Serenely perched on rocks in Ibaraki, Japan, and jutting into the Pacific Ocean, Rokkakudo (six corners) Hall was the favorite tearoom of Kakuzo Okakura. He built Rokkakudo in 1905 and published The Book of Tea in 1906. Rokkakudo is probably the only hexagonal tea ceremony house in existence.
An earthquake and the massive tsunami that followed annihilated it on March 11, 2011. An employee of Ibaraki University, which now oversees Rokkakudo, recalls watching helplessly as ten-meter-high waves tore it off its foundations and swept the disintegrating building at least 50 meters offshore. Only the foundation on the rocks remained in the silence after the tsunami.
The magnitude-9.1 Tohoku Earthquake struck at 2:46 p.m. Within an hour, a tsunami flooded 217 square miles of coastline, surging as far as six miles inland, causing $199 billion in damage, and killing 15,894 people of whom 2,500 are still missing to this day.
The restoration of Rokkakudo would soon become a symbol of hope and recovery from the earthquake and tsunami.
Divers, artisans, architects, glassmakers, and specialists in various other disciplines were determined to return the revered tearoom to its original condition. Restoring Rokkakudo was an intensive and expensive task involving the assistance of experts and funding from around the world.
Pleading for assistance, Ibaraki University President Yukio Ikeda wrote the following:
“We would like to reconstruct Okakura’s buildings with the support of the Ministry of Education and Science, Ibaraki Prefecture, North Ibaraki city, Japan National Trust, …and those who donate for the reconstruction. In particular, searching for the building materials of Rokkakudo submerged by the sea should be done before the typhoon season (from June to September in Japan)…. Based on the survey, we are planning to salvage the building materials as many as possible from the sea and reconstruct Rokkakudo.”
Art and tea enthusiasts worldwide responded with offers of assistance and donations of approximately $500,000. The committee to restore Rokkakudo put its plans into execution.
See photo album documenting the restoration.
Snorkelers and scuba divers scoured the sea as far as 400 meters from land to locate a broken pillar and shattered roof tiles. Specialists examined the materials. Based on their analyses, contemporary artisans created new tiles from clay that were as similar as possible to the originals. Other experts could identify the tree variety that Okakura had chosen for timber. Carpenters built new walls and pillars with lumber from the same type of trees.
Replicating the bay windows was challenging. Techniques and machinery for making glass had advanced tremendously since 1905, but Ibaraki University wanted windows as close as possible to the originals. Research staff searched around the world for a glass company that could produce window glass with techniques standard in 1905. They found a suitable company in England. The reproduced windows, with slight imperfections, were perfect.
Experts studying old diagrams, paintings, and photographs of Rokkakudo realized that at some point in history, someone had placed tatami over the bare wooden floor that Okakura had built. The meticulous reconstruction committee used bare wood, just as Okamura had planned.
And a stone lantern placed outside Rokkakudo had been lost years ago. Stonemasons created a replica, which they put on a slab of rock between the sea and Rokkakudo.
Finally, on April 17, 2012, just over a year after its annihilation, members of the committee working to restore Rokkakudo celebrated the completion of their work.
It stands on a rocky spit in an inlet nearly surrounded by cliffs and clinging Japanese pines. The building combines Chinese and Japanese elements. Thick dark tiles cover a sloping pavilion roof. The outside walls have the rusty-red coloring of ancient Chinese pagodas, which it was meant to resemble. The reproduction of Rokkakudo delights visitors today.
If Kakuzo Okakura could visit Rokkakudo today, I think that he would enter, sit down, and savor a cup of tea.
Within Rokkakudo, Okakura and fellow artists that influenced Japanese culture sipped matcha while gazing at colorful sunsets, at waves crashing over green seaweed and jagged rocks, and at shapely clouds above a long horizon. Okakura wrote, “The tea-room was an oasis in the dreary waste of existence where weary travelers could meet to drink from the common spring of art-appreciation.”
Perhaps, Okakura wouldn’t notice any difference between the renewed teahouse and his creation, testament to the generosity, craftsmanship, and perseverance of his admirers’ generations after his passing.