki) one month in advance. Pictures are not allowed. The temple would prefer if you go with a Japanese speaker. You can also ask this website to send the postcard for you, which is what I did.
Entrance fee is 1,000円.
Address: 56 Ryuko, Oyamazaki-cho, Otokuni-gun, Kyoto Postal code 618-0071.
Directions: You can see the temple from the Yamazaki station. Alternatively, it is 3 minutes walking from Oyamazaki station. (It takes 15 minutes from Kyoto station)
The only true voyage of discovery would be not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes.
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