The roots of Japan House go back to 1964, when Shozo Sato, then artist-in-residence at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and now Professor Emeritus in the School of Art and Design, began a series of courses focusing on the art and culture of Japan. Eventually, he was allowed to renovate an old Victorian house to teach classes. Amazingly enough, he managed to turn that Victorian house into a Japanese environment which was known as Japan House. He continued to teach classes and began the tradition of Open Houses and welcoming in the whole community. For years, it was a center for the study of Japanese arts and aesthetics, but eventually the house had to make way for redevelopment of the campus.

When that house was lost, the dream of a permanent home for Japan House began. The current structure, funded primarily through generous private contributions, was dedicated in June of 1998 with Kimiko Gunji as director. The focus of the traditionally Japanese styled structure is its three authentic tea rooms surrounding a large class and activity room. Under the direction of Professor Gunji, Japan House enlarged its roster of classes and programs, also collaborating with other units and organizations to bring Japanese artists and performers to places like Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Krannert Art Museum, and the Spurlock Museum.

In addition, James Bier of Champaign, began the development of the Japan House gardens which now surround the building. These gardens and the surrounding ponds made a visit to Japan House an immersive experience and strengthened the way in which it could wordlessly teach about Japanese aesthetics and the quest for tranquility during the tea ceremony and in the gardens.

In 2012, following the retirement of Kimiko Gunji, Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud became the next director of Japan House. Building on the great strengths of her two predecessors, Gunji-Ballsrud was able to begin a period of greater student integration and involvement. In addition to classes, Japan House also began to welcome a group of student interns every fall. These interns provided the energy and vitality to further expand the programming done at Japan House for both the academic and the general community. In 2015, Japan House successfully held its first Matsuri, or Japanese festival, to a large and enthusiastic crowd, and the event continues to grow. In 2017 Japan House announced plans for a new annex to allow for its current flourishing programs, as well as plan for the future.

The Japan House Timeline