Sophisticated arts flourished in mid-15th century Japan, including sado (tea ceremony), noh (masked stage performance), kado (flower arrangement), and aesthetic interest in yugen-no-bi (subtle profound beauty) and wabi-sabi (quiet simplicity and restrained refinement). These led to tearoom carpentry and refined tearoom sukiya-zukuri (sukiya-style) architecture.
This wooden building style called suki (elegant taste) eliminates showy decoration while pursuing aesthetic refinement attuned to the sensibilities of those in the building. Subtle interplay of elements — such as rays of light, shades of wood materials, and woodgrain appearance — is all deliberately planned. Master builders of sukiya architecture are called sukiya-daiku.
Contemporary sukiya architecture can be found in ryotei (old-fashioned Japanese restaurants) and premium-class ryokan (Japanese-style hotels). Shiro Masuda, sukiya-daiku of renowned modern sukiya architecture, has built the iconic traditional Shuhinshitsu Zashiki (Main Room for Guests of Honor) at Kyoto Geihinkan and the tearoom at Ise Jingu shrine.
Mr. Masuda regards wood as the most important element in sukiya building. He says, “The first wood materials we choose are for pillars, and their thickness and size depends on the scale of the room to be built. We search for the most beautiful wood pattern, which we call ‘the face of the wood.’ In fact, each split log has a front and back side. One surface of a finished log (observed from the outer surface of the tree) is called ki-omote (wood front). Another surface of this finished log (virtually observed from the center of the tree) is called ki-ura (wood back). When judging the direction of straight grain, we observe ki-ura, but the woodgrain pattern of ki-omote appears clearer and more beautiful.
“Therefore, we always take into account ki-omote when building the room so beautiful sides of the wood are visible to the main guests in the best seats in a room. The primary role of the sukiya-daiku is to bring out the utmost beauty of the wood, and the appeal of sukiya comes from this effort.”