Visitors are instantly transported to Japan when they enter the newly constructed tokonoma (alcove) on the first floor of Lawrence Hall. Daibei-zukuri (traditional walls), kake-shoji (hanging windows), and an enso (moon window) now replace the old bookshelves that previously occupied this former storage space. Down the hall, another seating area — this one in the style of the Ming Dynasty — ushers visitors into a Chinese setting.

Both spots welcome in students and guests of the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures.

“Graduates who have gone through the Chinese and Japanese programs say we’re like a family,” says Yukari Hirata, Japanese professor and director of the linguistics program. “We wanted to create a space for intimate group discussions,” which are a hallmark of the department, she adds. From class work to culture, favorite food to philosophy, meaningful conversations happen often among members of the small department.

In addition to its practical use, the space also honors three teachers who helped shape the department into what it is today: Yoichi Aizawa (a professor who died in 2016); his wife, Michiko (a retired language instructor); and Gloria Bien, professor of Chinese emerita.

The two-year project was hand built by Massachusetts-based carpenter Chris Hall, who was trained in Japan. In accordance with Japanese building techniques, Hall used no nails and instead used joinery.

“That’s what makes the simplistic beauty,” Hirata says. “People who have gone to Japan can tell that this looks like Japan.”

The lounge was dedicated on the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Robert Ho Center for Chinese Studies upstairs in Lawrence Hall.