Saturday, October 1, 2016

Japanese Cultural Center, Saginaw, MI

I've known about the Japanese Cultural Center in Saginaw for many years, but I never took the opportunity to visit until I began planning the itinerary for the Michigan Tea Tour. Pour yourself a cup of tea as I try to re-create our wonderful visit.

Reservations were made for a 2:00 p.m. traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony [chado - "The Way of Tea"].  It was a beautiful day, and we arrived early, so we decided to stroll part of the three acre Tea Garden [roji] first. Teresa took a picture of me getting a shot of the Japanese Cultural Center sign. 

Sign just before entering the garden.

Two more signs just inside the garden.  The garden opened to the public in 1971.

The two communities of Saginaw, MI and Tokushima, Japan have enjoyed a sister-city status for 55 years.

The beautiful Asian-inspired Gazebo [below], dedicated in 2006, was one of the first things we saw upon entering the garden.

Numerous traditional, ornamental, stone lanterns [toro] set on pedestals, were positioned throughout the garden.

Judith took the photo of me standing next to a stone lantern on the shoreline of Lake Linton.

~ An arched bridge over a gentle, meandering brook. ~

Benches around the garden provide a place to sit and enjoy the beauty and meditate.

The garden epitomized tranquility and serenity with its weeping cherry trees, Japanese yew bushes, pine and other trees.  

~ Side view of Japanese Tea House ~

[Photo courtesy of Nancy R.]

The tea house is in keeping with authentic sukiya-style Japanese architecture, using natural materials to depict quiet elegance with rustic overtones. Nothing is ostentatious or overwhelming to the eyes.  The tea house was designed by architect Tsutomu Takenaka and was constructed in 1985-86 at a cost of $500,000. It was a collaborative effort between Saginaw and its sister city, Tokushima, as a symbol of friendship.  Its foundation rests on part American soil and part Japanese soil that was deeded to Tokushima in 1978.  The Tea house is treasured as one of the most authentic tea houses in North America.  

Yoko Mossner, director of the Japanese Cultural Center and Tea House, welcomed us and was also the tea ceremony host [teishu].  Can you believe she is 83 years old?  She didn't look or act it.  She and the other two celebrants wore traditional Japanese kimonos as they performed the Chanoyu tea ceremony promoting the four key principles of harmony [with nature], respect [with each other], purity [of heart and mind], and tranquility [inner peace]. The mission of the Cultural Center Tea House is to "express intercultural understanding and peace through a bowl of tea."

[Photo of Yoko courtesy of Linda J.]

Inside the tea house [chashitsu] were two tearooms: the Tatami room...

...and the Ryurei room, [where we were seated].

The tatami room has straw mattresses [or mats] called tatamis [hence the name of the room]. Had we gone into the tatami tearoom we would have had to remove our shoes and kneel throughout the ceremony.  Yoko said she used to be able to kneel, but at 83 it's a little harder, so we observed the ryurei-style tea ceremony initiated by the 11th Grand Tea Master in Kyoto while entertaining non-Japanese guests more comfortable sitting on benches or chairs than kneeling.  

There are two types of Japanese tea gatherings: an informal tea gathering [chakai] and a formal one [chaji]. The informal tea gathering is a relatively simple course of hospitality that includes sweets [kashi] and thin Matcha tea [usucha] which has been whipped until frothy. The informal tea gathering was demonstrated for us, after which we were also served.
Yoko explained the components of a tearoom:  An alcove [tokonoma] where the hanging scroll [kakemono] and simple floral arrangements [chabana] are displayed. 

The supporting pillar [tokobashira] was from a Cypress tree in Japan.

~ The ceiling was made of woven cedar strips. ~

Yoko said the interior of the tea house was finished by three Japanese carpenters without use of nails.  It had all natural woodwork in keeping with the tea ceremony which also is as close to natural as possible.

Because of this long post the tea ceremony will be separate.


  1. Welcome back! Definitely a tranquil location!

  2. So glad you're back. This tea house certainly has a beautiful setting. How amazing that the inside was finished without nails! I'm glad they had a ceremony that allowed you to sit, rather than kneel.

  3. The grounds were beautiful.
    Sips and Smiles,

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