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The History of Musoan Tea House at the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix 

Masako Takiguchi, 'mother' of the Japanese Friendship Garden, in front of Musoan.
Masako Takiguchi, 'mother' of the Japanese Friendship Garden, in front of Musoan.

In a tucked away corner of the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix, the Musoan Tea House stands as a pivotal element, embodying the essence of cultural exchange and tranquility. As one of the first finished components of the Garden, the tea house reflects a deep and important connection between Phoenix and its Sister City, Himeji, Japan. 

The initial journey of construction of the Garden began in 1983 when Bob Corella, a teacher on an exchange program to Himeji, found himself unwittingly becoming a catalyst for the Japanese Friendship Garden. Himeji's forward-thinking Mayor Totani envisioned the gift of a 'authentic' Japanese Garden to Phoenix to cement Sister City ties, and soon, their plan unfolded. The Himeji Gardening and Construction Contractors Association formulated plans for the Stroll Garden, the Tea House, and the Tea Garden, laying the foundation for a long-lasting cultural exchange. 

Early concept drawing of Rohoen.
Early concept of Rohoen.

When the Himeji Gardening and Construction Contactors Association drew up plans in January of 1988, they presented a unique proposal to the City of Phoenix. In their own words:  

"When we first thought of the Himeji Garden construction project, we had two questions to solve: the first question was, how can we satisfy the Phoenix people's taste for the 'exotic Orient,' if they have never seen it? The second question was how the idea of our culture could best be shaped into a garden as our message to the people of Phoenix?" They determined the best plan would also be the 'simplest';' create a garden just like they would in Japan, using locally sourced and sustainable materials. 

Musoan tea house, tucked away behind foliage in front of a stream.
A popular view of Musoan at the Garden.

Once the base of the Garden had been planned, it was time to begin the first phase of construction. Phoenix is very fortunate to have a Japanese tea garden, or roji, at the far Eastern end of our garden. This is unusual, since a tea garden is usually stand-alone feature not generally found in other types of gardens. Historically, tea houses were secluded within a grove or tucked away on the mountainside. When going to a tea house, guests should feel that they are approaching an isolated dwelling deep within a forest. At Rohoen, this is achieved by siting the tea garden in a tucked away corner at the far end of the garden, separated by a flowing stream.  

a tucked-away view of the roji garden at the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix.
The quiet atmosphere of the roji.

To ensure its authenticity, the city of Himeji's Architectural office was responsible for the original design of the tea house, which was built with great attention to detail in the traditional Sukiya style. It is modeled after a tea house of the Urasenke school (yushin and yuin) styles which has been designated as an important cultural property of Japan.  

Additionally, all traditional elements of a roji, including stepping stones, tsukubai (the stone basin providing water for purification before a tea ceremony), and bamboo groves have been densely planted together to create a secluded and authentic feeling.

The traditional interior of Musoan.
The traditional interior of Musoan.

The same can be said for the tea house, which features a meticulously maintained interior for traditional tea ceremonies. Together, these elements create a wabi (a taste for the simple and quiet) elegance that cannot be found anywhere else in Phoenix. 

The Tea House was named Musoan (Dream for the future), by the head master of the Urasenke school of tea in Kyoto, Japan. Dr. Soshitsu sen. Dr.sen is a fifteenth-generation descendant of the most famous of all tea masters, Sen no Rikyu, who lived from 1522 to 1591. Musoan was completed in 1996 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sister City Relationship between Phoenix and Himeji, where Phoenix dignitaries, Himeji mayor Horikawa, and a 150 person delegation from Japan attended the ceremony. 

Kanji for Musoan.
Kanji for Musoan.

For the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix, the tea house is more than a beautiful structure, it’s a vessel for traditional practices like Chanyou or chado (the way of tea) that allows guests to participate in a practice rooted in harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility once a month. 

It also serves as another symbol of our cross-cultural connection with our Sister City – allowing us to deepen our mutual understanding and friendship, despite being across the globe. 

Takiguchi-san sitting in the machiai.
Takiguchi-san sitting in the machiai.

If you want to experience or learn more about our tea house or tea ceremony, please consider booking a spot for tea tour or chanoyu! 

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