Shogetsu-an Tea House and Garden Project Update

by Karl Bareis (adapted from The Wooden Post, vol 10, March 2018)

Shogetsu-an Tea House and Garden Hakone Gardens & Estate
Saratoga, California

In February 2018, eleven volunteers from our organization helped the Hakone Foundation build the first formal public tea garden in the San Francisco Bay area. For the past twelve years tea organizations have used the re-located Japanese tea house in the garden for yearly gatherings, so the history of its creation and relocation is well known to those who study tea ceremony. Hakone is a public garden and each year more than 15,000 people visit the traditional stroll garden built 100 years ago as a private estate–now run by the non-profit Hakone Foundation, set up to preserve the garden and spread the Japanese traditional culture in Saratoga. The organization is supported by the City of Saratoga which funds repairs and encourages its civic outreach projects.

Shogetsu-an: The template in the middle of the picture is the eventual location of the machiai waiting structure that Kez USA volunteers will build soon.

Shogetsu-an: The template in the middle of the picture is the eventual location of the machiai waiting structure that Kez USA volunteers will build soon. Photo by Karl Bareis.

Recently Kez volunteers had built a small wisteria arbor near the gift shop, so our extension into supporting the formal tea garden was something that garnered support from our membership. Within the formal tea garden there’s a space for a small covered waiting area (machiai), and that’s the part of the project we’d been inspired to help with. The design process took several years and eventually involved a group of Japanese traditional landscapers who helped with the design and volunteered their time to travel to Saratoga to implement their design. In January we put out the word that the team from Japan would need our help to be able to get the project installed. Our job was to work with Hakone Foundation and the tea schools to come up with a well proportioned machiai design that could be eventually be built by our group.

Those of us who arrived on the first day discovered a mini-Kubota excavator plunked down in the middle of a narrow mountain terrace, dwarfing the miniature tearoom which had been etched into the hillside back in 2001, when it was sent from Osaka. The tea ceremony student volunteers who reconstructed the old Kyoto style tearoom weren’t trained in the details of this very demanding form of traditional architecture. There’s a reason the tea rooms are built in Sukiya style, with all round posts and beams, joined seamlessly. The result of the efforts in 2001 was that the tearoom was finished but without funds or knowledge on how to build the all-important tea garden, or roji. Therefore the spatial proportions of the hillside garden needed to be completely revamped to accommodate the elements of the traditional landscape: bamboo fence, machiai, stone water basin, and pathways.

Shogetsu-an: The volunteers got hands-on experience creating this nobedan walkway in front of the tea house.

Shogetsu-an: The volunteers got hands-on experience creating this nobedan walkway in front of the tea house. Photo by Karl Bareis.

As we quickly discovered, the daily schedule started at 8am and wasn’t completed until dusk. Every day more and more rocks were delivered, humped down the hill and buried in the garden, in addition the perimeter of the existing tearoom had to be carefully excavated out and replaced with a traditional foundation perimeter. This careful work was all done by hand, very close to the existing tearoom, so the Kez volunteers spent the bulk of their time wielding shovels and picks rather than saws and chisels. We did rebuild a wooden platform and a cut-out form for the eventual machiai waiting room, but mostly we were assisting the Japanese stone masons and gardeners.

The final result is an impressive garden filled with heavy rock walls and pathways. Our labor was critical in getting the project completed in the six-day schedule. The staff gardener Jacob Kellner wrote a nice thank you note, describing the 800 plus hours of volunteer labor as the critical factor in the Foundation’s being able to build the Shogetsu-an tea garden.

James Wiester wrote: “What can I say? My day at the Gardens took me back to my apprenticeship in Japan way, way back. Start off with lofty hopes of using chisels and planes working on a tea house but instead end up with a pick and shovel…That, plus a lot of sweeping, encapsulates most of my apprenticeship experience. In that spirit, with every round trip of my strategically weighted wheelbarrow I had the opportunity to observe how the masons plied their craft: set the dimensions, level the site out, place the big stones, shape the remaining puzzle pieces. Pretty much the same thing carpenters do just with different materials and more squatting.

Two specific things in particular I learned:
1) From Jacob, the head gardener:
“Put more dirt toward the front of your wheelbarrow to make it easier to wield”.
2) From the masons: “..put stones on top of your upright single Jack supported with your foot-turn it into an anvil-to shape them with a hammer.”
The point being you can spend your day sweating and dumpling dirt out of your shoes and still come away with new ideas.”

Well we certainly didn’t do the work by ourselves-there were 19 volunteers, and one traveled from as far as South Carolina. We all had a chance to see real pros working hard to create a permanent landscape. The machiai space has been clearly delineated and now we must finalize the design with the Tea School experts, and begin to think about accumulating the materials for the structure. I’d like to thank Ryosei Kaneko for making the mock-up frame and all the others for their volunteer hours:
James Weister (10 hours)
Peter McAneny (17.5 hrs)
David Bassing (23hrs)
Jay Van Arsdale (7hrs)
Toby Hargreaves (11 hrs)
Mark VanHaltern (9hrs)
Jason Forster (23hrs)
Ryosei Kaneko (12hrs)
Darrel DeBoer (15hrs)
Theo Padouvas (11 hrs)
Peter Bowyer (23 hrs)
K.Bareis (52 hrs)
Our total Kez volunteer hours on the Hakone Project: 213.5