At the next-to-last stop on my tour of Philadelphia gardens, you could stock up on sushi-shaped erasers, ceramic fish, incense and other Japanese treats.
Built in 1953 as a gift of friendship and post-war peace from Japan to the American people, the Shofuso Japanese House was constructed in Japan, using traditional Japanese building techniques and materials to create a 17th-century teahouse. The house was taken apart and shipped to New York City, where it was originally exhibited in the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art in 1954 and 1955. In 1958, it was relocated to Philadelphia and was reconstructed in Fairmount Park, on the site of the Japanese buildings that were part of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition.
Traditional Japanese plants — including bamboo, pine, hinoki cypress, flowering plum and azaleas — fill three traditional types of Japanese gardens surrounding the house. A hill-and-pond garden with an island, a pond filled with dozens of koi, and a waterfall was designed to be viewed from the house’s veranda.
Inside, the house’s main room is a hall, or shoin, that can be used for eating, sleeping and entertaining. A harmonious blend of architectural features include a built-in desk, staggered shelves, an alcove, a built-in ornamental doorway, sliding screens, and wooden storm doors that can be closed in inclement weather. Furnished mostly with cushions and futons, the room can adapt to different uses. Fifteen tatami mats cover the floor, so the space is referred to as the “15-mat room.”
“Shofuso Waterfall,” a series of twenty murals created by Japanese artist Hiroshi Senju in 2007, adorn the sliding doors and alcove. Using an ancient tradition of Japanese painting, Senju combined pigments from minerals, seashells, corals and other natural media in animal glue, then applied it to Japanese washi paper made of mulberry fibers. The earthy gray color in these paintings is known as the “Shofuso” color.