Japanese Tea Hut to be Removed Late October

Photo by Jen Zhu ’18 | The Japanese tea hut’s demolition has been met with mixed reactions from students.

Michelle S. Lee ’16

On Sept. 22, Smith College’s Campus Planning Committee announced the removal of the Japanese tea hut that resides over Paradise Pond. The removal is scheduled for the end of October.

In a statement to the student body, Smith discussed concerns that arose from both the administrative faculty and students alike regarding the tea hut’s condition. Reasons cited for removal included “concern over safety and vandalism” as well as damage caused by weather.

The tea hut was established as part of a proposal by former Smith President Jill Ker Conway in 1984*. As of late, however, the campus landmark has rarely been used for official events or ceremonies. The tea hut is currently covered in graffiti and filled with trash left by passerby. The location gained an unofficial reputation as a site for recreational drug use and attracting homeless townspeople to take shelter. Last year, a deceased 35-year-old man from Florence, Mass., was found in the tea hut, though no foul play was suspected.

The announcement received mixed reactions from the Smith community.

On the anonymous online forum Smith Confessional, students expressed a mix of approval and disdain over the demolition. Many students argued that ulterior motives were behind the removal, citing its reputation for marijuana use being a primary factor in the decision. Others lamented losing a place on campus that served as a personal safe space during times of stress. Those in approval of the decision cited similar issues of the vandalism on the property, particularly in relation to its initial construction as a religious space.

Students were equally perplexed offline at the announcement and the causes for removal.

“I imagine when they say ‘vandalism,’ that might imply misuse of students who are using the spot for recreational use. But I also can’t imagine that would be hard to manage because I think security are supposed to walk the paths to check for safety purposes,” said Amelia Moses ’17.

Though one of the reasons cited included damage caused by weather, questions arose as to what had been done to improve the site. While the campus undergoes a series of renovations each year, the tea hut has not received the same accommodations in infrastructural improvements as other sites.

“I always found it interesting that nothing was being done to the tea house despite the vandalism, and even the death of one man there two years ago. I feel that the tea hut should have been taken care of, more like Paradise Pond is taken care of almost every year,” said Jin Lee ’16. “I don’t understand why it was never cleaned up during the fall with the autumn leaves or in the winter because of the snow.”

Communication also came into play as an issue. Some students were not even aware of the removal of the campus structure. The removal of the fixture was announced via Smith’s eDigest, a news bulletin emailed to students every Tuesday and Thursday.

“I find it interesting that it was only announced in the eDigest. I feel like a lot of news updates can get lost in there, just because I know for a fact a lot of Smith students do not read it. I’ve even had the eDigest go straight to my spam before,” said Moses. “It upsets me to hear that the school has decided to demolish the tea hut, and I’m curious that they only mentioned the demolition there to avoid upset.”

*Note: The original version of the article indicated the tea hut had been established in 1998, which was when two stone lanterns and a statue of Jizo were had been officiated by Issho Fujita, Abbot of Valley Sendo. The article has been revised to reflect the correct date of the proposal of the tea hut, which was in 1984. 


  1. welltemperedwriter says:

    The tea hut existed before 1998. I graduated in 1996 and I used to go there to sit all the time. Very unfortunate that it hasn’t been better maintained.

  2. I was a student at Smith from 1993-1997 — and the tea hut was definitely there — and not new, when I began school. Infact, I remember seeing it on on of my high school campus visits when I was applying. Also, Jill Ker Conway was not president then – Mary Maples Dunn was. I think you may mean 1988?

    • The Sophian says:

      Dear Beth – Thank you for your comment. The article has been modified to reflect the original date of the tea hut’s proposal.

  3. This is sad. A beautiful space and away from the hubbub. Something Smithies need desperately.

  4. This makes absolutely no sense. The answer to graffiti and safety concerns is to give the tea hut the maintenance and monitoring afforded to all other campus structures. As mentioned in the article, the tea hut was established by President Jill Ker Conway and has historic and architectural significance. I remember being struck by what a unique and meaningful addition the tea hut was to the campus during my first visit, and I sat there to crack into my very first reading assignment as a freshman. The tea hut is an integral feature of the campus, and I am highly disappointed that the college is taking this action.

  5. How is it possible for the Japanese to rebuild the Ise Shrine every 20 years, and Smith cannot maintain or provide security for this small structure on campus?

    It’s even more unnerving to me that someone unrelated to the college was found dead on campus, let alone in the teahouse beside Paradise Pond not far from the President’s House.

    It seems this is the quick fix so prevalent in our society. It’s not new, used appropriately or maintained. Neglected, not understood and now an embarassment. So the solution is to just destroy it, throw it away. Besides obliterating a unique, historic and special part the campus, will it really “solve” the problem presented as the excuse for this decision?

    It’s interesting the Smith traditions, legacies and structures which are preserved, and those that are lost forever. Change and improvement are just as important as preservation, legacy and history.

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