Hiroshi Sugimoto’s masterpiece: The Enoura Observatory in Odawara

Japanese rail

Japanese rail

Japanese rail

The cute Nebukawa Station first opened in 1922 but was swept away (along with a train full of passengers) by a landslide a year later. Hundred of people were killed during this disaster, and there is a memorial at the station that commemorates this tragic incident

 

After I left Atami, I took the train to the nearby Nebukawa Station as I had booked a tour to visit The Enoura Observatory, created by contemporary artist and the founder of Odawara Art Foundation, Hiroshi Sugimoto (who was also responsible for the renovations of the MOA in Atami). All visitors have to book the tour online, which includes a free return mini bus rides between the observatory and the train station.

Since it opened in the autumn of 2017, the observatory has been receiving international coverage and praises for its merge of nature, art, history and architecture, and it was highly recommended to me by a Japanese friend.

 

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

 

Like both places I visited earlier in the day, this site occupies a hilltop position that overlooks the Sagami bay. The site comprises a reception area, a gallery space, two outdoor stages, a revived Tensho-an tea ceremony room, a restored Muromachi Period (c. 1338-1573) Meigetsu Gate, and rock gardens featuring various rocks and stones collected from all over Japan by Sugimoto .

At the long gallery space, visitors can view Sugimoto’s photography work titled seascape. The artist has had a long fascination with the sea, and he explained: “my earliest childhood memory is of the sea seen from the window of the Shonan train, running on the old Tokaido line from Atami to Odawara.” And this memory was the inspiration behind the project.

 

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

 

Drawing ideas from ancient cultures and their relationships with nature, the 100-metre gallery is also a viewing platform where sun ray would reach the gallery space on the morning of the summer solstice.

On the morning of the winter solstice, the optical glass stage would glow as it catches the light on its cut edges. Its auditorium is a full-size recreation of a ruined Roman amphitheater in Ferento in the Lazio region of Italy, with the glass stage designed to look like it is floating on the surface of the sea.

 

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

 

The winter solstice also sends light through the 70-metre light-worship metal tunnel to illuminate a large stone at the other end. An aperture has been built into the tunnel to admit light, with a well beneath it. The chisel marks on it suggest that it dates from medieval times. The bottom of the well is covered with pieces of optical glass, where the individual raindrops can be seen as they fall into the well when it rains.

 

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

 

As you walk around the maze-like site, it is hard not be to awe of what you see or encounter. It gives you a sense of anticipation and appreciation for nature and beauty. Every element here is precisely positioned to lead you somewhere and to make you look. In a way, it is like being ‘manipulated’ to see the nature around you through architecture and landscape design, which is quite ambitious and bold.

 

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory  Enoura Observatory

Enoura Observatory

 

After spending some time here, it felt quite peaceful and contemplative. I think the project has succeeded in merging nature, architecture and design together harmoniously. It would be wonderful to revisit the site on the days of summer/winter solstice for a more enchanting experience.

 

Houkusai & Hirashige’s ukiyo-e exhibition at MOA Atami

moa museum of art

 

After my visit to Kyu Hyuga Bettei, I headed back to the train station to take a free shuttle bus to the MOA Museum of Art situated on the top of hill that overlooks the sea. Like Miho Museum in Kyoto, this private museum was opened in 1982 by the Mokichi Okada Association (MOA) to house the art collection of the multimillionaire and religious leader (Church of World Messianity) Mokichi Okada (1882–1955).

There are 3,500 paintings, calligraphy works, sculptures, lacquerware and ceramics focusing on Japanese and Chinese art. The museum reopened in 2017 after a major renovation by contemporary artist Hiroshi Sugimoto and architect Tomoyuki Sakakida.

 

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

 

Interestingly, in order to reach the entrance of the museum, visitors have to go up a series of long escalators in a tunnel-like setting with colour-changing lighting. And when visitors reach the top, there is a dome showcasing some projected imagery with sound installations. The whole experience (before you even reach the museum) is immersive and uplifting, which makes you anticipate and look forward to what is to follow.

 

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

moa museum of art

 

Finally, after I left the first building, I was out in the open with the sky and sea on one side, and a massive pinkish contemporary building on the other. And before stepping onto the the long and wide staircases, I was greeted by Henry Moore’s bronze work, “King and Queen”. I was incredibly lucky with the weather, and the view of the sky and sea was spectacular on the day of my visit.

I was also fortunate enough to have been able to see the special exhibition: “Hokusai and Hiroshige―The Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji and the Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaido“. Although I have seen several exhibitions on the ukiyo-e by Hokusai and Hiroshige, I have never seen the two complete series side by side, so I was really excited about it.

 

moa museum of art

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai

 

Published in 1831 by Nishimura Eijudō press, Katsushika Hokusai’s (1760-1849) 36 woodblock print designs were published initially, with 10 more added later on. The two most famous prints are “The great wave of Kanagawa” and “A mild breeze on a fine day” or The Red Fuji”, and they both depict the power and calmness of nature. In every print, the revered Mount Fuji can be seen from different angles, sizes and colours.

 

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“Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido” by Utagawa Hiroshige

 

The Hoeido press published Utagawa Hiroshige’s (1797-1858) “Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido” in 1833-4 after his expedition with the Shogun from Edo to Kyoto the previous year. The series of woodblock prints feature the landscape of the 53 post stations along the The Tokaido route, which connected Edo with the then-capital of Kyoto. If you want to learn more about this, you can check out this map that features the locations and prints by Hiroshige.

The compositions, the use of colours and tones, and most importantly –humanity– are expressed vividly by the two great masters. It was a real treat to be able to see the complete sets at this exhibition.

 

Nonomura Ninsei  MOA

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MOA

 

Besides the temporary exhibitions, there are some exquisite National treasures that can also be found at the museum. One of them is Ogata Korin‘s masterpiece from the Edo period “Red and White Plum Blossoms,” painted on a pair of two-panel folding screens. The other is another Edo period Tea-leaf jar with a design of wisteria by Nonomura Ninsei. And in another room, there are also some photographic works by Hiroshi Sugimoto of the sea shot from Atami.

There is even a Noh theatre inside the museum where performances and concerts are held regularly.

 

MOA

MOA

MOA

MOA

 

One you step out of side of the building, a path would lead you to the Japanese tea garden, Ippaku-an and Shotei tea houses and the reconstructed Residence of Ogata Korin (a famous Japanese painter, lacquerer and designer of the Rinpa school) based on the documents from the Konishi Archive.

It was incredibly calm and meditative to walk around the garden, and I only wish I had more time to spare here. I would recommend a visit to this stunning museum especially if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Although Tokyo offers many world-class museums, it is the beautiful nature and environment that makes this museum stands out from the crowd.

 

The architecture of Kanazawa

kanazawa station Tsuzumimon   kanazawa station Tsuzumimon

Tsuzumimon at Kanazawa station

 

As soon as you arrive at Kanazawa train station, the “Motenashi Dome” (Welcome Dome) made up of 3,019 glass panels is likely to catch your eye. This train station is thought to be one of the most beautiful train stations in the world, and it is designed by Ryuzo Shiroe. And when you walk out of the conservatory-like space through the eastern part of the station, you would encounter the stunning and gigantic wooden structure called Tsuzumimon (drum gate). This 13.7 meter-high gate is supported by two twisted pillars, and the design resembles the tsuzumi, the drums featured in Noh theatre and Kaga Hosho (the style of Noh traditionally performed in Ishikawa prefecture) performances.

Walking around Kanazawa, it is hard not to notice the mix of old and new architecture, and since it was spared from the air raids during the war, I think the architecture here is more varied and interesting than many other cities in Japan.

 

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kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

Kanazawa

Traditional houses

 

Although I did not have time to visit many sights, I did enjoy wandering around the city while stumbling upon some interesting buildings. There is a conspicuous Western style red brick building at the bottom of the castle that really intrigued me, and it is The Shiinoki Cultural Complex, a government building built in 1924. While the front of the building has kept its original facade, the back of the building has a modern glassed facade. There are two amazing-looking 300 year old Chinquapin trees standing symmetrically in front of the main entrance and they are designated as Japan’s National Natural Monuments.

 

kanazawa The Shiinoki Cultural Complex

Kanazawa The Shiinoki Cultural Complex

kanazawa The Shiinoki Cultural Complex

kanazawa

kanazawa The Shiinoki Cultural Complex

kanazawa

The Shiinoki Cultural Complex

 

The Owari-cho area not far from the Omi-cho Market used to be a bustling merchant district during the Edo period, and so you can find many fascinating Edo period architecture here.

One of them is Gallery Mita, an art gallery housed in a Western-style building constructed in 1930, which has been designated as a Registered Tangible Cultural Property because of its rarity. The gallery sells mainly ceramics dishes, and it has a cafe next door. I especially love the stained glass designs here.

 

kanazawa

Kanazawa

kanazawa  kanazawa

kanazawa  Kanazawa

kanazawa

 

When I took a route away from the main street, I came across a derelict building/house in an alley that has many art deco elements and seems to be from that period. Even though the house has fallen into disrepair, you can still see the architectural details and appreciate the fine design elements like the railings and tiles. It is a shame to see that it has been abandoned.

 

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kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

 

As for contemporary architecture, The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and D. T. Suzuki Museum (see my other posts) are good examples, but there is also the Kanazawa Umimirai Library designed by Kazumi Kudo and Hiroshi Horiba in 2011, which I didn’t get to visit.

If you want to learn more about the architecture of Kanazawa, there are some suggested walking/cycling routes that encourage visitors to explore the city’s diverse architecture:

https://www.kanazawa-kankoukyoukai.or.jp/course/architect/web/en/

 

kanazawa   kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

 

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The D.T. Suzuki Museum in Kanazawa

D.T. Suzuki Museum

 

Out of all the sights I visited in Kanazawa, my favourite was the tranquil and minimalist D.T. Suzuki Museum, a small museum commemorating the life and works of Suzuki Daisetz Teitaro (1870-1966), a prominent Buddhist philosopher and writer.

Suzuki received his Buddhist training at the Engakuji Zen monastery in Kamakura and later became a professor of Buddhist philosophy at Otani University in Kyoto. Aside from Japanese, Suzuki was proficient in English, Chinese and Sanskrit, and he translated numerous religious texts and scholarly articles. He was also the author of more than 100 works on Zen and Buddhism in both Japanese and English. I have read one of his most popular books: “An Introduction to Zen Buddhism(1934), which is considered an influential book that brought the teachings of Zen Buddhism to the Western world esp. to the United States.

 

D.T. Suzuki Museum   D.T. Suzuki Museum

D.T. Suzuki Museum

 

The museum opened in 2011 and it was designed by well-renowned Japanese architect, Yoshio Taniguchi (also known for his redesign of the Museum of Modern Art in New York). The architecture and landscape is so serene and calming that it is hard not to want to slow down when you enter the museum. There are only a few exhibit rooms showcasing the writings and some photographs of Suzuki, but it is sufficient for visitors to learn about his dedication to Zen Buddhism.

Outside of the main building, there is the Contemplative Space, where visitors can sit in a large room with benches, take time to meditate or contemplate while enjoying the view of the Water Mirror Garden outside.

 

D.T. Suzuki Museum

D.T. Suzuki Museum

D.T. Suzuki Museum

D.T. Suzuki Museum

D.T. Suzuki Museum

 

The Water Mirror Garden outside also embodies the same Zen and tranquil quality found inside the museum and in the Contemplative Space. There is much harmony between the architecture and nature, and in many ways, I think this museum can be seen as a modern ‘Zen temple’.

Here is a quote from “An Introduction to Zen Buddhism” by Suzuki on Zen:

The idea of Zen is to catch life as it flows. There is nothing extraordinary or mysterious about Zen. I raise my hand; I take a book from the other side of the desk; I hear the boys playing ball outside my window; I see the clouds blown away beyond the neighbouring wood: — in all these I am practising Zen, I am living Zen. No wordy discussions is necessary, nor any explanation. I do not know why — and there is no need of explaining, but when the sun rises the whole world dances with joy and everybody’s heart is filled with bliss. If Zen is at all conceivable, it must be taken hold of here.

 

D.T. Suzuki Museum

D.T. Suzuki Museum

 

The back exit of the museum can lead you out to the top of the hill where you can get a view of the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. And as you follow the path, you will reach Kenroku-en, one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan.

 

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

 

 

Eiheiji Temple & Zen Master Dogen

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

 

A large 13th century temple complex located in rural Fukai is considered to be an important pilgrimage site by most Soto Zen practitioners (including Steve Jobs), and this temple is Eiheiji, founded by Master Eihei Dogen (1200-1253) in 1244.

I had been interested in Buddhism since I was in my early 20s, but I only started to practice properly in 2008. It was not plain sailing for me as I had to ‘shop around’ to find a non-dogmatic practice that suited me. I knew little about Master Dogen until I met my Zen teacher over more than four years ago. Since then, I have been practicing zazen regularly, and studying the writings of Dogen from his Shobogenzo (Treasury of the True Dharma Eye). And to my surprise, Dogen‘s writings from over 800 years ago are still pertinent today. However, Dogen advocated that the core of the practice is not about the writings, but the practice of zazen or Shikantaza (just sitting).

 

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

 

I had wanted to visit Eiheiji for some time, but due to its rural location, I did not make the journey until this long trip. Although the temple offers a sanro programme allowing foreign visitors to stay overnight, the stay has to be accompanied by an English-speaking guide and a written letter from your zen teacher (they got rid of this requirement recently). I was slightly put off by these requirements as I dislike bureaucracy, hence I opted for a day visit instead of staying overnight.

What struck me when I got off the bus at Eiheiji was the fact that I had to walk past numerous souvenir shops selling ‘zen’ items and restaurants specialising in ‘zen’ cuisine for about 10-15 minutes before reaching the site of the temple. It all felt quite commercial and not very ‘zen-like’.

 

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

 

The enormous temple complex is located deep in the mountains, and consisted of 70 buildings, as well as a cedar tree forest and a cemetery. The temple had been burnt down by several fires over the centuries (this seems to be the case with many of the temples in Japan), and the oldest structure on the current site dates back to 1794. Since Eihei-ji is a training monastery with more than two hundred monks and nuns in residence, there are many rules that visitors have to follow to minimise the disruption on the practicing monks and nuns.

 

eiheiji  eiheiji rules

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

One of the main temple attractions is Sanshokaku (Reception Hall) and its ceiling covered with 230 paintings of flowers and birds by 144 different artists completed in 1930.

 

As a visitor, it is hard not to be impressed by the beautiful architecture and the maze-like complex, but I did find the ambience to be quite austere and the temple more polished than I imagined. After I started to study writings by Master Dogen and other prominent Zen teachers like Shunryu Suzuki, Kodo Sawaki, Kosho Uchiyama, and Gudo Wafu Nishijima for the last few years, I couldn’t help but feel that the temple is almost too grand and immaculate. Perhaps my preconceived ideas have let me down, and I probably would have been more in awe of the complex as a sightseeing visitor.

 

eiheiji   eiheiji

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eiheiji   eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

 

Having said that, there are several buildings that are forbidden for visitors to enter, including the monks’ quarters (Sodo), where the monks eat, sleep and meditate; the kitchen (Daikuin) where the meals for the monks is prepared every day; and the baths and toilets (Yokushitsu and Tosu). And after watching a NHK documentary on the monks’ daily lives at Eiheiji, I gathered that the monks’ quarters are more modest and simple than the halls in the main buildings.

 

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji  eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji  eiheiji

 

After my visit around the temple, I followed the path and walked up the mountain along the river. There are many amazing giant cedar trees on the temple grounds, and some are around 500 years old. This was my favourite part of the complex, and I thoroughly enjoyed the tranquility and nature here.

 

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji  eiheiji

eiheiji

eiheiji  eiheiji

 

It was lucky that I arrived early, because I saw coaches of Japanese tourists arriving as I was leaving the temple complex. I find it hard to imagine how the practicing monks here can cope with the infux of tourists that the temple receives daily (apparently, it can reach up to 6000-7000). And in order to attract more tourists especially from the neighbouring China and South Korea, the temple and the local authority has started a redevelopment programme. Not only a new 18-room hotel will open in 2019, there will also be a new tourist information centre, and the restoration of the temple road according to the maps from the 1600s. I can’t help but wonder how the temple can maintain a balance between tranquility and tourism in the future. After my visit to Shirakawa-go, I am starting to fear the worst… It would be a shame if tourists are visiting just for photo opportunities rather than trying to learn more about the practice and the teachings by Dogen.

As my teacher keeps emphasising: the practice of zazen and Zen is about balancing our body-mind (body and mind is considered as one in the East). And in this day and age, I feel that all of us need this ‘balance’ more than ever – it probably explains why the teachings of Buddhism and the practice of Mindfulness are becoming more popular in recent years. Hence I certainly hope that the temple that advocates this philosophy/ practice will demonstrate that it is possible to achieve the balanced state.

 

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Kusakabe Folk Museum in Takayama

Takayama

The view of the city from my room in the morning

 

I am not sure if it was due to the weather or flocks of tourists, but I was slightly disappointed with Takayama city centre after spending an afternoon walking around. Luckily, I woke up the next day and the clouds have cleared; the sun and blue sky completely changed my mood (and the cityscape), and I felt ready to explore the city more before leaving.

My first stop was one of Takayama’s famous morning markets, Miyagawa market, by the Miyagawa River.

 

Takayama  Takayama

takayama Miyagawa market

takayama Miyagawa markettakayama Miyagawa market

takayama Miyagawa market

Miyagawa market

 

The Miyagawa market is a popular tourist attraction because there are over 60 stalls as well as shops selling souvenir, local sweets, and handicrafts (esp. wood-carved items) made by local artisans. Meanwhile, there are also vegetable stalls selling local produce, and street food vendours where visitors could try out the street snacks.

 

takayama

takayama cherry blossom

takayama

takayama

Miyagawa river

 

After a pleasant stroll along the river and market, I spent the next hour or so at the beautiful Kusakabe Folk Museum which is located near the river. Constructed in Meiji period (1879), this house is the first merchant’s house to be designated as a National Important Cultural Treasure, along with the adjoining Yoshijima House. And in recent years, this private residence was turned into a folk museum that allow visitors to learn more about local crafts and folk art.

 

Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe folk museum

 

Hida Takayama was ruled directly under Shogun Tokugawa in 1692 and for the next 176 years, the city was ruled by The Tokugawa shogunate, the last feudal Japanese military government (Edo period). Visitors to Takayama can learn more about the city’s history at the Takayama Jinya, the last surviving government house of The Tokugawa shogunate. Due to limited time, I wasn’t able to visit this house, but the Kusakabe folk museum offers an interesting insight because the Kusakabe were a family of merchants that worked for the shogunate and prospered during that period.

 

Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe Folk Museum  Kusakabe Folk Museum

 

In 1879, after the original building was burnt down in a fire four years ago, a master builder called Jisuke Kawajiri rebuilt the house in its traditional Edo period style showcasing his exceptional craftsmanship. The house was built entirely in Japanese cypress, and the most spectacular feature of the building is the interlocking roof beams which reveal the beauy of the locally sourced Japanese red pine.

Another impressive feature is the stunning Butsudan (family Buddhist altar) which cost three hundred taels (around 10 billion yen in today’s money) to construct. The altar, along with the Kago ( the carriage of the Kusukabe bride) and the bride’s costume, were saved from the fire that destroyed the building.

 

Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe Folk Museum  Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe Folk Museum

 

Aside from the main building, there is a library at the back of the courtyard where visitors can view a variety of folkcraft from the area, including furniture, basketry and a vast collection of Hida ceramics. The small craft shop also sells many beautiful everyday objects made by local artisans.

I think this folk museum is really worth visiting for its stunning architecture and craft display. If I return to the city again, I would certainly pay a visit to the Yoshijima House nearby.

 

Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe Folk Museum  Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe Folk Museum  Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe Folk Museum

Kusakabe Folk Museum

 

 

 

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Kawai Kanjiro Memorial Museum in Kyoto

img_9197  img_9217

 

I have wanted to visit Japanese potter, Kawai Kanjiro‘s former house – now his Memorial Museum for a long time. Yet for some reason, I never made it until this trip… it was a timely visit as the museum was like a quiet sanctuary compared to hassle and bustle in the centre of the city.

Born 1890, Kawai Kanjiro was a prominent figure in Mingei (Japanese folk art) movement founded by Japanese philosopher, Yanagi Soetsu, in the 1920s and 30s, as well as the studio pottery movements led by Bernard Leach. According to Yanagi, everyday and utilitarian objects made by the anonymous craftsmen are ‘beyond beauty and ugliness’. They are inexpensive and functional ware made for ordinary people, rather than ornaments to be placed on shelves as decorations.

Kawai acquainted and collaborated with British potter, Bernard Leach (who founded Leach Pottery with another well-known Japanese potter, Shoji Hamada) throughout his life, hence he often combined English with Japanese elements together to create pottery pieces that are asymmetrical.

 

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Luckily, Kawai‘s beautiful wooden farm house seems to be under the tourists’ radar, so I was able to wander and absorb the subdued and tranquil setting. Designed by Kawai and built by his brother in 1937, the house had been left untouched since his death in 1966. It is not hard to see the influence of Zen Buddhism and the philosophy of wabi sabi (the aesthetics often associated with ‘imperfection’) at this house, in particular when he talks of ’emptiness’ in the his essay titles “We Do Not Work Alone”:

“When you become so absorbed in your work that beauty flows naturally then your work truly becomes a work of art… Everything that is, is not. Everything is, yet at the same time, nothing is. I myself am the emptiest of all.”

 

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One of the most impressive sights at the house is his huge kiln at the back, which has been well preserved. Beside pottery, Kawai also did wood carving, furniture design, metal casting and calligraphy, and these works can be seen around the house/museum. I found the museum and his work utterly inspiring, and I think it is possible to imagine the kind of person he was from his craft, designs and writings. The aesthetics of this house is so sublime and understated that it would take some time to grasp it, and you may need to return again to appreciate it fully.

 

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Bruno Taut’s only architecture in Japan: Kyu Hyuga Bettei

atami

 

After traveling through the Kansai and Chubu regions during the first half of the trip, I finally reached the Kanto region, where I spent time the rest of stay in Tokyo and Kanagawa. From Tokyo, I took a train to the well-known hot spring seaside resort, Atami, which is less than an hour from the city.

My first stop was a lesser-known but important cultural property, Kyu Hyuga Bettei; it is in fact the only architecture designed by the prolific German Bauhaus architect, Bruno Taut (1880-1938). I did not know of the villa’s existence until I was doing some research on where to visit in Atami, and I had to book a slot via an online form through Atami City Hall prior to my visit (N.B. the villa is only open in the weekends and public holidays). It was lucky that I made the trip because the villa is now going through a major restoration works, and it will not reopen to the public until 2022.

 

atami  atami

atami

 

Hidden up on the cliff of Kasugacho not far from Atami train station, Kyu-Hyuga-Bettei is a 2-storey villa that belonged to a successful businessman Rihee Hyuga (1874-1939). The building was built between 1934-6 by Japanese architect, Jin Watanabe (1887-1973), known for the Wako Building in Ginza and the The National Museum of Art in Ueno.

The villa was built on a slope with the main entrance on the top floor, and a garden overlooking the Sagami Bay. In 1936, Hyuga commissioned Bruno Taut (who had to flee Germany due to the Nazis) to design the basement of the villa. The project was a collaboration between Taut and architects Tetsuro Yoshida, Kahei Sasaki, and Mihara Yoshiyuki (Taut’s only Japanese student).

 

Kyu Hyuga Bettei

Kyu Hyuga Bettei

 

On the day of my visit, I was the only non-Japanese visitor and was only given some English information on paper, while the Japanese enjoyed a more detailed guided tour. Nonetheless, it was still worth the visit as the annex is a true masterpiece that combines nature, Japanese and Western elements together harmoniously. Consisted of three rooms (no photography is allowed inside the building), Taut named the rooms: Beethoven, Mozart and Bach.

The first room (Beethoven) is a bright parlour surrounded by bamboo and paulownia; the second is a western room (Mozart) featuring red walls, a rasied platform with stairs and views of the ocean; and the last room is a Japanese twelve-mat tatami room (Bach), with a raised four-and-a-half-mat raised platform, and a five-and-a-half-mat room behind it.

The furniture and furnishings in the rooms are detailed and beautifully designed, and as I walked through the rooms, I could feel a sense of tranquility. Unfortunately, Hyuga only enjoyed this annex for a few years (he died here in 1939), but to die in such a tranquil setting perhaps was not a bad way to go.

 

Kyu Hyuga Bettei

 

Taut also died two years after he left Japan to accept a Professor position in Istanbul. Hence, this villa was the only architecture that he built in Japan during his short stay there. It is one of a kind, and it epitomises the best qualities of Japanese and Modernist architecture. Hopefully, the restoration works will enchance the beauty of the villa and let this masterful design shine even more.

 

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Spring in Kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

 

After days of traveling to and from various small towns and villages, I finally arrived at a big city – Kanazawa – the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture. Before my visit, I had heard that it is a historical and picturesque city which has been nicknamed ‘Little Kyoto’. Although like Kyoto, the city escaped air raids during WWII and has preserved many historic architecture; it does not remind me of Kyoto at all.

During the Edo Period, Kanazawa Castle was the headquarter’s of the Maeda Clan, the second most powerful feudal clan after the Tokugawa. Hence Kanazawa is also known as the ‘samurai city’ with a samurai district at the foot of the castle where many samurai residences used to live.

Now the city is still seen as an important city in its region, and with the new shinkansen line opened in 2015 that connects the city to Tokyo in less than 3 hours, it is attracting more tourists from overseas and within Japan.

 

kanazawa castle

kanazawa

kanazawa  kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

 

One thing that struck me when I arrived was the sightings of many Western expats here, which was quite unexpected. And after experiencing amazing hospitality for days, I did experience some unfriendly service here (perhaps I was just unlucky), which did slightly spoil my stay.

 

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa

kanazawa  kanazawa 

kanazawa

 

Kanazawa Castle Park is a large park in the city centre, and you can enjoy a pleasant stroll here. While I was walking through the park, I also saw a few Japanese couples taking wedding photographs here, so I guess it is a popular spot for wedding photography.

The castle was the headquarters of Kaga Domain, ruled by the Maeda clan for 14 generations from the Sengoku period until the Meiji Restoration in 1871. Like most ancient buildings in Japan, the castle was burnt down several times, and now the surviving structures include the Ishikawa Gate from 1788, the Sanjukken Nagaya and the Tsurumaru Storehouse all of which are designed Important Cultural Properties. Since the castle’s keep no longer exists, it did feel a bit like walking around a ‘film set’ in a samurai film.

 

Kanazawa Castle

dsc_0583

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle Park

 

One of the most popular attractions in Kanazawa is the Myoryuji Temple (aka the Ninja temple) built in 1643. It is so popular that visitors are urged to reserve for their daily tours in advance through their phone (no emails) reservation system. Tours are conducted in Japanese, but there are written guides for foreign visitors. Unlike its name suggests, the temple was not home to the ninjas, but it served as a secret military outpost for the Maeda lords.

The building is constructed with a complicated network of corridors and staircases, traps, secret rooms and escape routes. From the outside it appears to be a two story building, but there are actually four stories with 23 rooms, 29 staircases and a lookout tower.

Despite the troublesome reservation system ( I got my hotel to call the day before), it is still worth visiting this ingenious temple. There are some very inventive and eye-opening ideas and creations, so it is not to be missed.

 

Myoryuji Temple ninja temple

Myoryuji Temple ninja temple

ninja temple

Myoryuji Temple (also known as the Ninja temple)

 

Another main attraction is the The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art designed by SANAA (Sejima and Nishikawa Architects and Associates) in 2004. The minimalist circular building is located within a park with some outdoor sculptures scattered around it.

There were two temporary exhibitions at the time of my visit but they were charged separately, which I thought was rather steep, so I picked only one of them. The most photographed art work here (the only work that can be photographed inside the museum) must be Leandro Erlich‘s ‘Swimming Pool’ (only accessible with a paid ticket) – a deceptive looking ‘pool’ where people appear to be underwater. It is probably the most memorable work at this rather small and average art museum. Personally, I think the architecture outweighs the contents, which is a bit of a shame.

 

kanazawa

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

Colour activity house Olafur ELIASSON

Colour activity house Olafur ELIASSON

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art  leandro erlich swimming pool 

leandro erlich swimming pool  leandro erlich swimming pool

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and its art works include Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Colour activity house’ and Leandro Erlich’s ‘Swimming Pool’

 

One lesser-known attraction is the Yanagi Sori Design Memorial, which is affiliated with Kanazawa College of Art that houses the celebrated industrial designer’s designs and furniture.

Yanagi Sori (1915 – 2011) was an influential Japanese designer who founded the mingei movement that promoted Japanese folk crafts and the beauty of everyday objects. He was also known for his simple, organic and functional designs. His iconic Butterfly stool, which was designed in 1954 after visiting Charles and Ray Eames, was chosen as part of MOMA’s permanent display, and it is still being produced today.

 

yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial  yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial  yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

 

Yanagi taught at Kanazawa College of Art for almost 50 years, and after his death, his design studio donated 7,000 of his designs, products, and materials to Kanazawa College of Art, which gave birth to this free memorial space.

This is not a major tourist attraction (I only saw one other Japanese visitor during my visit), yet it is worth a visit if you are interested in beautiful Japanese designs.

 

yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

Yanagi Sori Design Memorial

 

If you love markets and seafood, then Omicho Market will be seen as ‘heaven’. There are about 200 shops and stalls, as well as restaurants and sushi bars focusing on seafood. You can have breakfast, lunch and dinner here (which I did), and I could have eaten more if I had a bigger stomach. I love wandering around food markets and it was fascinating to see the variety of seafood available here. If only London’s markets offer 1/4 of the stuff I saw here, I would be visiting the markets daily!

 

Omicho Market  Omicho Market sushi

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market and the amazing seafood

 

To be continued…

 

Ainokura & Gokayama washi

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

 

Unlike Shirakawa-go in the Gifu prefecture, the remote Gokayama region in the Toyama prefecture is exempt from big bus tourism and seems to attrach more independent travelers. Even though the two areas are both declared as UNESCO world heritage sites, they are located in two different prefectures, and I have a feeling that the Gifu tourist association has been promoting Shirakawa-go more heavily than Toyama. Even the buses to the Ainokura village are less frequent, and I was the only person who got off the bus at the stop, which was a huge contrast from the bus full of tourists all getting off at Ogimachi earlier in the morning.

After being dropped off by the road side up on a mountain, I was slightly hesitant because aside from mountains, there was no sight of the village. I followed a small path and after about 15 mins’ walk, I finally saw the village down in the valley. Like Ogimachi, it snowed quite heavily a few days before, and so the grounds of the village was covered in snow.

 

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura  Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

 

Perhaps it is unfair to compare Ainokura with Ogimachi, because the two villages are quite different. However, I was relieved not to see coaches of tour groups in the rather sleepy Ainokura, which to me felt more authentic already. This quaint village is much smaller in size, and there are are not as many tourist attractions. There are 24 Gassho-style houses, including residences, temples, dojo studios, and huts. Most of them were built between the end of the Edo Era and the beginning of the Meiji Era, and many of the residences are unoccupied now.

One of the main attractions here is the wonderful Ainokukura Folklore Museum (with 2 buildings), where visitors can learn about the local culture, festivals, folk art and music. There are also some traditional musical instruments on display like the Binzasara, which is made of many pieces of wooden plates strung together with a cotton cord. There are handles at both ends, and the stack of wooden plates are played by moving them like a wave (which I got to try out later in the evening).

A walk up to the attic enables visitors to appreciate the architecture and structures of the Gassho-style farmhouses. The exhibits also reveal the locals’ frugal lifestyles, yet they are compensated by the village’s strong community spirit, and this collective and cooperative way of living is called yui.

 

Ainokura Folk Museum

Ainokura Folk Museum

Ainokura Folk Museum  Ainokura Folk Museum

Ainokura Folk Museum

Ainokura Folk Museum Binzasara

Ainokura Folk Museum  Ainokura Folk Museum

Ainokura Folk Museum

 

Gokayama is also famous for washi paper, which was thought to have arrived from Kyoto at the end of the Heian Period when survivors of the Taira Clan escaped to this region after their defeat by the Minamoto Clan.

There is a Washi Workshop Hall and shop in the village, where a washi paper artisan works and sells his work and other local washi paper products. The artisan also conducts short paper-making workshops daily; however, when I arrived, he was busy teaching two other travelers (who turned out to be staying at the same minshuku as me), so I missed the opportunity to do the workshop with him. Nonetheless, I did buy some beautiful and one-of-a-kind washi paper products made by him, and it felt good to meet the face of the artisan behind the products.

 

Ainokura  Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

Ainokura

gokayama washi

gokayama washi

Ainokura washi workshop hall

 

There are a few minshuku in the village, and I chose Minshuku Yomoshirou, which is an Gassho-style houses run by a middle-aged couple. The farmhouse is 250 years old with thatched roof, and in the middle of the house, there is a traditional irori (fireplace) where grilled food is prepared.

On the wall, there are also photos of the variety of local vegetables and herbs, as well as how the community worked together to construct or fix the thatched roofs.

 

Minshuku Yomoshirou

yomoshirou

yomoshirou Binzasara  yomoshirou

yomoshirou Binzasara

Ainokura

Ainokura

Minshuku Yomoshirou

 

Dinner was served in the living/dining area with three other guests, including a Canadian artist, an Amercian/Korean photographer (whom I had already spoken to earlier at the washi paper hall) and a young woman from Russia. We were served grilled local fish with vegetables and herbs that are picked locally – all of which were delicious.

During and after dinner, our host also performed some folk songs with local musical instruments including the Binzasara, and he made us all try it out. It was a sociable and fun evening.

We were told not to wander around outside in the evenings and early in the mornings, which we thought was rather strange – not sure if it is for safety reasons or something more sinister!

 

yomoshirou

yomoshirou

yomoshirou

yomoshirou

yomoshirou  yomoshirou

 

I enjoyed my stay at this minshuku, despite the thin paper partitions (you could hear every sound from the guests next door), shared toilets and bathroom (something you have to get used to when staying in traditional ryokans and minshukus in Japan). I felt that it offered a glimpse into the lives and cultures of the people living in the region, which I believe are slowly changing… I only wish that this village will retain its charm and not become a mass tourist attraction in the future.

 

Ainokura

gokayama

The bus hut and snowy scenery of the region

 

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