What is the Japan House?

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.

I believe when one experiences a culture other than their own, they become more open to all cultures throughout the world.  I hope that by sharing the traditional arts and aesthetics of Japan that I can help us all become more respectful and tolerant of others.  Only that openness to the world will bring us to peace.

Come visit Japan House and its beautiful and immersive environment of zen gardens, tea ceremonies and authentic tea rooms and architecture. The aesthetic traditions of Japan will become clear to you as you spend time here.  And hopefully you will find a moment of peace… a unique moment of peace here at Japan House.  It is something special.

History of Japan HouseFrom 1964 up to 2008

The roots of Japan House go back to 1964, when Shozo Sato, then artist-in-residence at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and now Professor Emeritus in the School of Art and Design, initiated a series of courses in the art and culture of Japan. Using an old Victorian house he worked to create both curriculum and practicum opportunities for students, with an authentic physical setting in which to teach Japanese culture.

When that house was lost in the redevelopment of campus, the dream of a permanent home for this initiative began. The current facility, funded primarily through generous private contributions, was dedicated in June of 1998 with Kimiko Gunji as director. The focus of the traditionally Japanese styled structure is its three authentic tea rooms surrounding a large class and activity room.

The house is surrounded by a Japanese tea garden and a Zen style rock garden. The gardens are an ongoing project, begun in 2002, and designed by James A. Bier of Champaign. The most recent addition, in 2009, is an allée of cherry trees donated by the Urasenke Tea School in Kyoto, Japan.

Japan House Timeline From 1964 up to 2008

  • 1964

    Shozo Sato arrives at the University of Illinois from Japan and begins teaching classes in Japanese arts and culture as an artist in residence affiliated with the College of Fine and Art Applied Arts.

  • 1975

    With the assistance of Dr. Morton Weir, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Shozo Sato converts an 80 year-old Victorian house owned by the University, at 902 W. California, into the original Japan House.

  • 1976

    The original Japan House serves as the University’s first teaching center for traditional Japanese art and culture.

  • 1992

    Shozo Sato retires as Director of Japan House and the building is torn down for redevelopment.

  • 1995

    The University selects a site in the Arboretum for a new Japan House. The Urasenke Foundation of Tea agrees to donate two tearooms for the new Japan House after a visit from Kimiko Gunji.

  • 1996

    The Japan Illini Club begins a fundraising campaign for the new Japan House.

  • 1997

    Associate Provost Martin and Kimiko Gunji attend the Japan-Illini Club annual meeting and receive a commitment for $100,000 toward Japan House construction. The University of Illinois Foundation launches a fund raising campaign for the new Japan House. With the approval of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, construction begins.

  • 1998

    The Commemorative Association for the Japan World Exposition grants $100,000 to Japan House and the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership grants $100,000 to Japan House. Japanese Master Carpenter, Seiji Suzuki installs three Japanese tearooms into the empty building. Construction is completed and the new Japan House is dedicated on June 18, 1998. The dedication ceremony includes a traditional blessing of the house and ponds, conducted by the Reverand Sunnan Kubose, III. A symposium, Peacefulness Through a Bowl of Tea is delivered by Soshitsu Sen XV, Grandmaster of the Urasenke Tradition of Tea. In addition to the academic classes being taught, Japan House begins a tradition of outreach programs to the public with Spring and Fall Open Houses, presentations and lectures on Japanese art and culture and tea ceremonies for the general public, Children's Day events, and visiting artists.

  • 1999

    Japan House exhibits Imperfect Harmony, a tea bowl exhibition organized by the Greater Lafayette Museum of Art in Indianapolis, Indiana and partially funded by the Japan Foundation for Global Partnership.

  • 2000

    A successful fundraising auction of exquisite kimonos, works of art and Japanese collectibles is held during the spring of 2000. The garden is formally dedicated and its donors Mr. & Mrs. James Bier are recognized for their generous contributions.

  • 2001

    In response to the 9/11 tragedy, Japan House collaborates with the Japan Intercultural Network, the Japanese Students Association and local grade schools to sponsor the Senbazuru one thousand cranes project. Three thousand cranes are folded and sent to New York as a prayer for the victims and as a wish for peace in the world.

  • 2002

    A one-day Designer Trunk Show showcasing designer fashions and jewelry while benefiting programs of the Japan House

  • 2003

    Japan House, Spurlock Museum and Krannert Center for the Performing Arts collaborate to celebrate the first five years of Japan House. Kimono Fantasy: Attire from the Heian Court Era to the Present Day is presented at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Sen’ei Ikenobo, the 45th Headmaster of the Ikenobo Ikebana, School of Japanese Flower Arranging. The Prairie Ikenobo Ikebana Chapter hosts its sixth anniversary celebration, including the Headmaster Sen’ei Ikenobo’s Ikebana demonstration.

  • 2005

    Japan House holds its second fundraising auction of kimonos and Japanese works of art. The Hakubi Kyoto Kimono School donates a collection of kimonos to Japan House to create a Kimono Resource Center. Twenty-two members of the Friends of Japan House group Tomonokai embark on a seven-city tour of Japan.

  • 2007

    Japan House collaborates with Krannert Center for the Performing Arts with the support of the Consulate of Japan at Chicago, the City of Osaka, Chicago office and numerous corporate sponsors to bring Bunraku, one of Japan’s most traditional theatrical art forms to the Midwest. On October 5, the National Puppet Theatre of Japan performs at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. A second Designer Trunk Show successfully raises funds for Japan House.

  • 2008

    Japan House celebrates its 10th Anniversary with special events including a performance at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts: Hidden Beauty: Yugen in Tea, Noh, and Contemporary Washi Art on October 25, 2008. Dr. Genshitsu Sen, the 15th generation of the Urasenke Tea School in Japan, donates 50 cherry trees to Japan House in the spring. They are planted under the direction of his gardener, Katsuo Kubo, who visits Japan House, to create the Sen Cherry Tree Allée.

  • 2009

    The Japan House Endowment Fund Drive ends in December of 2009. The campaign brings in $3 million in estate gift and pledges with an additional $1 million in cash gifts during the course of the campaign.

  • 2010

    In April, Kimiko Gunji and Jim Bier lead a group of Japan House supporters to Japan for a tour of important gardens, as well as temples and many well-known sites. In the fall, the third Simple Elegance Auction of works of art, kimonos and Japanese inspired works of art and experiences is held at the I-Hotel. A Bazaar of gifts and collectibles is held at Japan House prior to the event. All proceeds go toward supporting Japan House programming.

  • 2011

    Professor Kimiko Gunji retires. Japan House supporters, friends and former students travel across the country to give her an emotional goodbye.

  • 2012

    Professor Emeritus, Kimiko Gunji is awarded the prestigious Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese Emperor for significant achievement in international relations and the promotion of Japanese culture. Also, in 2012, Associate Professor Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud becomes the new Director of Japan House.