Smile Politely

Japan House Hosts an Open House This Weekend

Sometimes the cornfields can get you down. I have many antidotes (several involving vodka and olives), but when my liver needs a break and my soul longs for tranquility, C-U provides me a surprising sanctuary: Japan House.

Located in the University Arboretum at the south end of campus, in Urbana, and boasting an aura marked by Japanese tea, people strolling and rock gardens, Japan House offers all comers an oasis of calm in the midst of our bustling Midwestern burg. This weekend, Japan House puts all its charms on display during its Spring Open House.

Since the early 1960s, the University of Illinois has been a leader in Japanese studies, and Japan House fills the role of a permanent home for the university’s Japanese culture initiative. Created in 1998 with the aid of several generous private donations, Japan House offers curriculum and practicum opportunities for students from all walks of life, as well as an authentic physical setting in which Japanese culture is taught.

One of the most popular features of Japan House is the tea ceremony, which any visitor can experience for a nominal fee. For neophyte Westerners, the chance to pull back the curtain on this ancient and sacred tradition is a special treat.

When speaking of Japan House, the director, Kimiko Gunji, refers to “kokoro,” a Japanese word meaning, basically, “heart, mind and spirit.” Kokoro, Gunji says, “is like the sound of a pine breeze in a painting. We cannot see (it), not hold it, but if it is executed well, we can hear it.”

Spring Open House comes to Japan House on Saturday, April 12 from 10 a.m.–4 p.m., a daylong celebration including a presentation of kodo (the art of traditional Japanese incense), tea ceremonies and a tour of the gardens led by James Bier, designer and builder of the Japan House gardens.

Admission is free and all are welcome. Japan House is located at 2000 S. Lincoln Ave. in Urbana.

Photo courtesy of the Office of Admission and Records, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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