Bringing the world of tea to cities and nature all around the globe with a portable tearoom. Kian – a tearoom that returns to the origin. [Masayuki Inaida and the abbot Seizan Toda]

The Tearoom

​​The tearoom is a space that marks the culmination of the all-encompassing art called the tea ceremony. While the word tearoom is widely known, most people have never set their foot in it and see it as a sacred place. Unlike coffee, it is a given thing that tea in Japan is free. But a tearoom is a sacred place, where reciprocity is the charm of tea. This seems to be a contradiction.

Kian – the bamboo tearoom we are introducing this time is a minimalistic and extremely mobile tearoom. The total weight of it is only 5.5 kg. It is possible to carry it up the mountain or even take it as checked luggage abroad.

Rather than setting up a garden around a tearoom to recreate nature, the tearoom can be brought out into nature that organically becomes a garden. This structure, created using only the minimum amount of bamboo, is really simple and imperfect. But imperfection is the very space where the aesthetics of “wabi” dwell.

We interviewed Masayuki Inaida, the creator of Kian, and Seizan Toda, the abbot of Daitokuji Daijin temple in Kyoto, who are expanding the world of the tea ceremony by bringing the tearoom that once was a sacred place to cities and nature around the globe.

Masayuki Inaida

Born in Toyonaka City, Osaka in 1976, Inaida-san lives and works in Kyoto. After graduating from Doshisha University and working for a precision machinery manufacturer, he was attracted by the charm of sukiya-style architecture that coexists with nature and entered the field of architecture. Inaida-san went to Yamanaka Construction Co., Ltd., the official supplier of Daihonzan Daitokuji Temple. To convey to the world the unique spatial beauty of wabi-sabi found in tea ceremony rooms, he created the Kian – a bamboo tea ceremony room that can be carried and assembled by one person. Inaida-san has assembled Kian in various places around the world to enjoy tea while feeling the nature.

Seizan Toda

Born in Kyoto in 1967, Toda-san is the abbot of Daitokuji Dajin Temple. After graduating from Doshisha University and working for an accounting firm, he entered the Buddhist path. Toda-san spent five and a half years in the monasteries of Tenryuji and Daitokuji Temples. He has also taught Zen meditation and recited sutra at churches in France and Germany. Toda-san loves hiking in the mountains, making tea at Kian, where he can enjoy tea while feeling nature, and admiring the four seasons in Japan.

Tea tastes even better outside. Kian, the bamboo tearoom, was born from this idea

Q: Please tell us how you got the idea for Kian.

Inaida: I often build indoor tearooms for my work, and every time I build one, I find myself wondering, “Would the tea taste good in this room?”

Inaida-san carrying Kian on his shoulders.

Don’t you think onigiri eaten in nature tastes better than eaten indoors? I thought it might be the same with tea. It all started from the thought that it would be nice to be able to drink tea in nature.

Q: Toda-san what impression did you have when you first heard about the idea for Kian from Inaida-san?

Toda: I thought it was interesting and I wanted to try drinking tea in nature.

The idea of tea is that it is a “mountain residence in the city”. It means that even if you live in the city, you should try to incorporate nature into your life.

Abbot Toda-san is making tea in the tearoom of Daitokuji Daijin temple.

Daitokuji Temple also has a tearoom. I think it is more common for the tearoom to be inside a building, and nature to be brought in as an element from outside. Flowers are brought from the outside and arranged.

Inaida-san suggested that we should just go closer to nature ourselves. This was an interesting way of thinking and we decided to work together.

Q: Please tell us about the origin of naming the bamboo tearoom Kian.

Inaida: We named it Kian after the character “ki” that means “return to origin”.

Inaida-san enjoying tea at Hyde Park in London, UK.

My interpretation of “returning to origin” is that humans are a part of nature. I thought it would be great if people could feel that they are part of nature even when just drinking tea.

Q: How did you arrive at the form of the bamboo tearoom?

Inaida: One of the requests from Toda-san was that one person would be able to carry the tearoom. I also wanted to go to Rome, so in order to take the tearoom overseas, it had to be lightweight.

To make it lighter many things needed to be removed. However, there is a fixed size for a tearoom. The standard for building Kian was 2 tatami mats, which is the same size as “Taian” – a national treasure tearoom. 2 tatami mats are a square measuring 1910mm x 1910mm, and the size of the tearoom should be such that it could be checked in as baggage on an airplane and carried in a bag similar to that used to store a ski board. The length of the bamboo was limited to 2m.

The luxurious tea ceremony where you can enjoy tea with the sunset in the background (Lake Biwa, Shiga Prefecture).

The result of preserving the size, but also reducing waste and keeping it light is the current form of Kian.

Q: Toda-san, Was there anything that you asked Inaida-san to include when creating the bamboo tearoom?

Toda: I asked him to add a roof.

Artists often make and own portable tearooms, but most of them are cube-shaped and do not have roofs. I told him that a tearoom needs a roof, and asked him to design it for me.

 Kian is extremely portable and can be easily carried on a shoulder once you take it apart.

Actually, I asked for one more thing. I wanted to be able to carry it on my shoulder.

Most portable tearooms have to be transported by truck, but this limits the range of movement. I wanted a tearoom that I could carry on my shoulders and take it anywhere without having to transport it by car.

Q: Inaida-san, what did you think when you heard that request?

Inaida: From a craftsman’s perspective, I thought it was very difficult to do (laughs). However, I understood Toda-san’s feelings that a tearoom needs a roof and eaves, so I decided to give it a  try.

Q: How heavy is the current Kian, and has its weight remained the same since the beginning?

Inaida: The current weight of Kian is about 5.5 kg.

Assembling the Kian prototype at Daitokuji Daiji Temple. Inaida-san enjoys tea after completing the assembly.

The first Kian was made of square timbers purchased at a hardware store and tied together with a rope. Later, we realized that bamboo was lighter than wood, and arrived at its current form.

Q: The initiative started in 2015, right?

Inaida: Well, around the end of 2014, I went to talk to Mr. Toda about the idea for Kian. At that time, I just told the idea and asked if he would like to go to Rome, Italy together and bring it there. Toda-san said, “Let’s do it”, so we started creating Kian in January 2015.

Q: How many times have you held the tea ceremony at Kian?

Inaida: I’ve done it over 100 times… It’s been about 120 times now. It has actually been 120 times over a period of 5 years, but the time has been interspersed with the periods of corona.

 The tea ceremony at Shugakuin Otowadani (Sakyo Ward, Kyoto)

Q: Does Inaida-san take part at the tea ceremonies held at Kian?

Toda: Inaida-san comes with us. He assembles the tearoom while I am getting ready for the tea.

Abbot Toda-san (left) and Inaida-san (right) are always together when they hold tea ceremonies.

I have assembled Kian only a few times, so it would be quite difficult if I had to assemble it by myself.

Imperfect and minimal – completed by people “seeing it in a different way”

Q: Toda-san, what do you think is the difference between an indoor tearoom and the bamboo tearoom Kian, set in the “seeing it in a different way” style surrounded by nature?

Toda: The wind blows at Kian. In an indoor tearoom there is no wind, but there is a breeze in Kian, and nothing goes as planned. Sometimes the chasen may fly away, and sometimes matcha may fly away.

With Kian you can even have a tea party in a forest on very uneven ground. (Tateshina Otaki Forest, Nagano)

Another thing is that the ground is not flat. What I realized when I started serving tea at Kian was that there are surprisingly few flat places in the natural world. However, this inconvenience is part of enjoying tea at Kian.

Q: Is it possible to relax and enjoy tea in a windy nature?

Toda: I do not think people can relax and drink tea in nature. I find myself surprisingly fidgety.

 Making tea while listening to the murmuring river (Upstream Azumi River, Shiga Prefecture).

However, strangely enough, even in such an environment, as I follow the steps of boiling water, warming a chasen, and making tea, my mind mysteriously calms down. This sensation is precious and is the real pleasure of making tea at Kian.

Q: Inaida-san, what do you think is the difference between an indoor tearoom and the bamboo tearoom Kian, set in the “seeing it in a different way” style surrounded by nature?

Inaida-san assembling Kian in the Palais Royal Garden (Paris, France).

Inaida: The Kian has no walls so you can enjoy the scents of nature. But if it rains, we have to accept it. When it is cold you can feel happy just by being able to have a hot drink.

Because it is not a closed space, we have no choice but to make compromises and accept it. I think this is what is great about Kian.

Q: What would you like to convey to people visiting Kian?

Toda: I want to show people that it can be surprisingly fun to try something like this, even if it is just drinking tea and enjoying sweets in the nature. I hope I can convey the value of spiritual satisfaction.

Q: Inaida-san what about you?

Inaida: I think there are many people in this world who believe that there is a right answer to everything and are stressed out because of this. But I hope that when people come to Kian without thinking, what they feel in that space will be “right” in their own way.

The tea ceremony brings people closer together, and the tearoom is a stage for building good interpersonal relationships

Q: What do you feel when you enter the bamboo tearoom?

Toda: I believe that the tea ceremony brings people closer together, and the tearoom is a stage for building good interpersonal relationships

There is a culture of “seeing it in a different way” in the tea ceremony.

For example, in the summer, when I look at the hanging scroll in the tearoom with the word “waterfall” written on it, I feel the sound of a waterfall and the splashing of water.

The tea ceremony at Kamogawa, a place of relaxation for Kyoto citizens (Kamogawa, Kyoto).

The bamboo tearoom with no actual walls or roof is similar. However, we use Kian – the space made of bamboo, as a stage for the tea ceremony, where students become tea masters, and say the greetings that they usually would not say: “Excuse me for going first”.

I think this exchange is really important.

Although we do not usually pay attention to it, there are actually many hints in the tea ceremony culture about how to behave in order to build relationships with people. I think that going out of your way to do something has a positive effect on your relationships with others.

Q: Toda-san, what do you think is interesting about Japanese tea culture?

Toda: I think Japan is the only country that has elevated the beverage called tea to the level of culture, so I find that point interesting.

I think there are a lot of teas in the world, but the Japanese went to the trouble of inventing an architectural style – tearoom, just for the sake of drinking tea. Japanese culture with the word “way” has the meaning of a guideline for living, and it is interesting that the drinking of tea has been elevated to the level of a culture called the tea ceremony.

The tea ceremony culture is based on the thinking of Zen Buddhism and Buddhism. To put it simply, the ultimate goal of Buddhism is “to get along with everyone”. I believe that the culture of the tearoom expresses this in a very simple way.

Of course, tea is delicious if you brew it with good quality tea, good water, and the right temperature. But it tastes even better when you drink it with someone you like. When we delve into what we should do to drink tea deliciously and what we should do to enjoy life, we ultimately arrive at human relationships.

Q: Is there anything you would like the visitors of Kian to feel?

Toda: I hope that by experiencing tea in a tearoom, visitors would think a bit about the importance of treasuring people and nature.

The mountaintop tea ceremony held on an extremely cold mountain (Mie Prefecture, Mt. Gozaisho).

The tea culture has actually treated people, nature, and resources with care for a long time. Nowadays, students are learning about the social issues of SDG’s, but I hope that they can really feel something – not just the slogans, but also the ideas and spirit that have been passed down within the culture.

Q: What does Japanese tea mean to both of you?

Toda: I think it is a way to pause and a symbol of getting along with others. In the tea ceremony world, drinking tea together means getting along.

Matcha made by the abbot Toda-san.

Inaida: For me it is medicine. Since I got sick, I have been drinking at least four cups of matcha a day and assuming that my cancer has been cured (laughs). I would like everyone to drink a lot of matcha.

Q: Are there any difficulties for both of you in engaging with Japanese tea?

Toda: No, nothing in particular. It is something I drink on a regular basis, so I have never found it difficult.

Inaida: I do not deal with tea, so I guess I have to make sure it does not spill over when I carry it (laughs).

Thinking about the future of Japanese tea

Q:  Toda-san, are there any projects you would like to work on using Kian?

Toda: I would like to make more use of Kian to provide a place where people can enjoy a good cup of tea.

You can even make tea on the beach (Hermosa Beach, Los Angeles, USA).

A friend of mine, who is a tea farmer, produces the highest quality matcha, but it is not selling well, and he is struggling to make a living. Nowadays, plastic bottles and inexpensive teas have become mainstream, so fewer people are drinking the highest quality teas. I want the highest quality tea that has been passed down for hundreds of years to be preserved and passed onto future generations. To achieve this, we are using high-quality tea, and we want people to experience its deliciousness.

Q:  Inaida-san, are there any projects you would like to work on using Kian?

Inaida: It is not really a business. I started it because I wanted to go to Rome, so I want to go to Rome with Kian.

[Tea party in Champ de Mars Park with a clear view of the Eiffel Tower (Paris, France).

Q: Do you plan to further expand the scope of Kian’s activities in the future and aim to gain recognition for this bamboo tearoom style?

Inaida: No, to be honest, I do not really want to spread the word.

Personally, I do not think of this as a vocation. We live in a society that is stressful every day, so I would like to be able to go to nature with my Kian once in a while and have a cup of tea. If I am invited abroad, I can use that as an excuse to go abroad for a change of pace. By being organic and unintentional, Kian has naturally spread throughout the world, and I believe it will continue to do so in the future.

Q: From your point of view, are there any people who are doing something interesting with Japanese tea?

Toda: Tea shops that merged tea and other ingredients into sweets are amazing. Nowadays, matcha sweets are common, but when they first started selling them at Kyoto or Uji store corners more than 30 years ago, they did not see many customers. However, many people came because of the delicious taste, and now many more cafes and shops have opened. At that time, people only thought of tea as something to drink, but now they have turned it into sweets, which I think is amazing.

Inaida: I cannot think of anything in particular, but I hope that each person interested in tea can enjoy doing their favorite activities.

Q. What do you think the future holds for the tea industry?

 Abbot Toda-san speaking at a tea party at the Rucker Museum.

Toda: I think it should be evaluated more. Japanese tea is so familiar that many people do not realize that it is worth paying for. I think it would be good if we reconsidered that and started to appreciate Japanese tea more.

Inaida-san talking with the tea ceremony participants at KYOTO PHONIE in Amanohashidate, Kyoto (photo by NAOKI MIYASHITA).

Inaida: When I travel abroad, I realize that matcha is extremely popular. However, there are still not many shops in local towns that sell matcha. So, I think it will be important to find a way to sell high-quality Japanese matcha abroad where there is demand for it.