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The New Ceremonial Tea Garden

The new Japanese tea garden at The Huntington is composed of several traditional elements. The three-quarter-acre site features a ceremonial teahouse that the public can observe from the outside as well as a traditional entry gate, winding paths, a stream, and a ceremonial waiting bench.

The Ceremonial Teahouse

•   Commissioned by Sen Soshitsu (at the time Grand Master designate of the Urasenke Tradition of Tea), the teahouse was built in 1964 by Nakamura Sotoji Komuten, a Kyoto firm famous for refined traditional Japanese architecture. The teahouse was named Seifu-an (Arbor of Pure Breeze) by Sen’s father, Tantansai (1893–1964).


•   The teahouse was then shipped in pieces to the United States, where it was reassembled on the grounds of the Pasadena Buddhist Temple in Pasadena, Calif.


•   In 2010, it was dismantled and transported to Kyoto for refurbishment under the supervision of Kyoto-based architect and craftsman Yoshiaki Nakamura, son of the original builder of Seifu-an, then shipped back to California in 2011, where it was reassembled in The Huntington’s new tea garden. 


•   Seifu-an was one of the first teahouses built in the United States after World War II and is possibly the oldest remaining from the period.


•   The teahouse is composed of a four-and-a-half-mat room, approximately nine by nine feet. (Tatami mats are used as the floor covering and serve as a traditional means by which the interior floor dimension is measured.) The mats represent geographic directions: north, south, east, and west. The center half-mat symbolizes the earth.


•   The north wall of the teahouse is solid, a traditional architectural feature meant to protect against the north wind. The east side functions as the entrance; the west side is composed of sliding panels (amado) that serve as both walls and doors. When the panels are removed, the space can be expanded to a six-mat area. When the outer doors are opened, the teahouse’s interior becomes visible for public demonstrations of the Way of Tea (chado).


•   Tea ceremonies at The Huntington follow the Urasenke Way of Tea (one of the three tea schools dating back to the 16th century).


•   The ceiling is composed of the remaining parts of the cypress tree not used in the main construction of the house, including bark, upper limbs, and branches, as well as bamboo and wisteria vines.


•   At the center of the tea room is a sunken hearth used for building a charcoal fire and heating water for tea.


•  The structure can seat eight guests, and when the doors are fully open the activity inside is made visible.


The Tea Garden’s Landscape

•   The tea garden consists of three quarters of an acre of traditional landscape overlooking the historic core of the Japanese Garden.


•   Landscape designers Takeo and Keiji Uesugi of Los Angeles and Takuhiro Yamada of Kyoto collaborated on the tea garden’s design.


•   It includes roji (the pathway and garden area leading to the teahouse from the entry gate) and koshikake machiai (a small, covered waiting bench where guests traditionally congregate before entering a ceremonial teahouse).


•   The entry gate and waiting bench were built in 2011 by Kyoto-based architect and craftsman Yoshiaki Nakamura.


•   Near the teahouse there is a stone water basin (tsukubai) where, just before a traditional tea ceremony gets under way, guests rinse their hands and mouths in a symbolic act of purification.


About The Huntington

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution established in 1919 by Henry E. and Arabella Huntington. Henry Huntington, a key figure in the...

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