A New Experience of Art and Sauna
within History and the Forest
This is a new art and sauna experience by teamLab and the Mifuneyama Rakuen Hotel Rakan Bath, the winner of SAUNACHELIN in 2019 and 2020.
Combo tickets for a day trip to the Mifuneyama Rakuen Hotel Rakan Bath and teamLab’s art in the ruins are available for 40 people per day, allowing visitors not staying at the Mifuneyama Rakuen Hotel or Onyado Chikurintei to enjoy a new experience of art and sauna. (*1) There are also tickets available that allow visitors to experience the artworks without entry into the sauna.
(*1) The annual exhibition in the forest teamLab: A Forest Where Gods Live is currently not on view. The exhibition runs annually from July to November.
In the forest where the 3,000-year-old sacred Okusu tree resides, is a cave of five hundred Arhats carved 1,300 years ago by the Buddhist monk Gyoki. (*Gyoki and the Origins of Japanese Baths (Saunas)) The sauna (alternating hot and cold baths) stands nearby this cave within the historic forest. Visitors can clear their minds, feel the ever-expanding space through their bodies, and immerse themselves in the art and the forest dotted with ruins. As we realize that the mind, body, and environment are the wholeness of our being, we become a part of nature and history, and reconnect with the long continuity of time and the world.
Artworks in the Ruins: A Place where Varying Space-Times Intersect
The 500,000 square meter Mifuneyama Rakuen Park was created in 1845, during the end of the Edo period. Sitting on the borderline of the park is the 3,000-year-old sacred Okusu tree of Takeo Shrine, which is Japan’s 7th largest. Also in the heart of the garden is another 300-year-old sacred tree. Knowing the significance of this, our forebears turned a portion of this forest into a garden, utilizing the trees of the natural forest. The border between the garden and the wild forest is ambiguous, and when wandering through the garden, before they know it, people will find themselves entering the woods and animal trails.
Within the forest, there is an enormous megalith, almost supernatural in its formation, known as an iwakura (a dwelling place of a god in ancient Japanese nature worship, or “animism”) that has been preserved as a small shrine. Around the 7th century, a sorcerer named En-no-gyouza-ozunu carved a 23-meter-tall figure over the entire surface of a sheer cliff on Mount Mifuneyama. And 1,300 years ago, the priest Gyoki, who created the Great Buddha in Nara, came to Mifuneyama, carved 500 Arhats and Buddha figures directly onto the rock face of the caves within the forest, which remain to this day. On the edge of the forest, the stone gate of Tsuzaki Castle and other ruins remain within and along the borderline of the forest.
We exist as a part of an eternal continuity of life and death, a process which has been continuing for an overwhelmingly long time. It is hard for us, however, to sense this in our everyday lives, perhaps because humans can not recognize time longer than their own lives. There is a boundary in our understanding of the continuity of time.
The forest is home to a 3,000-year-old tree, and it changes daily with the imperceptible, slow flow of time, repeating every year, as a space where the endlessly long time accumulates. The ruins from ages past scattered in the forest and the Edo-period garden which remains today each have their own respective space-times. The bath house in the garden was constructed in modern times, but after just a short period, it was abandoned, becoming a space where time had stopped completely.
Within the space of the ruins of Mifuneyama Rakuen, we make artworks with their own, separate space-times, thereby creating a place where these varying spaces intersect and overlap, allowing us to transcend the boundary in our understanding of the continuity of time.
Gyoki and the Origins of Japanese Baths (Saunas)
Gyoki, who carved the five hundred Arhats in Mifuneyama, was a monk during the Nara Period. Later, he became the first Buddhist priest of the highest order in Japan and built the Great Buddha in Nara. In Todaiji Temple, where the Great Buddha is housed, there was a bathhouse called Oyuya, which had a steam room (sauna) and a washroom where common people could bathe. It is said to be the first kudokuyu or “hot water alms” (a pious act to provide common people with a bath), and the beginning of bathing in the city. Baths in that era were steam baths (saunas).
Japan at the time sought to stabilize its national government through the teachings of Buddhism and built temples throughout the country. For temples that were responsible for spreading Buddhism throughout Japan, the kudokuyu became an important means of gaining support from the people, and before long, many temples other than Todaiji came to offer it as well.
The Tsukahara no Karafuro, one of the oldest existing saunas in Japan, is said to have been built by Gyoki, an ascetic who traveled all over Japan before building the Great Buddha in Nara, hoping to cure people of their illnesses. From this, it can be inferred that Gyoki was the first person to introduce baths (saunas) to the people. And it could be said that baths (saunas) helped spread Buddhism and establish the nation of Japan.
Historical Background of Art and Sauna: Rinkan-Chanoyu
The Japanese custom of seyoku (the practice of providing temple baths for the poor, the sick, and prisoners) began during the Nara Period, when Gyoki was active, and reached peak popularity in the Kamakura Period. Even during the Muromachi Period, the practice of seyoku was continued by the shogunate and various temples.
Seyoku also became popular among individuals. Starting at this time, inviting people over and providing baths became known as furo (bathing), and bathing (at the time in steam baths, or saunas) was done in a variety of ways, with tea ceremonies or food and drink served afterward. This was the so-called furo-furumai (bath hospitality).
In the middle of the Muromachi Period (1336 - 1573), a type of tea ceremony in which tea was served to guests after their baths was called rinkan-chanoyu (rinkan sauna and tea ceremony). Much like with shoin-cha (decorative tea time), paintings, incense burners, vases, and hanging scrolls were displayed in the bathing rooms, and it is said that many spectators came to watch toucha (tea-tasting games) after bathing.
Rinkan-chanoyu was a widely-practiced basara (eccentric hobby) in Japan, particularly at the Kofukuji Temple in Nara.
In those days, a bath was a steam bath, or what we would today call a sauna, in which water is poured over heated sauna stones. People in Japan have long enjoyed the acts of viewing art in a sauna and drinking tea as a cultural pastime.
The term basara refers to the social and cultural trends in the middle ages in Japan, mainly during the early Muromachi Period (the Nanboku-cho Period). It was an aesthetic of meritocracy, one that disregarded the status quo, belittled, ridiculed, and rebelled against the authority of those noble in name alone, and instead favored extravagance, flamboyant behavior, and chic clothing. This culture was also the seed of the later revolutions in the Warring States Period.
It is said that Murata Juko (1422 - 1502), the teacher’s teacher of Sen no Rikyu (1522 - 1591) and the inventor of wabi-cha (tea ceremony), was also enamored with rinkan-chanoyu when he was young. He later studied under the Japanese monk Sosun Ikkyu at Daitokuji Temple, and reached a state of chazenichimi (the realization that tea ceremony and Zen are one) and created wabi-cha.