Tucked away amidst the expansive lands of Philly’s Fairmount Park, near the Philadelphia Zoo the Please Touch Museum, is one of the city’s best-kept secrets: Shofuso Japanese House and Garden.
Shofuso is an authentic 17th-century Japanese house and garden that offers an amazing glimpse into Japanese life and culture without leaving Philly.
The first Japanese garden in America was built on this spot west of the Schuylkill River for the 1876 Centennial Exposition. In 1905, a 14th-century Japanese gate was added to the gardens. Known as the Japanese Pagoda, the site sadly burned down in 1955.
While devastating to those that loved the area, it also opened the door for Shofuso to be placed in Philadelphia.
Shofuso, which translates to Pine Breeze Villa, was built in 1953 in Nagoya, Japan, by architect Junzō Yoshimura. It was constructed using traditional methods which minimize the use of nails and features a hinoki bark roof, the only such roof outside of Japan. After a year of construction, it was given to the United States as a gift from the people of Japan
To be sent to America, the home was disassembled and shipped across the ocean. When it arrived in the country, Yoshimura reassembled the home in the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
The exhibition, which was called “House and Garden,” was open from June 1954 through October 1955. When it closed, the museum reviewed applications for permanent placement and chose Philly due to the still active Japanese gardens.
The home was reassembled in Fairmount Park and opened to the public in October 1958. After years of enjoyment, and some neglect, Shofuso underwent a major renovation in 1976 and has been incredibly well-maintained since.
Today, visitors can stroll the grounds and see inside this historic Japanese home. Docents offer impromptu tours that highlight the building’s history and beauty. They also offer a wealth of information regarding 17th-century life in Japan and what it would have been like to reside in a home of this style.
One of the highlights of any visit is a series of paper sliding door panels painted by well-known Japanese artist Hiroshi Senju. The paintings that were originally installed in the doors were destroyed over the years, and Senju wanted to see the home returned to its original beauty.
The 20 fusuma paintings on display are reminiscent of a waterfall, and it is said that Senju was inspired by the small waterfall in the garden when he painted these panels. Since they are a form of contemporary art, Shofuso is the only place outside of Japan where you can see contemporary art inside a traditional Japanese home.
Shofuso sits in the middle of a traditional 17th-century Japanese garden. The garden was designed by Y. Muto, who also designed some of the gardens at the nearby Morris Arboretum. Over the years, the garden has been modified and added to, but still retains its historical charm.
Standing on the porch at Shofuso while overlooking the beautiful koi pond and the rest of the garden is an idyllic scene and might be one of the most calming and beautiful spots in Philly.
Throughout the year, Shofuso also offers traditional Japanese tea ceremonies in Philly. These monthly demonstrations require registration and offer the chance to experience an authentic tea ceremony without leaving the Japanese house in Fairmount Park.
To see Shofuso at its most stunning, visit during Philly’s annual cherry blossom festival. However, it’s a beautiful place to visit no matter the season (though it is closed during the winter).
So, the next time you are looking to explore a beautiful hidden gem in the city and want to get some culture, head to Philly’s Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Fairmount Park.
Note: My visit to Shofuso was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Looking for more hidden gems to enjoy? Check out Wissahickon Gorge, the Rosenbach Museum, the nearby Glencairn Museum, or the Reading Pagoda to the west.
Shofuso Japanese House and Garden
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday: 11am-5pm
Cost: Adults: $14, Children: $9
Address: Lansdowne and Horticultural Drives