The Fellows Visit Shoya House at the Huntington Library

On February 13, 2024, the Fellows of VRG stepped back in time to 18th-century Japan where they enjoyed a marvelous tour led by Robert Hori, Associate Director of Cultural Programs of the Huntington Library’s recent acquisition: The Japanese Heritage Shoya House. Built around 1700, this 3,000-square-foot residence served as the center of village life in Marugame, Japan.

Spirited along secret back trails on a shuttle and whisked past a ‘Village of China,’ we encountered Cycads, Bonsai, flowering Camellias and Bamboo Groves as we were deposited in ‘18thC Japan – Shoya House.’ A true architectural wonder of Samurai design and fronted with its own Rice Paddies on the cusp of being planted. As we entered through the Entrance Gates, we noticed the intense patterned grain of ancient wood that has been newly planed to the original smoothness of glass that acts as a repellant of the rains not to mention splinters. This mirage manifest real, is topped with Lead colored ceramic tiles, imbued that tone by smoking the roof tiles over and over to achieve a matte black gray of Ash to shimmer in the crisp morning light of San Marino under the snow cap of Mt. Baldy. So detailed are the tiles, that bamboo is patterned in the ceramic string which crowns the tiers flowing downwards to Earth where Cycads are planted in stone lined beds the shape of Turtles, who symbolize Longevity.

Symbolism abounds within the house, with hand wrought metal sculptures of Cranes, Flowers and Butterflies to hide joint connections.

Carved fretwork of workers toiling in the Rice fields, a large Jar of Sake and drunken men sit high above original wooden doors inset with Mulberry paper panels for diffused lighting within the house.

Sliding storage cupboards covered in Paper with large Gold Flecks sparkle against a Blue Black wall in the most Sacred Room within, that which was to host Dignitaries.

We see the root of Modernist Architecture and the Study of Enlightenment & Life reflected in the Garden and House – Katei – so espoused by California’s early Modernists like Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolf Schindler and Richard Neutra and even the Greene Brothers.

Tender delicate bamboo gates line outdoor paths of the gardens.

One feels a studied asymmetry in the house’s floor plan down to the Tatami mats, where mathematical equations are honored.

All is in an ordered manner yet unconventionally, for we do find enfilades of doors, and far off vistas within when walls are slid open. The house has original sliding doors of Glass lining the perimeter Hallways on the interior, with all the rooms set behind original paper and wooden sliding doors, yet the glass doors can be covered on the exterior with hidden sliding solid wood doors, thus allowing the Garden within all the day long and at night offering Security from the elements and hostile warriors of the time.

To understand how life may have been, one should watch THE LAST SAMURAI featuring Ken Watanabe and Tom Cruise. This film was honored by Architectural Digest when Paige Rense was Editor, and the set was featured. This film is set in 19thC Japan, the end of Shogun – the Samurai’s reign is outlawed and forbidden by the Emperor, who had for centuries aligned with the Samurai as his most revered defenders, his personal Pretorian Guard. The Village built to evoke the ‘familial’ nature of communal Village life, with splendid rustic yet authentic architecture and gardens for sustenance. The costumes and the customs set within these homes is better understood. With a new series set to premiere in February, SHOGUN, we may yet be treated to a new insight into the observation of Village life when Shoya House was the Katei of Muragame.

After the tour, the group enjoyed a delicious lunch at Fellows Chair Jeanne Anderson’s favorite Thai restaurant, Sala Dang in Pasadena.

Superintendent Emeritus Timothy Lindsay and Jeanne gifted the attendees with the Virginia Robinson Camellia plant from Nuccio’s Nursery, a semi-double orchid pink camellia.

A big thank you to Jeanne, who imbues every event she organizes with her special magic, making them unforgettable. Do join the Fellows to participate in these unique events which enrich heart and soul!

Post by Regina Drucker
Friends of Robinson Gardens Member
Photos by Linda Meadows, Regina Drucker, Wendy Wintrob, Sharon Gart, and Shiva Moshtael

2 Responses

  1. Marcella Ruble
    | Reply

    After just attending some of Modernism Week in Palm Springs, the article was so interesting to read about some of the design influences that helped to create it. Plus it sounds like the tour was so much fun!

  2. Regina Drucker
    | Reply

    Marcella, you would have been transported with this breathtaking treasure bestowed upon California. We see where Frank Lloyd Wright took his inspiration from beginning in Tokyo, where his acolytes Schindler and Neutra brought to Palm Springs.

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