History


Shofuso Japanese House and Garden is a traditional-style Japanese house and nationally-ranked garden in Philadelphia’s West Fairmount Park that reflects the history of Japanese culture in Philadelphia, from the 1876 Centennial Exposition to present day. Shofuso hosts over 30,000 visitors each year from more than 20 different countries.

The Japanese House and Garden was conceived as part of an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Designed by  Japanese mid-century modernist architect Junzo Yoshimura in 1953, the house was built in Nagoya, Japan, using traditional materials and techniques. The house was part of “The House in the Museum Garden” series, which exhibited three different types of structures that influenced mid-century modern American architecture. In addition to Shofuso, additional full-sized single family homes by architects Marcel Breuer and Gregory Ains were exhibited from 1948 through 1954. Shofuso was the last structure in the exhibit and was moved to Philadelphia at it’s conclusion.

Shofuso was reassembled at the current site in 1957-58, where there has been a continuous Japanese presence since the 1876 Centennial Exposition, when the first Japanese garden in North America was installed behind a small Japanese bazaar.

From 1905 until a fire in 1955, Shofuso’s site was then occupied by a gate from a Japanese Buddhist temple, built in the early 14th century. Popularly known as the “Japanese Pagoda”, it had been brought to the United States for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, MO and acquired for Philadelphia by the Fairmount Park Art Association. After a fire destroyed the temple gate in 1955, Shofuso was brought to the site in 1957. In 1958, the garden was redesigned by Japanese landscape designer Tansai Sano to compliment the new structure, in the style of a 17th century viewing garden, and Shofuso opened to the public on October 19, 1958.

Over the years, Shofuso’s essential Japanese character has remained intact.  As part of the US Bicentennial in 1976, with the support of the Japanese government, the house and garden underwent extensive repairs.

Although the house is owned by the City of Philadelphia, the Friends of the Japanese House and Garden (FJHG), a 501(c)3 nonprofit, organized to care and preserve this unique site in 1982. In 1999, FJHG raised $1.2 million to replace the hinoki bark roof, the only one of its kind outside of Japan, and in 2007, internationally renowned artist Hiroshi Senju, inspired by our waterfall, donated 20 murals to Shofuso to replace original murals destroyed by vandals in the 1970s.  

As well, FJHG restored the hinoki bark roof again in 2010 and conducted an award-winning historic landscape restoration in 2012. After a merger of FJHG with the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia in 2016, Shofuso’s future is even brighter.

Today, a viewing garden with koi pond and island, a tea garden, and a courtyard garden comprise the 17th century-style Japanese walled and fenced garden of this historic site and museum. The restored, historic 1876 Sakura Pavilion is year-round space for programming, classes, meetings, events, and exhibitions.

Shofuso was again named the third-ranked Japanese garden in North America by the Journal of Japanese Gardening in 2016, was listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 2013, and is a contributing structure to the Fairmount Park National Historic District since 1972.

For a more in depth history, read our Historical Narrative.