philadelphia gardens: shofuso japanese house and garden

Thursday, June 9:  I have been wanting to visit some of the well-known gardens around Philadelphia before spring is over, so I take the opportunity today to drive up for an overnight trip.  My goal is to see four gardens: Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, Morris Arboretum, Chanticleer, and Winterthur.  It turns out I don’t see THOSE four gardens, but I do see four gardens (minus Morris Arboretum, plus Longwood Gardens).

It’s always a challenge to outsmart Washington area traffic, especially when you have to go around the Beltway, which I must do to get to Philly.  I decide I’ll leave at 10:00 a.m., when rush hour should be over.  Lately, it seems that rush hour is NEVER over, and today is no exception.  It takes me longer than I expect to get to my first garden, Shofuso, arriving around 2:00!  Shofuso closes at 4:00, and so does Morris Arboretum, which I also plan to see today, so I must hurry if I want to see them both.

Shofuso Japanese House and Garden is a traditional-style Japanese house and nationally-ranked garden in Philadelphia’s West Fairmount Park that reflects the history of Japanese culture in Philadelphia from 1876 to the present day.   It was built in Japan in 1953 using historic techniques and time-honored materials.  The house was exhibited in the courtyard at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and then moved to Philadelphia in 1958 to the site of several previous Japanese structures dating to the 1876 Centennial Exposition (from Shofuso’s brochure).

I end up by accident at the Fairmount Horticultural Center, but there is no one selling tickets and I don’t see another soul around.  I figure this must not actually be Shofuso, so I hop in my car and drive further along the road.

Inside the Fairmont Horticultural Center
Inside the Fairmont Horticultural Center

On my way to my car, I find this sculpture titled “The Wrestlers,” artist unknown, from 3rd century B.C. (cast in 1885).  These men are engaged in the Greek sport pankration, a blend of wrestling and boxing.  This sculpture is based on the 3rd century B.C. Greek original, which was lost in antiquity.  First century B.C. Romans made a marble copy, which was restored in 1853 and later displayed at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.  This cast was made from the Italian marble copy.

The Wrestlers
The Wrestlers

I drive down the quiet road and finally come upon the actual Shofuso.  After buying my ticket, I’m told to remove my shoes and put on paper socks to walk through the tea house.

According to the garden’s website: “Shofuso is a 1.2 acre Japanese garden listed as the third best Japanese garden in North America by Sukiya Living, and named the “Best Hidden Tourist Attraction” by Philadelphia Magazine.” It was named to the Philadelphia Historic Register in June 2013.

Welcome to Shofuso
Welcome to Shofuso

In Japanese tradition, architectural spaces designed to be used for tea ceremony gatherings are known as chashitsu.  Typical features include tatami mat floors, shoji (translucent paper screens reinforced with lattice), a tokonama (decorative alcove) and a ro (sunken hearth).  The ro is covered with plain tatami and is not visible in the warm months.

Tea ceremony is at once an art form, a spiritual discipline, a way to socialize, and a window on Japanese culture.

Japanese Tea House
Japanese Tea House

“Waterfall Painting” by artist Hiroshi Senju (b. 1958) was installed in 2007. He is known for his large-scale waterfall paintings, primarily working in the nihonga style.  Nihonga is used to describe paintings that have been made in accordance with traditional Japanese artistic conventions, techniques and materials.  While based on traditions over a thousand years old, the term was coined in the Meiji period (1868-1912) of Imperial Japan, to distinguish such works from Western-style paintings.  Nihonga typically combines pigments derived from natural materials (e.g. minerals, seashells, corals) in a medium of animal glue, which is then applied to washi (Japanese-style paper) (from a plaque at Shofuso).

The Waterfall
The Waterfall
Japanese Tea House
Japanese Tea House

Tea houses such as this have two rooms: the main room where the hosts and guests gather and tea is served, and a mizuya, or water room, where the host prepares the sweets and equipment.

Inside the Japanese Tea House
Inside the Japanese Tea House

Once I leave the tea house, I’m allowed to put my shoes back on to walk around the garden.  The pond is lush and serene.  I find one young man meditating on the shore and I try not to disturb him.

Japanese pond
Japanese pond

 

Bonsai tree on the island
Bonsai tree on the island

In front of the tea house are colorful boxes of incense and some fish-shaped wind socks.

incense for sale
incense for sale
fish windsocks
fish wind socks
hostas
hostas

I find some small-scale pagodas in the garden.

pagoda
pagoda
bridge to the island
bridge to the island

In a bamboo grove, I meet Jizo, one of the most loved of all Japanese divinities.  Traditionally, he is seen as the guardian of children, in particular those who died before their parents.

Jizo, one of the best loved of Japanese divinities
Jizo, one of the best loved of Japanese divinities
pagoda and pond
pagoda and pond
Japanese garden
Japanese garden
maple trees and the tea house
maple trees and the tea house

A frequent sight in Japanese gardens, the granite tsukabai, or basin, is a testament to the Japanese ideal of purity.  Washing hands before entering the tea house was customary as a purification ritual.

Tsukubai or basin
Tsukubai or basin
Shofuso
Shofuso
Japanese Garden
Japanese Garden
The tea house at Shofuso
The tea house at Shofuso
bamboo corner
bamboo corner

I didn’t mention that one of the reasons I chose these two days to visit the Philadelphia gardens is that the weather forecast was perfect, with blue skies and temperatures in the low 70s.  It couldn’t be a more perfect day to walk around outside.

gorgeous trees
gorgeous trees
Shofuso
Shofuso
Shofuso
Shofuso
the pond's edge
the pond’s edge
mini pagodas
mini pagodas

It’s lucky that Shofuso is so small; I’m finished walking around by 2:40.  On my MapQuest, it looks like it takes some 25 minutes to get to Morris Arboretum, so off I go.

Goodbye to Shofuso
Goodbye to Shofuso

When I get to the gate at Morris Arboretum a little after 3:00, I’m told it will cost me $17 for less than an hour (as they close at 4:00).  I tell the woman at the gate I will try to come back tomorrow, as it seems quite a steep price to pay for less than an hour.  After doing a U-turn and heading back to the road, I put Chanticleer into the MapQuest after reading that they’re open until 5:00.  I zoom to that garden, arriving at 4:00.  I still only have an hour, but it only costs $10.  Somehow that doesn’t seem so painful a price to pay.

Chanticleer ends up being my favorite garden of the four I see.  I’ll definitely have to come back when I can take a long lingering stroll.

Advertisements

16 thoughts on “philadelphia gardens: shofuso japanese house and garden

      1. I skipped going to the races this year. Instead, 12 of us went down to F1 Boston in Barintree, Mass.
        F1 Boston is a high speed , indoor go kart track. It was set up as a stag party for one of Betts grand sons.
        We had 3, 20 lap qualifying races and a 40 lap final. The track is set up as a road course with elevation changes. As the oldest member out there I held my own. Came in 3rd. in the second race and 7th in the final. 55mph in a tight indoor track, things happen fast. Next year we are taking about all of us going down to their out door track which has faster karts. This old man is still having fun trying to keep up with the younger generation.

  1. Lovely. I feel a sense of peace now. You must go back to this garden in spring and / or autumn to capture the colours. Japanese gardens are so restful. I am very happy that we have three more gardens to visit 🙂
    Is this the new camera Cathy? The photos are very sharp and clear with good colours and contrasts.

    1. I’m glad you felt a sense of peace while visiting Shofuso with me, Jude. I enjoyed this garden although it was quite small. I loved actual Japanese gardens in Japan too; they weren’t nearly so crowded as Chinese gardens! I think going back to Philadelphia in the fall would be wonderful.

      Thanks for the compliments on the pictures. I didn’t use my new Canon in these. Here, I used my Olympus, which is usually pretty reliable, and, believe it or not, my iPhone. Actually many of the iPhone pictures turned out better than the Olympus ones. On this trip, I took both my cameras. I used the Olympus and the iPhone only on the first day (Shofuso and Chanticleer) and the Canon and iPhone on the second day (Longwood and Winterthur). I’ll be curious to know if you can see the difference in sharpness and clarity after I post all the pictures. After this trip, I still believe the Canon is not as sharp as my Olympus and I really do need to send it back for adjustment or something! 🙂

  2. I’ve ‘pinched’ this for my walks tomorrow, Cathy 🙂 It’s a real beauty and I love the details you’ve included on Japanese culture. I knew you’d posted it because I glimpsed it briefly on FB but didn’t have time to read. I started in Myanmar today and had forgotten about this till I got here. If you do the Chanticleer one you liked so much, can you include a link to my latest walk so I spot it, and I’ll feature that too? More Sunday hugs! 🙂

    1. Thanks for ‘pinching’ this for your Monday walk, Jo. I’ll link to your walk within the post as well as in my next posts about Chanticleer, Longwood and Winterthur. I did do a lot of walking in those gardens, after all! Sunday hugs to you too! 🙂

      1. Thanks a lot, Cathy! You don’t have to link- it’s just easier for me to identify the walks then (or it is when the pingbacks are working 🙂 )

  3. Wow! I have to say I suffered a bit of post-traumatic stress disorder looking at both the tea house and the gardens, as I lived in Japan for five years (still cannot believe it and that was well before the age of Internet and satellite TV!) AND I lived in a very old Japanese tea house on stilts no less, in the heart of Tokyo! It was not quite so spacious or pristine, but it was very similar in miniature. Great experience on one level, being married at the same time no so much! Did you agree with the reviews? I think Japanese gardens are pretty similar, that is the point of them! Hahaha! Always peaceful and serene, very much a manipulation of nature as not one blade of grass is permitted to grown according to its own physiology! Can you tell what my opinion of a bonsai tree might be?? Think of binding the feet of Chinese women only with wire with the tree taking the place of human feet.

    Glad you are adding an extra mile to your daily walks, so wherever you get an opportunity for some cultural input at the same time – wherever, however – at the end of the day its all okay by me!!

    😀

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s