Kykuit Japanese Garden Tour

On October 16th, members of the Japanese Art Society of America (JASA) toured the Japanese Garden at Kykuit, part of the Rockefeller Family Estate and the former country home of John D. Rockefeller, now a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in Pocantico Hills, NY.  The tour was hosted by JASA Board Member Cynthia Altman, Curator of the Kykuit collections.

The Garden was designed by Messieurs Ueda and Takahashi under the supervision of landscape architect William Wells Bosworth.  Mr. Ueda and Mr. Takahashi trained at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo in landscaping and architecture.   “A brook with stone and mortar bed flows 2200 feet, re-circulates and catches overflow from the fountains and pools of Kykuit’s gardens.  An estate road divides the garden into two sections.  The lower portion, with a pond surrounded by flowering cherries, clusters of azaleas, pines and thread-leaf maples, is typical of a hill and pond garden.  The upper section is more densely landscaped, and the brook and divergent paths form a stroll garden.  Low spreading juniper and grasses cover the steep easterly bank.  Shrubs and ornamental trees merge into the main lawns along the western border.1

The first Teahouse completed in 1909 (now called the Shrine) is of mahogany and originally had a thatched roof.  The one large room can be divided into two sections with fusuma (sliding panels).  The outer mahogany walls on three sides slide into pockets to reveal shoji (translucent latticed panels) covered in glass and silk.  The shoji also slide open for viewing the surrounding gardens. In 1922 John D. Rockefeller, Jr. authorized the replacement of the thatched roof with an ornate copper roof.1

In the early 1960’s Nelson A. Rockefeller commissioned David Harris Engel to redesign the upper portion of the garden.  Engel had studied in Kyoto in the 1950’s under Tansai Sano, a master landscape architect.  The first Teahouse was moved and a new Teahouse was built on the site.  The Teahouse was designed in the tradition of Sukiya-shoin style by the eminent Tokyo architect, Junzo Yoshimura (1908-1997) who had previously designed the “House in the Garden” at the Museum of Modern Art.1

Yoshihiro Terazono and Tomoko Urabe

During the tour, a demonstration of Tea was given by Tea Master Yoshihiro Terazono of the New York City Urasenke School with the expert assistance of Tomoko Urabe at the Garden Teahouse.

L. to R. Tomoko Urabe, Yoshihiro Terazono, Judy Blum and Cynthia Altman

  1. The Japanese Garden at Pocantico Hills – Published by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Tarrytown, NY

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