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Tsukubai at Ryōan-ji temple in Kyoto

In Japan, a tsukubai (蹲踞?) is a washbasin provided at the entrance to holy places for visitors to purify themselves by the ritual washing of hands and rinsing of the mouth.[1] This type of ritual cleansing is the custom for guests attending a tea ceremony[1] or visiting the grounds of a Buddhist temple.[2] The name originates from the verb tsukubau meaning "to bow down", an act of humility.[2]

Tsukubai are usually of stone, and are often provided with a small scoop, laid across the top, ready for use. A supply of water is provided via a bamboo pipe called a kakei.

The famous tsukubai shown here stands in the grounds of the Ryōan-ji temple, and was donated by the feudal lord Tokugawa Mitsukuni.[3] The kanji written on the surface of the stone are without significance when read alone. If each is read in combination with 口 (kuchi) - the shape of the central bowl - then the characters become 吾, 唯, 足, 知 which translates literally as "I only know plenty" (吾 = ware = I, 唯 = tada = only, 足 = taru = plenty, 知 = shiru = know).[4] The underlying meaning, variously translated as "what one has is all one needs",[4] or "learn only to be content"[3] reflects the basic anti-materialistic teachings of Buddhism.

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  1. ^ a b Must See in Kyoto. Kyoto: Japan Travel Bureau, Inc. 1991. p. 107. ISBN 4-533-00528-4. 
  2. ^ a b Einarsen, John (2004). Zen and Kyoto. Kyoto: Uniplan Co, Inc. p. 133. ISBN 4-89704-202-X. 
  3. ^ a b Einarsen, John (2004). Zen and Kyoto. Kyoto: Uniplan Co, Inc. pp. 90–91. ISBN 4-89704-202-X. 
  4. ^ a b "Tsukubai and Zenibachi, the Japanese Water Basins". Retrieved 3 March 2016. 

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