But the Pasadena tea group failed to expand and dwindled to about seven students, said Yaeko Sakahara, also 90, who took over the classes from Matsumoto more than three decades ago. One of the major obstacles, she and others said, is the traditional requirement to sit on bamboo mats with legs folded under, a position that can turn legs numb after a few minutes. Tea ceremonies can last from 20 minutes to four hours.
Another obstacle to sustaining interest in tea is growing acculturation among younger generations of Japanese Americans, said Irene Takemori, Pasadena temple president.
"The younger generation is more interested in sports and don't have a lot of time for this cultural stuff," Takemori said. "It's really a shame, because it's such a beautiful experience to drink tea and find peace of mind."
When health issues began to preoccupy Sakahara, the teahouse's future hung in the balance.
Enter the Huntington. The renowned cultural institute had been looking for a Japanese teahouse after one of its donors, Mary B. Taylor Hunt, bequeathed a $2.6-million endowment for an authentic Japanese tea garden and related cultural programs. The Huntington's nine-acre Japanese garden, designed by founder Henry Huntington and William Hertrich, reflects a Western interpretation of Japanese aethestics but is not considered authentic, Folsom said.