Japanese tea house tour

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Last Thursday I took a tour of the Ippakutei Tea House at the Japanese Embassy here in Washington, DC. The visit was organized as part of AIA DC's Architecture Week, and though I had many deadlines back at the office I couldn't resist taking this opportunity to check out the tea house.

Ippakutei was built in 1960, as a gift from the Japan-America trade committee to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of the Japan-U.S. Treaty on Amity and Commerce. Japanese architect Nahiko Emori designed it, drawing some inspiration from the Jo'an Tea House in Kyoto. A team of builders constructed it in Japan according to traditional methods, and it was then shipped to the U.S. and re-assembled.

The 940-square foot teahouse has two main rooms: the hiroma, a larger gathering space, and the koma, a tiny tea room that you enter through a 27-inch-tall door. (The purpose of the small door is to symbolize the irrelevance of social status, since everyone must bend down and enter the koma in the same way.) The blue-and-white checkered wall in the hiroma was designed to make the space feel less formal.

The rock garden leading up to the teahouse (partly visible in the foreground of my teahouse snapshot) was perhaps my favorite part of the experience. Loosely based on the garden at Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, its expanses of gravel and smattering of very deliberately placed stones help place visitors in a meditative state before arriving at the house.--m.d.

 
 

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