The House of Cheerful Monkeys

Turning a wedge tent into a rustic pavilion

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I confess I was inspired by seeing some of the creative arrangements for camping Japanese-style in Clan Yama Kaminari's Pennsic encampment when I envisioned this project.

Now, we know the Japanese didn't camp in wedge style tents. For detailed information, I direct you to Hiraizumi-sensei's website. However, I didn't want to break the budget, my back, or my truck in the attempt. The project had to incorporate items I already owned or could obtain readily and inexpensively. I had to be able to set it up and take it down by myself and it had to fit into the camper shell of a light pick-up truck.

What I already had:
One wedge tent. The tent is Blockade Runner's Great Wedge, larger than a standard American Civil War wedge tent. The center height is billed as 7 feet, but the finished size is actually more like 6' 8" if one wants not to have gale force winds billowing through a gap below the doors. Length is just under 12 feet. My normal set-up materials include a ridgepole made of two 2x4's joined with a galvanized steel sleeve, two 2x2 uprights and ten stakes.

One 9' x 12' ground cloth.


Two oak and canvas "X" stools, also from Blockade Runner. These are similar in shape to shogi (Japanese camp stools) even if the materials are not the same. While I have seen similar ones at Walmart, I cannot vouch for how sturdy the Walmart ones are.

Two IKEA folding plant stands. 

One small IKEA 6 Kartotek board plywood chest. (I wish I'd bought a couple more of these when they still carried them.) 

Decorative scroll acquired on eBay. 

Incense burner, ash, incense. 

Pottery ikebana vase from Asakichi. 

Garden bell (gift from Katherine D'Aquitaine of the Barony of the Far West). 

Two GE LED tea lights and one LED pillar candle from Michael's. 

One 2' x 4' x 3/8" sheet of plywood.

What I bought:

Two additional 2x2 uprights.

50' package of 3/8" sisal rope @ $4.99. 

Three IKEA "Bambu" bamboo blinds. @ $9.99 each. 

Three IKEA cushions 28" x 28" square @ $9.99 each. 

Three yards navy cotton broadcloth remnant @ $1.00 per yard - because whenever I shop at IKEA and pick something out (such as cushions), whatever is supposed to go with it (cushion covers in the appropriate size) will always be out of stock. Making my own cushion covers was cheaper anyway. 

Four Oriental Trading Company beach mats @ $2.95 each. (Plus shipping.) 

Set of four battery powered paper lanterns from Cost Plus @14.99, AAA batteries not included. (These turn out to be battery vampires. The plastic bottom dropped out of one because the glue got wet and another one couldn't sustain a decent connection between battery and bulb. This is where the LED tealights came in. 

Instead of the conventional wedge set up, I added poles at the corners of one wall and raised the wall. The blinds are tied to the ridge pole, which is supported by the "center" uprights. This configuration is often used in other re-enactment scenarios for sutlers' tents.
NOTE to imitators: It's a lean-to. You could easily replicate the set up with a very large canvas tarp, four poles (with or without additional ridgepole), ropes and stakes.
The blinds are not opaque. I plan to add a layer of muslin to the inside of the blinds for additional privacy.
While recently channel surfing I stumbled across a Japanese historical drama. A group of samurai were sitting in an encampment on stools around a table made of tate (wooden shields used to deploy archers or musketeers behind) laid on trestles. Originally I planned to use the IKEA plant stands as trestles for the plywood tabletop and put my camp box in the tokonoma corner. On the day these photos were taken, I needed to use a plant stand to keep my charcoal grill off the ground, so the second plant stand is doing tokonoma duty and the camp box is supporting the tabletop.

At night with lanterns lit.


Decorative items and accessories:

Furin (wind bell): Mine was a gift from a friend. Iron or bronze ones will be better travelers, though modern furin may also be made of glass or ceramic. The paper streamer flutters quite prettily and sets the bell's clapper chiming when the wind blows. (I took mine down at the end of the evening so as not to disturb sleeping neighbors.)

Furin can be found on eBay, Etsy and other internet sellers. 

Incense: Some incense sticks and a small pot or bowl filled with bamboo ash are just the thing for your tokonoma. Sandalwood, cypress and aloeswood are traditional, or you can try some of the more interesting modern blends. If you're not sure what you like, many incense companies offer sampler packs.

Nippon Kodo
Japan Incense

Flowers: Try your hand at ikebana. Choose a pretty pot or vase and arrange some fresh or even artificial seasonal flowers in it. Keep it simple.

Art: A kakejiku or hanging scroll with calligraphy and/or art with seasonal motifs might be displayed in one's home away from home. Authentic scrolls come up for auction on eBay frequently and one can sometimes find a nice one at a reasonable price. (If it has a dragon, rising sun or samurai or carp on it, expect the bidding to escalate as certain subjects are quite popular. I lucked out with the mother and baby monkey.) However, if you are going to take artwork on the road, keep something weatherproof handy to pack it in and take down your hanging if the weather appears the least bit threatening so it does not become damaged.

Hata: Banners always add color and pageantry to an encampment.

Jinmaku: See for instructions on making camp curtains. Whether you are enclosing an entire encampment or want to hide your propane stove, these partitions can add to your encampment.


The cherry blossom falls and withers, the maple scatters its bright leaves. The tolling of the temple bell reminds us that canvas fades and tears and eventually one reaches the point of not worth the repairs.

In 2016, after doing a bit of online shopping I contacted Panther Primitives for "Cheerful Monkeys 2.0." This Baker lean-to is no more historical for Japan than it is for Europe's Middle Ages, but the 3 foot rear wall adds loads of useable space that I just did not have with the wedge. 

I had Panther add grommets at the ridgepole line so I could use conventional upright poles. At seven feet in height, my camp set-up gear now includes a foot stool, so I can reach to hang the blinds, as well as a valance to cover the gap between the tops of the blinds and the ridgepole. 

The beach mats did not wear well, however I acquired a double width goza mat, which smells heavenly, and being a bit heavier than the beach mats, is more prone to actually staying put. 

Copyright 2007, 2019 Lisa A. Joseph

No HOBBY LOBBY products were used in these projects.