Keeping Philly Global through Shofuso

Written by Erin Yoder on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association

Situated in the middle of Fairmount Park is a small building with foreign architecture with well groomed gardens surrounding it. While many passersby may overlook it, Shofuso is the centerpiece to a blooming relationship between Philadelphia and Japan.

Shofuso is a traditional-style Japanese house that was originally built in Nagoya, Japan in 1953 for an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. After the exhibition ended, Shofuso was moved down to Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park in 1958, making this year its 60th anniversary of being in Philadelphia.

However, the friendship between Philadelphia and Japan runs deeper than Shofuso. In 1905, a 14th century Buddhist temple gate was given to Philadelphia after it had been on display in the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Unfortunately, the gate burned down in 1955, leaving an empty space that Shofuso would fill.

“Shofuso itself it’s really been an embodiment of friendship between Philadelphia and Japan from the beginning,” Kim Andrews, executive director of the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia said, “It was constructed and funded by the Japanese government and given as a gift.”

In the post-war period, Japan didn’t have much money and yet they still wanted to contribute a piece of architecture as a sign of friendship with the United States. Since its installation they have continued to support Shofuso by helping care and refurbish the house through generous donations of money.

In 2007, Hiroshi Senju, a famous Japanese Nihonga artist, contributed a series of paintings to Shofuso to be put on display for everyone to appreciate Japanese culture and aesthetic. In light of his work, the JASGP honored Senju at their annual meeting that was held on March 22nd.

“I wanted to contribute in my small way to the Japan and US bilateral cultural relationship. When Shofuso was reassembled in Philadelphia, the city where US was founded upon, it was a new chapter,”Senju said via email, “To be involved in such a place, is a great honor as a Japanese person living in America.”

JASGP’s plans don’t stop at keeping Shofuso running. In addition to having monthly tea ceremonies at the house, children’s programs are held on Sundays with a day summer camp program for all ages. This year they’ve also added five horticulture classes for visitors to learn the techniques behind Japanese gardening.

“We want to bring the arts and cultural note to Philadelphia and we want Philadelphia to know about Japan and understand that intercultural connection,” Andrews said.

While the JASGP is spreading Japanese culture in Philadelphia they are also making stronger connections in Japan with Philadelphia’s sister city Kobe. This year JASPG will be signing a sister garden agreement with Kobe’s municipal garden Sorakuen. With this new agreement being signed people from both cities will learn more about the importance of Shofuso and about Sorakuen.

“The role of Shofuso is very important,” Senju said via email, “Its role as a center of culture provides an essence of Japan.”

Shofuso is an integral part of Philadelphia’s goal of becoming a global city by promoting relations with Japan. In the beginning it was important to both countries that Shofuso be made open to the public with the JASGP continuing to spread Japanese culture on the East Coast. Now, as the friendship between these two nations continues to grow Philadelphia will continue to expand its reach in the world.

Come to Shofuso on Saturday, March 24, and Sunday, March 25, as we reopen for our 60th season in West Fairmount Park! Take in the spring blossoms, enjoy complimentary tours of our house and garden, and feed our koi.

Admission to Shofuso is $12 for adults, $8 for youth 6-17, seniors, and students with college ID, and $2 for ACCESS card holders with up to four guests. Members, youth 5 and under, and active military with ID and up to five guests are free. Tickets may be purchased at the door the day of admission.