The “Japanese Tea House”

I haven’t written in awhile. I’m sorry to those that fervently read this blog… I’ve been a little busy. Working in a public garden during a dry spell in the summer takes a lot of time and energy from each day. Is there enough: length of hose, soaker hoses, snap valve keys (the archaic bane of my existence), hose diverters, rubber bands and duct tape (don’t ask), end caps and on and on. The logistics alone of what can be watered during the day while there are visitors onsite, what can be watered overnight and at what rate, manually adjusting multiple pressures from a single source in various parts of the garden, etc. is a lot. Is the pressure enough to support… oh, the pressure was too high? Hand me the duct tape. I know I shouldn’t complain about watering. At least I don’t have watering restrictions like my friends in California. The point is that if mother nature would just do a very simple and natural act like rain, it would free up some time each day. That’s all.

What I actually want to write about today is the “Japanese Tea House.” I don’t know where this rumor started. I just got an email two days ago where I was referred to as the Head Gardener of the Japanese Tea House and it’s ok. But, I feel like I need to say something. Most Philadelphias that I talk to refer to Shofuso as the Japanese Tea House. This situation is very reminiscent of the last structure that shared our address, the centuries old Temple Gate that came from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Everyone decided to call that structure the “Japanese Pagoda.” As I research the garden’s history and evolution, it’s hard to find source material that actually calls that structure a gate, and even the site drawing has it labeled as a pagoda.

Anyway, I hope this isn’t too confusing, but, there is a tea house (and a tea garden) at Shofuso. I know, it’s a little tricky. There are three styles of 17th century Japanese architecture represented at our site. The smallest of the three is the tea house built in sukiya-zukuri style. I can’t provide a direct translation, but sukiya speaks to refinement and in general, it can equate to tea house style. It is rustically refined using natural materials in an elegant way. The tea house is certainly worth more than a mention, but it’s not the main attraction (depending on who you are). Tea culture enthusiasts may disagree. The largest portion of our buildings is in the shoin-zukuri style. This is the highest classification of residential Japanese architecture from the 17th century and it definitely has a stately feeling as you walk through the house. Last but not least, the kitchen is built in another “rustic-type” called minka style, or a commoner’s type of dwelling. It is equally as curious and as impressive as the other two styles.

Shofuso is an authentically built and magnificently well-crafted example of Japanese architecture, right here in Philadelphia. To me, it almost seems impossible that Shofuso exists here. Since the house was built for exhibition and needed to fit within a small courtyard at Shofuso’s first home in NYC, things aren’t exactly laid out the way they’d be if they were actually lived in during the 17th century in Japan. Take the mix of three architectural styles as your first example of that. For more information about Shofuso’s history, as well as more on 17th century Japan and Japanese culture in general, you’ll have to stop by for a tour. And, if saying the name, Shofuso [sho-foo-soh] is intimidating, drop the “Tea” and just call us, The Japanese House. Pass it down.