E89 The Golden Tea Room


Show Notes for episode 89 of our Podcast – The Golden Tea Room.

Story Notes

The Golden Tea Room

The Golden Tea Room, or as it is known Japanese, the 黄金の茶室, Ōgon no chashitsu was not a permanent structure that people could visit to should they wish to go and experience a tea ceremony. In fact this was a portable tea room dating to the late 16th century of the Azuchi-Momoyama Period and is was constructed for use by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. Historically he had risen from peasenthood under the leadership of Oda Nobunaga becoming one of his retainers. Such was Toyotomi’s power later on in life he is known seen as the second Great Unifer of Japan.

Now sadly the original tea room has been lost to the passage of time, but there does exist many replicas which have survived to this day.

When we look at the first mentioning of the tea room historically we find it mentioned in the year of Tenshō 14, or the year 1586, when the room was brought to the Kyoto Imperial Palace so that he may host the then Emperor Ōgimachi and it is thought it was likely built just shortly before this date, specifically for the Emperor to be his first host and following this he began to giving tours of the tea room as well as exhibiting for people to see his most precious meibutsuki, or special tea utensils.

The Golden Tea Room
Hideyoshi Toyotomi

We see it again mentioned in Shiyue 1, Tenshō 15 (November 1, 1587) located at the Kitano Tenmangū Shrine in Kyoto where it was used for the Grand Kitano Tea Ceremony.

We still have records concerning the sign boards which were posted around Kyoto at the time advertising this event, preserved in the records of the Matsuya Kaiki Tea Ceremony Records stored by the Matsuya Genzaburō family and go as follows:

  • Item: In the Kitano grove, weather permitting, from the first day of the tenth month and continuing for ten days, His Lord, in connection with his presence at a Grand Chanoyu, will assemble every single one of his meibutsu (名物; famed items for chanoyu use), in order to let chanoyu devotees view them.
  • Item: All chanoyu devotees, including also warriors’ attendants, townspeople, farmers, and those of lower station, regardless, should bring a kettle, a well bucket, a drinking bowl, and tea — no offense will be taken if substituted by kogashi (powdered roasted rice) — and take part.
  • Item: As for the room (zashiki) [that each participant is to set up], since it will be in a pine grove, a floorspace of two tatami will be suitable. However, wabi people may simply spread mat-covers or rice-hull bags. Participants may arrange themselves as they please.
  • Item: This invitation is not limited to Japan but extends to everyone who sets his heart on chanoyu (suki), even to people on the continent.
  • Item: In order that he may show the treasures to participants from distant countries, His Lord is extending the duration so that it is not limited to the first day of the tenth month.
  • Item: His Lord has made these arrangements for the benefit of wabi people. Any among such people who fail to attend will be prohibited hereafter from preparing even kogashi, and anyone who visits such a person will suffer the same punishment.
  • Item: His Lord has declared that he will prepare tea personally for all wabi people, not only those attending from distant places.

Later the tea room found its way to Hizen Nagoya Castle in the fifth month of Bunroku 1 (1592), the location from which Hideyoshi launched the 1592/1598 Japanese invasion of Korea and the tea room continued to follow wherever Hideyoshi went and therefore most likely continued with him on his later journeys to Fushimi Castle and the Jurakudai Residence in Kyoto before it was ultimately lost. Though we have no record as to why is stopped being used, or even if it was destroyed.

So it appears this tea room was unfortunately short lived like we have said there are a number of reconstructions that you can still go and look at. Travelling around Japan you could find reconstructions in Fushimi Castle, Osaka Castle, the gold-leaf company of Hakuza in Kanazawa, Chōfuku-ji Temple in Toyama and the Museum of Art in Shizuoka.

The Golden Tea Room
Fushimi Castle Reconstruction

It is also possible to see a reconstruction of the golden tea utensils in the Kyoto City Archaeological Museum.

But there is also another reconstruction made by the goldsmith Ishikawa Kōichi III using the historical accounts of an eyewitness, though I am unsure which eyewitness this was. From this he reconstructed a room 8ft 2in in height, 8ft 10in in width with a diameter of 8ft 4in. The construction was made out of cypruss wood that was 200 years old, with a total amount of 15,000 sheets of 23K gold leaf totally 26.10 kilograms all of which was applied by hand. He also recreated al the utensils in pure gold.

So lets finally look at some of the accounts of those who visited the hall and is appearance, some of which were by Jesuit Missionaries from the time, one of which being Ōtomo Sōrin a man we have not mentioned for a very long time, first seen in the Samurai Weatherman episode in our first year of the show.

The Golden Tea Room
Kyoto Archeological Museum Replicas

The room measured 3 tatami mats in size, around 9.4 by 18.8 ft and resembles a standars tea ceremony room, with flat walls and sliding shoji doors. There was also the inlusion of a tokonamo alcove in the construction. Gold leaf covered every surface including the doors. Silk gossamer was placed on the sliding doors lattice work. The tatami was also elaborate, covered in crimson felt or fabric and all utensils were gold or gilded, save for the whisk and the cloth.


  • Ludwig, Theodore M. Tea in Japan: Essays on the History of Chanoyu.
  • Murase, Miyeko. Turning Point: Oribe and the Arts of Sixteenth-century Japan.
  • Pitelka, Morgan. Japanese Tea Culture: Art, History and Practice.
  • Rikyū Daijiten (利休大辞典; Rikyū Encyclopedia), pp. 75-77 entry “Kitano ōchanoyu no junbi” (Preparations for the Kitano Grand Tea Gathering).

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Heavenly Spear