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Suikinkutsu Construction Details

Last Updated: 5/20/2000

The suikinkutsu is usually built in conjunction with a chozubachi or tsukubai water basin arrangement. When the stone basin is used, water flows underground into a ceramic echo chamber partly filled with water. The sound of water resonates, is amplified, and is reflected back to the garden above. The construction of this chamber is extremely complex and involves balancing the amount of water, shape, material and size of the chamber, diameter of the opening and size of the pipe leading away.

It is thought this technique developed concurrently with the chozubachi in the mid-Edo period. The suikinkutsu enjoyed a period of popular revival during Meiji (1868-1912) before almost disappearing. The present word, literally meaning "water harp chamber," was also coined at this time. The suikinkutsu has enjoyed a second revival in recent years, often being constructed without the stone basin above, simply to be enjoyed for echoing sound of dripping water. Yoshikawa points out, however, that these are not really suikinkutsu in a strict sense as suikinkutsu are always auxiliary to tsukubai. In other words, the sound is thought to be pleasing precisely because the source is not readily apparent. This tension is lost if the suikinkutsu itself becomes the main attraction.

For further reference:

Hirayama Katsukura, "Suikinkutsu ni tsuite," Zoen Zasshi, 1959, v. 22, no. 3.

Yoshikawa Isao, Elements of Japanese Gardens, trans by Christopher Witmer, Tokyo: Graphic-sha, 1990, pp 93-94.

Tokyo Nogyo Daigaku Zoen Gakka, Zoen Yogo Jiten, Tokyo: Shokokusha, 1985, p 281.

©1996-2002, Robert Cheetham; ©2022 Japanese Garden Research Network, Inc.
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