On this day in 1958, Shofuso opened to the public in Fairmount Park. Originally built in 1953 as a gift from Japan to the United States to symbolize post-war peace, it was first exhibited in the courtyard at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of an architectural exhibition. Following the exhibition, it was relocated to Philadelphia.
Shofuso was designed by architect Junzo Yoshimura using traditional Japanese building techniques, including the minimization of structural nails. Its roof, made from hinoki cypress bark, is harvested with special permission from the National Forestry Agency of Japan and is the only one of its kind in the United States. Its main space is modeled after the guest house of the temple Kojoin, and is based on traditional 17th century Japanese shoin-zukuri architecture. Shofuso’s tea house is modeled after the “Masu-doko-no-seki” tea house in Juko-in. Together with its kitchen and bath house, Shofuso was created with the intent of helping American audiences understand traditional architecture.
Shofuso’s footprint is at the site of the Nio-Mon Temple Gate, a 17th century building from Japan’s Hitachi Province that was first exhibited at the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis, Missouri and was later gifted to Fairmount Park. The area around the temple gate was landscaped with a lotus pond, a footbridge, and a Japanese garden. Shofuso was offered as a gift to Philadelphia after a fire destroyed Nio-Mon in 1955.
Shofuso’s garden at MoMA and at Fairmount Park were both designed by Tansai Sano, a landscape architect from Kyoto whose family had cared for the stone garden in the Ryoan-ji temple. Sano added stones from the temple as as part of the landscape and added a waterfall. Areas of the garden include a structured garden around the main building, a tea house garden, and an urban garden near the tea house, bath house, and kitchen.
Shofuso’s first full restoration occurred during 1976, as part of the Bicentennial Celebration. The restoration parallels the construction of a Japanese pavilion in a site adjacent to Shofuso in 1876 as part of the United State’s Centennial Celebration. Shofuso is currently excavating the original pavilion footprint.
The Friends of the Japanese House and Garden was incorporated in 1982 to maintain, preserve, and publicize Shofuso. This includes selecting plants in the garden, landscaping, and performing repairs and restorations on the house.
When Shofuso was first built, its tokonoma alcove and fusuma sliding doors featured black ink murals by artist Kaii Higashiyama. After the paintings were vandalized, they were replaced in 2007 by new murals by artist Hiroshi Seiju. Seiju’s “waterfall” murals bridge contemporary and traditional Japanese art, and were created in colors which compliment those of Shofuso.
If you’re in Fairmount Park tomorrow, stop by from 10 am – 4 pm to help us celebrate Shofuso’s birthday with complimentary cake.