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University Seeks Assistance with Relocation of Kitayama Teahouse

Contact: goodhart@cnu.edu
Last Updated: 2/6/2005

The Japanese teahouse that is located on the Christopher Newport University (CNU) campus in Newport News, Virginia, was originally constructed in 1987 for the highly successful exhibition, Japan: The Shaping of the Daimyo Culture, 1185-1868, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. This unique masterpiece of Japanese culture was presented as a gift by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper and the Nomura Securities Company to the people of Virginia once the National Gallery of Art exhibition was concluded. CNU acquired the teahouse after Governor Gerald Baliles saw it at the exhibition, fell in love with it, and sought to have it moved to Virginia. CNU was chosen to receive the teahouse because it complemented the school’s new Japanese Studies Program and was in close proximity to Japanese owned Canon Virginia, Inc., in Newport News.

The teahouse was reconstructed on the CNU campus by Marutomi Komuten, a Japanese construction company founded in 1891. Marutomi Komuten specializes in the reconstruction of traditional Japanese buildings, especially teahouses. The trade and talents of the carpenters, roofers, plasterers and other craftsmen are built on the foundation of ancestors, wisdom and skills, and have been passed down through generations. Built of cypress, oak and a variety of cedar found only in Kitayama, near Kyoto, the teahouse is held together with doweling, tongue and groove fittings and a few handmade nails. The foundation stones are precisely hollowed to receive posts rubbed and burnished with loose, fine sand. Construction began at CNU on June 7, 1989, after the arrival of the Japanese craftsmen. For a little over a month the craftsmen worked six days a week, sometimes in 100 degree heat, to reconstruct the teahouse to its exact form.

In 1992 the Friends of the Teahouse was established in order to support activities at the teahouse. Until a few years ago the teahouse was used by local Japanese residents to conduct the formal tea ceremony. In the past few years, use of the teahouse has dwindled, maintenance has begun to suffer for lack of funds, and the Japanese Studies Program at CNU has been discontinued due to low enrollment. The teahouse is located at a busy corner of the campus in the midst of an old pine woods. The structure is in surprisingly pristine condition inside, with tatami mats, traditional light fixtures and cedar walls. Some of the exterior plaster has chipped on a few localized surfaces, and some shutters have been damaged during recent hurricanes.

CNU has recently experienced unprecedented growth under the leadership of its president, Senator Paul S. Trible. However, the university is now facing a serious shortage of land upon which to build critically needed facilities for academic use and student support. The teahouse occupies a vital location. Thus, it has become necessary for CNU to seek a new home for this unique structure. Ideally, we would like to see it set in an accessible Japanese garden that is open to the public and where it would serve as a public relations/teaching vehicle enhancing Japanese-American understanding. The university will donate the teahouse to a qualified recipient, who would then have to have it moved to its new location.

E-mail goodhart@cnu.edu or regular mail addressed to R. Robert Goodhart, Christopher Newport University, 1 University Place, Newport News, Virginia 23606.

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