This past October I traveled to Japan for three weeks. I have often felt a connection to the simplicity and beauty of Japanese architecture, and therefore had put Japan on my bucket-list of “far-away” places to visit when the rare opportunity presented itself, which turned out to be my honeymoon.
Having booked places to stay in various cities over the course of three weeks, and armed with the invaluable Japan Rail Pass (similar to the Eurail pass, this enables you to travel pretty much anywhere in the country using Japan’s incredibly robust train system for a set window of time,) we did not set a daily agenda, but rather allowed the place and our guidebook to inform what we wanted to see, eat, and experience each day.
While I could write a lengthy blog post outlining each architectural wonder and cultural epiphany I had while there, in the Japanese spirit of brevity, I thought I might share 3 simply beautiful, inspiring things that made my day and life a little more profound after experiencing it.
Hopefully this might serve as afternoon inspiration or eye candy for you as well.
#1: When a phrase captures something almost more beautiful than the thing itself.
About an hour from Tokyo is the resort town near the Fuji Five Lakes called “Hakone.” This beautiful lake town was built with the idea of entertaining foreign dignitaries visiting Japan, and has become an eclectic cultural hub for museums boasting international art and culture (complete with an entire museum dedicated to “The Little Prince.”)
Of the many museums, I was very moved by my visit to the Pola Museum, surprisingly specializing in impressionist art. Yet it was not the impressionist pieces that got me, but rather, an exhibition titled “Regarding Color: Oriental and Contemporary Japanese Ceramics.”
I learned that in Japanese ceramics, pottery created during the Chinese Song Dynasty (960-1279) was sought after to be a highly specific celadon blue. This color, as described in the Japanese language, was referred to by the ceramicists as “Yuguo Tian Qing,” (雨過天青), which literally is translated to mean “clear sky after the rain,” and idiomatically has the meaning of “hope after hardship.”
This description (and metaphor) referring to a color felt more clear than any word assigned to the color itself.
#2: When nature becomes an integral part of the display of art.
Another highlight for me in Hakone was the Hakone Open Air Sculpture Park. Immediately upon entering this mountain-side open air museum, I was graced with a view of a Henry Moore sculpture, restfully placed on a serene, sloping pillow of grass that mimicked the sculpture’s amorous, flowing lines and rounded corners.
As I continued to circulate around the park, each piece became all the more powerful as it interacted against the slightly gray backdrop of sky, green plot of grass, or dappled light of changing leaves in the rustling wind.
While I think most architects agree it is a tenant of good architecture to relate site to building in an integrated, holistic fashion and vision, this visit reinforced my belief that this relationship is imperative in creating a strengthened dialogue and blurred line between form and foundation.
#3: When a space is curated so thoughtfully it takes on a life and character that is distinctly its own.
Towards the end of the trip we tracked down an air bnb in a place that felt a bit like it’s own country. About an hour from Nagano, buried in an agricultural community near the Town of Kaize, we came upon a cabin that had been completed by a young man and nine of his high school friends.
Completely powered by solar and in a remote location that we had to be driven to by our friendly host, upon arriving the cabin immediately felt familiar and, for lack of a better word, perfect.
The simple interior was evocative of a Finnish sensibility—light woods, simple whites, a simple balance of elevated everyday objects (copper pots, Muji colored pencils and books by a window, a simple wood bird mobile.) A small ipod hooked up to a faux-wood speaker held the contents of every Beatles album imaginable.
Was I in Japan or the future tiny home cabin I had dreamed for myself? Perhaps the greatest part of travel is the ability to imagine (and to even test) yourself as you might live in new settings, contexts, and cultures, if only to find the second best part of travel is, after a long journey, returning to your home.
Until my next trip, I will probably reminisce of this view daily…