Rich in History
Rich in History
Rich in History
Rich in History
Rich in History

Rich in History

The roots of Japan House go back to 1964.

The roots of Japan House go back to 1964, when Shozo Sato, then artist-in-residence at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and now Professor Emeritus in the School of Art and Design, began a series of courses focusing on the art and culture of Japan. Eventually, he was allowed to renovate an old Victorian house to teach classes. Amazingly enough, he managed to turn that Victorian house into a Japanese environment which was known as Japan House. He continued to teach classes and began the tradition of Open Houses and welcoming in the whole community. For years, it was a center for the study of Japanese arts and aesthetics, but eventually the house had to make way for redevelopment of the campus.

When that house was lost, the dream of a permanent home for Japan House began. The current structure, funded primarily through generous private contributions, was dedicated in June of 1998 with Kimiko Gunji as director. The focus of the traditionally Japanese styled structure is its three authentic tea rooms surrounding a large class and activity room. Under the direction of Professor Gunji, Japan House enlarged its roster of classes and programs, also collaborating with other units and organizations to bring Japanese artists and performers to places like Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Krannert Art Museum, and the Spurlock Museum.

In 2002, James Bier of Champaign, began the development of the Japan House Gardens which now surround the building and include a Japanese tea garden and a Zen style rock garden. These gardens and the surrounding ponds make a visit to Japan House an immersive experience and strengthened the way in which it could wordlessly teach about Japanese aesthetics and the quest for tranquility during the tea ceremony.

The gardens and surrounding area within the Arboretum are an ongoing project. In 2008, an allée of 50 Japanese cherry trees was donated by Dr. Genshitsu Sen of the Urasenke Tea School in Kyoto, Japan. In 2013, with the help and donation by former U of I student Nick Offerman, the Shozo Sato Azumaya was completed, followed by the installation of the Kimiko Gunji Legacy Bridge in 2015.

In 2012, following the retirement of Kimiko Gunji, Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud became the 3rd director of Japan House. Building on the great strengths of her two predecessors, Gunji-Ballsrud begin a period of greater student integration and involvement with the implementation of the Japan House Internship program. In addition to classes, Japan House began to welcome a group of student interns every fall. The Japan House Internship program provides the energy and vitality to further expand the programming done at Japan House for both the academic and the general community.

In 2015, Japan House successfully held its first Matsuri, or Japanese festival, to a large and enthusiastic crowd, and the event continues to grow. In 2017 Japan House announced plans for a new annex to allow for its current flourishing programs, as well as plan for the future.


Shozo Sato arrives at the University of Illinois from Japan and begins teaching classes in Japanese arts and culture as an artist in residence affiliated with the College of Fine and Art Applied Arts.


With the assistance of Dr. Morton Weir, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Shozo Sato converts an 80 year-old Victorian house owned by the University, at 902 W. California, into the original Japan House.


The original Japan House serves as the University’s first teaching center for traditional Japanese art and culture.


Shozo Sato retires as Director of Japan House and the building is torn down for redevelopment.


The University selects a site in the Arboretum for a new Japan House. The Urasenke Foundation of Tea agrees to donate two tearooms for the new Japan House after a visit from Kimiko Gunji.


The Japan Illini Club begins a fundraising campaign for the new Japan House.


Associate Provost Roger Martin and Kimiko Gunji attend the Japan-Illini Club annual meeting and receive a commitment for $100,000 toward Japan House construction. The University of Illinois Foundation launches a fundraising campaign for the new Japan House. With the approval of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, construction begins.


The Commemorative Association for the Japan World Exposition and the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership give large grants to build Japan House. The Urasenke Foundation sends Japanese Master Carpenter, Seiji Suzuki to install three Japanese tearooms into the empty building. Construction is completed and the new Japan House is dedicated on June 18, 1998. A blessing is given by Soshitsu Sen XV, Grandmaster of the Urasenke Tradition of Tea.


Japan House exhibits "Imperfect Harmony," a tea bowl exhibition, organized by the Greater Lafayette Museum of Art in Indianapolis, Indiana and partially funded by the Japan Foundation for Global Partnership.


A successful fundraising auction of exquisite kimonos, works of art and Japanese collectibles is held during the spring of 2000. The garden is formally dedicated and its donors Mr. & Mrs. James Bier are recognized for their generous contributions.


In response to the 9/11 tragedy, Japan House collaborates with the Japan Intercultural Network, the Japanese Students Association, and local grade schools to sponsor the Senbazuru one thousand cranes project. Three thousand cranes are folded and sent to New York as a prayer for the victims and as a wish for peace in the world.


A one-day Designer Trunk Show showcasing designer fashions and jewelry while benefiting programs of the Japan House


Japan House, Spurlock Museum and Krannert Center for the Performing Arts collaborate to celebrate the first five years of Japan House. Kimono Fantasy: Attire from the Heian Court Era to the Present Day is presented at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. Sen’ei Ikenobo, the 45th Headmaster of the Ikenobo Ikebana, School of Japanese Flower Arranging. The Prairie Ikenobo Ikebana Chapter hosts its sixth anniversary celebration, including the Headmaster Sen’ei Ikenobo’s Ikebana demonstration.


Japan House holds its second fundraising auction of kimonos and Japanese works of art. The Hakubi Kyoto Kimono School donates a collection of kimonos to Japan House to create a Kimono Resource Center. Twenty-two members of the Friends of Japan House group, Tomonokai, embark on a seven-city tour of Japan.


Japan House collaborates with the Consulate of Japan at Chicago, the City of Osaka, and others to bring Bunraku, by the National Puppet Theatre of Japan, to Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, A second Designer Trunk Show successfully raises funds for Japan House.


Japan House celebrates its 10th Anniversary with special events including a performance at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts: "Hidden Beauty: Yugen in Tea, Noh, and Contemporary Washi Art" on October 25, 2008. Dr. Genshitsu Sen, the 15th generation of the Urasenke Tea School in Japan, donates 50 cherry trees to Japan House in the spring. They are planted under the direction of his gardener, Katsuo Kubo, who visits Japan House, to create the Sen Cherry Tree Allée.


The Japan House Endowment Fund Drive ends in December of 2009. The campaign brings in $3 million in estate gift and pledges with an additional $1 million in cash gifts during the course of the campaign.


In April, Kimiko Gunji and Jim Bier lead a group of Japan House supporters to Japan for a tour of important gardens, as well as temples and many well-known sites. In the fall, the third Simple Elegance Auction of works of art, kimonos and Japanese inspired works of art and experiences is held at the I-Hotel.


Professor Kimiko Gunji retires. Japan House supporters, friends and former students travel across the country to give her an emotional goodbye.


Professor Emeritus Kimiko Gunji is awarded the prestigious Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese Emperor for significant achievement in international relations and the promotion of Japanese culture. Also, in 2012, Associate Professor Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud becomes the new Director of Japan House.


Japan House initiates the Japan House Internship Program. A group of 8-10 students joins the program each Fall to assist in student programming, research, marketing, and helping to coordinate Japan House programming.


Japan House begins a new annual tradition of Matsuri, a festival of Japanese culture with performances, demonstrations and food, on the grounds of the University of Illinois Arboretum surrounding the house.


Japan House announces plans for an addition the current facility, to be named the Ogura-Sato Annex, after Shozo Sato and his wife Alice Oguro Sato.


Senko Ikenobo, the future Headmaster of the Ikenobo Ikebana, School of Japanese Flower Arranging speaks at Japan House, as part of the Illinois Prairie Chapter of the Ikenobo Ikebana Society of America’s tenth anniversary celebration held at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.