By Traude Gomez Rhine
A tour of the Huntington’s Japanese Garden ceremonial teahouse can enlighten visitors unfamiliar with the Urasenke Tradition of Tea that is practiced there. For instance, special utensils are used depending on the season, which is either cold season (November to April) or warm season from May to October.
To understand these traditions as well as teahouse culture and history, visitors can join an informal tour of the teahouse, included with admission, on the second Monday of each month at 20-minute intervals between noon and 4 p.m. Upcoming tours are Jan. 11 and Feb. 8. (These tours will not include actual demonstrations of Chado, or the Way of Tea; The Huntington offers specific Chado demonstrations a few times a year, with the next taking place in April.)
“It’s a special teahouse and we treat it like a work of art,” said Robert Hori, the Huntington’s Gardens Cultural Curator and Program Director. Hiro should know; he was trained in Kyoto, Japan, at a tea school that has been in business since 16th century and he is the resident tea master at the ceremonial teahouse called Seifu-an, or Arbor of Pure Breeze. The Urasenke Way of Tea is one of the three tea schools dating back to the 16th century.
Visitors to the teahouse might also see Hori’s other contribution to the display of Japanese culture within the gardens – his Ikebana, or floral displays that very often include blooms from the surrounding gardens.
The Huntington’s ceremonial teahouse was commissioned by Sen Soshitsu (at the time
Grand Master designate of the Urasenke Tradition of Tea) and built in 1964 by Nakamura Sotoji Komuten, a Kyoto firm famous for refined traditional Japanese architecture. The teahouse was then shipped in pieces to the United States, where it was reassembled on the grounds of the Pasadena Buddhist Temple. The Temple donated the teahouse to the Huntington in 2010 when it was clear the aging structure needed new stewards who could take it into the future.
Under Huntington care, the nine by nine-foot teahouse was dismantled and transported to Kyoto for restoration under the supervision of Kyoto-based architect and craftsman Yoshiaki Nakamura, then shipped back to California in 2011, where it was painstakingly reassembled over four months in the Huntington’s new tea garden by 13 craftsmen.
The house is situated in the Japanese tea garden, a three-quarter-acre site that features a traditional entry gate, winding paths, a stream, and a ceremonial waiting bench. The idea of this special garden, says Hori, is that it transitions teahouse guests back into nature. Though visible from the Japanese Garden, the tea garden is only open during tours as it’s not suited for large groups of people.