Teahouse nestled in California’s naturalistic setting

Santa Barbara Teahouse Shin Kan An

Shin Kan An tea group, from left in the back, are Takako Wakita, Lark Batteau, Kyoko Sweeney, Linda Mathews, Hiroko Taniguchi and Yukari Okamoto. From left in the front, Urasenke Tea Teacher Sokyo Kasai, acting Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles, Yoshimasa Tezuka, his wife Chizuko, and Shakuhachi player Bob Sedivy. (Cultural News Photo)

Cultural News 2008 May Issue

SANTA BARBARA – In an unlikely spot for Japanese cultural property, a teahouse is nestled quietly in an all-California plants garden at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

This teahouse was built in 1949 by skilled craftsmen in Japan and then shipped to Santa Barbara as a gift for retired businessman Royce Greatwood. The teahouse was reassembled in Greatwood’s Hope Ranch lemon orchard.

In 1958, the home and orchard became the property of the John H. Esbenshade family, and their daughter Alice played in the teahouse while growing up. Once Alice discovered Japanese culture through her travels to Japan and study of flower arranging and later, Urasenke Tea ceremony, she realized that it would be a wonderful gift to pass the teahouse on to the people of Santa Barbara.

In 1998, with the help of the Santa Barbara-Toba (Mie Prefecture) Sister City Commitee, the Esbenshades donated this unique teahouse to the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, where it is being preserved and appreciated by visitors in its beautiful naturalistic setting.

Over the last five years, the all-California native garden has been flourishing around the teahouse according to the plans for a traditional teahouse garden.

The teahouse soon received a name from the 15th generation Hounsai Grand Master (now Hounsai Genshitsu Daisosho) of the Urasenke Tea School of Kyoto. The Grand Master named the teahouse Shin Kan An, meaning, “Look Through the Heart.” The name was generously given in honor of Heartie Anne Look, an Ikenobo flower-arranging master who taught Japanese arts in Santa Barbara for many years.

The current caretakers of the teahouse are Mrs. Sokyo Kasai of Solvang and her tea students. Over the past twenty years, Kasai has given tea ceremony demonstrations and lectures at various local places such as universities and museums.

Since her childhood in Japan, Kasai had practiced the Urasenke tea tradition. In 2003-2004, Kasai completed an intensive 6-month course at the Urasenke school in Kyoto and became a tea teacher.

Kasai is currently teaching the group in Santa Barbara as a certified first degree instructor, holding regular private classes for all levels at her residence in Solvang and in the Shin Kan An teahouse.

On April 11, (2008) the Santa Barbara-Toba Sister City Commitee and Kasai sponsored a welcome tea gathering for the acting Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles, Yoshimasa Tezuka, who was accompanied by his wife Chizuru.

Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum and several city councilmembers and Santa Barbara Botanic Garden officials attended as well. For Tezuka, it was very unexpected to be welcomed in California in such an authentic Japanese style.

Among American tea enthusiasts at the gathering, Linda Mathews of Santa Barbara was in perfect contentment with the procedures of serving tea to a Japanese diplomat and local city officials.

Mathews, current president of the Santa Barbara-Toba Sister City Committee, and Takako Wakita of the sister city organization were the driving force behind the event.

Mathews became interested in the way of tea at the age of seven when her aunt took her for a bowl of tea in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Much later, as she moved with her husband to Japan, she began tea lessons at the foreigners’ tea classes sponsored by Fukuoka City. Wherever she has lived since, in Yokohama, Kyoto, Tokyo, Washington, D.C., and now in Santa Barbara, Mathews has been able to continue her studies with accomplished teachers.

Mathews said, “Along the way I’ve met many foreign and Japanese students of the Way of Tea, and their friendship and the knowledge they’ve shared with me, their ‘kohai,’ or junior student, always enriches my life.”

The public is welcome four times a year in the Shin Kan An teahouse for the educational class “Seasonal Tea seriesin the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Only 7 people may attend at one time.  The dress codes are: women wear white socks, knee covered length comfortable skirt, no jewelry or perfume; men wear white socks and long pants. No jeans are allowed.

For a schedule of the “Seasonal Tea series,” call the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden at (805) 682-4726 or visit the website: www.sbbg.org or www.sbteahouse.org