Near the tree-shaded Japanese Teahouse, past the teahouse garden, or roji, a brook babbles lazily. The purpose of a Japanese Teahouse is to create and sustain a space of serenity. And you don’t have to travel 5500 miles to visit one. ShinKanAn, or the “Look through the Heart” teahouse, is located right here in Santa Barbara.
Situated in the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, ShinKanAn is connected to an historical cultural exchange between Santa Barbara and Japan-an exchange that began as long ago as 1949, when the teahouse was gifted to a Santa Barbara resident by a craftsman in Kyoto. The exchange continues today with The Santa Barbara-Toba Sister City Organization’s (SBTSCO’s) recent donation of $500 to the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens for the development and reparation of the tea house gardens.
Since a Japanese teahouse is supposed to harmoniously blend in with its natural surroundings, and since the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden plays a special role in the conservation of native California flora, the roji is comprised entirely of native Californian plant-life. Literally, a roji is a path one takes from the gate of the teahouse gardens to the teahouse itself, and is an important aspect of the Urasenke traditional tea ceremony called Chanoyu, or “the way of tea,” which is practiced and taught at ShinKanAn.
Unfortunately, the roji surrounding ShinKanAn was damaged in the recent Jesusita fires. Whole sections of trees and hedges that separated ShinKanAn from a view of the street burned to the ground. Takako Watika is one of the students of by tea-master Sokyo Kasai, who instructs at ShinKanAn. She explained that fire damage has affected the serenity of ShinKanAn. Now, Watika said, one can hear traffic passing by, noises that were blocked by the California foliage that once enveloped the teahouse. The SBTSCO’s donation is one step in the direction of renewal of these gardens.
Toba is one of Santa Barbara’s six sister cities. Like Santa Barbara, Toba is a coastal town nestled between mountains and ocean. Its economy is focused on fishing and tourism. The SBTSCO sent students to help construct a Dolphin Friendship Fountain in Toba, and the teahouse is a popular outing for the Toba students who come to Santa Barbara every August as part of SBTSCO’s student exchange program. Toba is located about a two-hour train ride from Kyoto, the home of the craftsman who made ShinKanAn.
With SBTSCO’s recent donation, the roji of Santa Barbara’s Japanese teahouse is on its way to restored authenticity, for the pleasure, peace, and education of our community and oceans beyond it.