Historical Background of Art and Sauna: Rinkan-Chanoyu
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.