Japan House is a unique facility that is part of the College of Fine and Applied Arts here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It is a teaching facility for not only University students but also the general public. Academic classes are held throughout the semester, tea ceremonies are offered on a weekly basis and numerous outreach programs and classes for the public strive to bring the traditional arts of Japan to the Illinois prairie.
Japan House Tea Gardens
The Japan House gardens have been designed, developed, donated, and cared for by Jim Bier along with the occasional aid of students of the Japan House. On October 17, 2013, Japan House and the University of Illinois formally named the gardens, the "James A and Lorene M. Bier Japan House Gardens" for their incredible generosity. The tea gardens are divided between an inner and an outer area. The outer garden is filled more with evergreens, and shrubbery, typically well-trimmed, whereas the inner garden is much more deciduous, less polished, symbolizing the transition from a structured and busy everyday life into something calmer and closer to nature. At the edge of the outer garden, guests would wait at the pergola before being led in by the host along an uneven stone path. By waiting, and watching their step, guests would be encouraged to slow down, preventing haste, getting more in line with the spirit of tea. The Japan House also is home to a dry garden, or rock garden. This style dates back to the 12th century, and are usually associated with Buddhist temples, as they were initially used in the facilitation of Zen meditation. Since then, they’ve become more widespread and you can find them in some Japanese homes.
The Japan House is an institution that developed very organically. Beginning initially from Shozo Sato’s teaching of tea and moving into an old Victorian style house on campus, it was then boosted by the incredible fundraising efforts of Kimiko Gunji, leading to our beautiful facility today. Literally built around the concept of tea ceremony, the Japan House houses three tatami fitted tea rooms in the informal, semi-formal, and formal styles in terms of the level of craftsmanship involved. The four-and-a-half mat informal room possesses a small, waist-level opening, called a "nijiriguchi," whereas the eight mat semi-formal and ten mat formal tea rooms are more open and are more targeted at instruction and demonstration purposes. These rooms were a gift from the Urasenke Tea School in Japan, whose crest of a ginkgo leaf can be found on the fusuma sliding doors.