It is believed that the chigai-dana (or staggered shelves) evolved from earlier portable shelving systems. This theory is backed up by the continued use of portable-type shelves throughout the Muromachi period outside of the central room. It was in Yoshimasa's time that built-in shelves first appeared.

Furthermore, evidence shows that these were installed in both Yoshimasa's Kokawa palace and his Higashiyama residence. To the left is the Picture Scoll of Kasuga Gongen Miracles from the 14th Century showing the artistic evidence of the built-shelves.

The main purpose of the chigai-dana of this time was to provide a place for the artistic arrangement of books and tea utensils. The function of holding books was a direct influence of Zen monks. During this time there was extensive trade with China and Korea, which resulted in an enormous influx of literary and philosophical texts. Only after these imported texts were tea utensils displayed on these shelves. Typically this included a tea cup, tea caddy, tea whisk, food canister, tea ladle, portable fireplace, feather broom, ember poker, and water bowl.

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