Japanese Teahouse & Meditation Garden

On the top floor of Eliot House sits Wa-shin-an, a traditional Japanese meditation garden and teahouse, built in 1984 through the generosity of alumnae and friends of Mount Holyoke College.  Wa-shin-an translates literally as "Peace-Mind House."  It offers a refuge from the myriad distractions that can plague contemporary life, a place to cultivate the attention that reveals life's value.

Master architect and builder Teruo Hara constructed the teahouse and the garden's enclosure with traditional Japanese hand tools in the sukiya zukuri style, which emphasizes a simple, unadorned design in natural materials. This architectural style is attributed to Sen no Rikyu, the 16th-century Zen Buddhist monk who was the most significant influence on chanoyu, the Japanese way of tea.


Landscape architect Osamu Shimizu designed and planted the garden in the kare sansui style, which symbolically gathers the world into a small, balanced space.  The white pebbles may be viewed as the sea, and the larger stones can be understood as mountains and cliffs which bound the sea.  The mosses suggest lowland plains.  Other plantings suggest inland forests and fields.  Beneath a Japanese maple stands a statue of Jizo, a bodhisattva (enlightened being) of compassion known to care for the weak and powerless in society.

Wa-shin-an is a hidden jewel at the heart of Mount Holyoke's campus.  During the academic year, it is open to the public Monday through Friday from 1:00pm to 5:00pm when MHC classes are in session. Classes and other interested groups can make an appointment to visit during additional hours (email hatchley@mtholyoke.edu).  Visitors new to the space will be given a tour upon arrival.  After a tour, visitors can use Wa-shin-an as a place for contemplative practices, such as meditation, prayer, sketching, reading poetry, or quiet sitting.

For more information about the Japanese Tea Ceremony and to see video footage, visit the Five College Center for East Asian Studies.

Photographer John Waller recently visited Wa-shin-an and took these beautiful photographs.

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