Visitors often comment about the tranquility and beauty of the seventeenth-century style house and the surrounding garden at Shofuso. A question I have heard a lot is: “How did all of this wind up here in Fairmount Park?”
I think the answer is pretty interesting and a new grant-funded program at Shofuso is teaching teenagers about this unique history as well as giving them an opportunity to roll up their sleeves and actually dig for it.
In a nutshell, the house was part of an architectural exhibition at MOMA from 1954 to 1955. When the exhibition ended, it was given to Philadelphia. But why Philadelphia?
In 1876, the Centennial Exposition took place in Fairmount Park with over 10 million visitors in attendance. Countries from around the globe, including Japan, built structures to showcase their arts and innovations. Japan had been effectively closed to the outside world for the preceding 200 years under the Tokugawa shogunate and had recently reopened prior to the Centennial. Their contribution to the Centennial Exposition included an exhibition hall, a residence for dignitaries, and a bazaar.
After the exposition ended, most of the structures were broken down for parts, sold, or relocated. The whereabouts of some buildings is not known. In an area behind where Shofuso sits today, the Japanese Bazaar was located in 1876. The bazaar sold Japanese pottery, fans, toys, and other items to daily visitors hungry for something from a country they knew little about.
Fast forward to today and an archaeological excavation began last summer by AECOM of Burlington County, NJ to find the footprint of the bazaar and artifacts. Pieces of roof tile, pottery, and ceramic sculpture from the bazaar were uncovered.
This year, AECOM is continuing their efforts with the help of local teens who attend the PACTS, a Science and Technology program at the Franklin Institute. The teens came to Shofuso on Saturday, October 1st and spent the day learning about archaeology while participating in further excavation of the site. They completed a dig from start to finish by measuring out two areas, digging, screening the soil, bagging objects for identification, recording information, and refilling the sites. The teens will be back later this month for more hands-on archaeology and then will return to Shofuso in the spring to provide visitors with interactive lessons.`