Background on the Hakone Garden Teahouse, Shogetsu-an

by Karl Bareis (adapted from The Wooden Post, vol 11, June 2018). Karl built the two tea ceremony rooms in the Hakone Gardens’ Lower House in 1980.

Mention of Hakone Gardens has turned up in the Wooden Post ever since we decided to hold our Kez USA 2016 there in October of that year. Peter McAneny wrote a short history of the garden for the March 2016 issue of the Wooden Post (Volume 003). That article was very informative about the historic buildings built over a century ago.

Because of the authentic buildings, the Gardens hold an important historic place in Japanese American cultural exchange. In 1980, the City of Saratoga (which owns the Hakone Estate) invested in renovating the Garden guesthouse and converted the rooms into two rooms suitable for teaching tea ceremony. Beginning in 1981 the rooms began to be used as teaching locations for San Francisco Bay Area tea schools. Three days a week classes are convened in one or more of the four tea rooms now located at Hakone.

At the same time, the fifteen acre Hakone Gardens decided to utilize some of its undeveloped lands and expand the existing stroll garden to include two additional acres of bamboo landscape. This was made possible by volunteer time put in by local community members and the Saratoga sister city, Muko, Japan.

The close relationship with Muko (located a just west of Kyoto) facilitated over forty unique species of bamboo being imported from Kyoto, Japan for the garden. In order to do this an official USDA plant introduction station was built on the grounds, and 7 shipments of bamboo were imported directly from the Kyoto Botanical Garden to Saratoga. Some of the rare species exist nowhere else in the US.

Eventually the USDA greenhouse was abandoned, but the area of the greenhouse became the focus of further expansion when the Kakudo Trust offered a small teahouse 茶室 to the Garden in 1998. The Hakone Foundation gratefully accepted the donation, but only if local volunteers would provide labor to reconstruct and maintain it.

Hakone Gardens is located on the steep eastern flank of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The topography of the garden follows the natural contours and the teahouse was located at the very top of the Garden. The Shogetsu-an teahouse was designed for a Mushakoji-senke tea master after his earlier teahouse was burned, along with much of Osaka, in the waning days of the Second World War. Master Kakudo had the building rebuilt immediately after the war in early 1946. The Kakudo Trust understands the historic significance of the tea room.

This past February, when the Ogata-Kai members arrived to carve out the hillside around the teahouse, the activities of so many people volunteering to help construct the terraced tea garden drew interest from the tea world. When Kezurou-kai USA asked John Larissou (one of the people who rebuilt the Shogetsu-an) to help find funding for the machiai waiting pavilion, he approached the Kakudo Fund to try and find matching funds.

At the end of May, Kezurou-kai USA was asked by Hakone Foundation to provide a schedule for the possible work, and to provide logistical and expert assistance to design and build the machiai structure. John Larissou knew of the old Rikyu-style waiting pavilion which is the basis for many similar scaled pavilions across Japan. So we’ve undertaken a few changes in the design to help link it to the style of the Kakudo Teahouse built in 1946. John is a craftsman himself and will fabricate the copper roof shingles and eventually complete the roofing for the machiai.

The tea ceremony style, sukiya zukuri (数奇屋造), of the waiting pavilion requires expertise in historic materials, earthen walls, bamboo lath and natural round posts and beams. The posts and beams have been subjected to subtle aging processes which leaves them mottled yet deeply homogenous. The six posts all need to come from similar forest conditions and to have been pruned carefully to produce polished smooth round posts. Kezurou-kai USA plans to offer opportunities to a few of its membership to participate in this project once it gets off the ground. Although the structure only measures 70 square feet, building the pavilion will provide us the chance to work on a sukiya-style layout.