Teahouse Restoration Project
Tea House / Restoring a Japanese Cultural Asset in Des Moines
The tea house will serve as an example of the beauty and artistry of traditional Japanese architecture and design. The tea house will come to life to share Japanese culture to Iowans and visitors of all ages through classes on topics such as chanoyu (tea ceremony), kimono and ikebana (flower arranging), as well as other special events. In addition, the tea house is a symbol of an enduring friendship with roots in the sadness of World War II that reinforces the value of diversity, multicultural understanding, and peace that endures 70 years later.
History of the Project
JASI’s Tea House Restoration project is restoring a Japanese tea house brought to Des Moines, Iowa by Tomoko Yamamoto and her family during World War II, to its original splendor using traditional Japanese carpentry techniques as well as new and reclaimed wood. The tea house provides a link to Japanese culture, the spirit of cross-cultural friendship spanning back to World War II as well as an important cultural linking of Des Moines, California and Japan.
Government panic after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor caused the Japanese citizens on the west coast of the United States to be sent to internment camps for the duration of the War. It was during this time of uncertainty, Tomoko Yamamoto asked Fae Huttenlocher of Des Moines to take care of her authentic Japanese tea house so it wouldn’t be destroyed when they left their home in California with all they could carry for the duration of the War. The tea house was crated and sent to Des Moines where it was reassembled on the third floor of Mrs. Huttenlocher’s home on 27th Street in the Owl’s Head area of Des Moines, which is the current home of Jeff Hunter, owner of the Hotel Fort Des Moines. The tea house was used to teach ikebana (flower arranging), the tea ceremony, and Japanese culture.
After World War II
After the war and upon release from the internment camp, Mrs. Yamamoto and her family moved to Des Moines and stayed in Mrs. Huttenlocher’s majestic Victorian mansion. When Mrs. Huttenlocher moved from her home, the tea house was carefully disassembled and placed in the same crate it traveled from California. For many years, the tea house was feared lost forever but the Japan America Society of Iowa (JASI) discovered it had been stored in a City of Des Moines warehouse since its disassembly. Now the tea house is in the care of JASI and ready for restoration to its former glory. In consultation with tea house contruction experts in Japan, JASI is using traditional Japanese carpentry techniques and materials to bring the tea house back to life overseen by a home building professional and a veteran architect with consultation of tea house construction experts in Japan.