A Tourism Resolution

Chapter 1 Focus on Asia.

Chapter 1 Focus on Asia.

What is a hotel?

When you focus your sight on the allure of the climate and topography of the world, something that lies ahead suddenly comes into view: the hotel. Why? Because a most well done hotel is the ideal interpretation of its locality; it itself is the very topography, climate and cultural features of its setting. But why do we not just fix our eyes on nature itself? For instance, if you concentrate on the Japanese archipelago, it should be enough to express a litany of its beautiful mountains, rivers and streams. Because it is a chain of volcanic islands whose land was pushed up from the seabed, the land is steep and there is an abundance of rivers and waterfalls. Japan’s seasons are diverse and rich with change; the subjects of which we could and should speak are limitless. If we are to speak without fear of being misunderstood, however, we must point out that there is nature everywhere in the world. We are truly inspired and impressed when we find the vestiges of a long period of human habitation in one place and when we see, preserved in some astounding form, the products of wisdom gained by unbroken inheritance. Specifically, we sense from the sight of a line of villages and houses the condensation of an ingenuity, wisdom and aesthetics based on the unique needs of individual localities. It’s because we become keenly aware of the self-respect of people who have lived their lives modestly yet tenaciously and bravely in the bosom of nature as human beings.

The heat, the cold, in fact, much of the wisdom of survival in each locality can be assessed from the appearance of the homes found there: the material and slope of the roof; the shape of the tiles; the depth of the eaves; the construction of the entrance and the size of the windows. Those are the results of having been able to survive, as well as the products of life and lives continuously connected through time. As humans, we live, building houses, installing gardens, soiling, then cleaning. That’s how we lead our lives.This is why we’re far more impressed with seeing how people have related and interacted with nature than with the splendor of pure nature or wilderness. However, with the spread of technology, the world is heading toward homogenization.
Regrettably, convenience and efficiency will easily transform the lifestyles that we’ve cultivated over hundreds of years. It’s up to the people who live in each area whether they choose tradition or convenience, but the outlook is not necessarily favorable.

Convenience is not restricted to the rich. People increasingly gather in the cities, depopulating villages increasingly die out, and convenience negatively affects the countryside. Just as the contours of solitary islands are encased in massive amounts of plastic waste, along with depopulation and the deterioration of rural houses, a certain pride people once fostered in their way of life is crumbling and disappearing.
On one hand, the world is entering “the era of drift”. In any one region, it is not simply the people who live there, but others, people who want to experience that area’s richness and splendor, who are beginning to move there. Our values have begun to change: work, happiness, and the destination of intelligence. I feel it’s likely that in this global age if we are not going to lose our pride in experiencing and appreciating the blessings of this living earth, we must transfer our interest to concern for the preservation of the environment and the cultural value that lies in the various localities themselves. The rewards of these efforts have been emerging gradually.

Today, hotels are not simply places that offer a safe place to stay and a good night’s sleep and a replenishment of resilience in order to support people’s travels. Instead, they are establishments for comprehending and appreciating the dormant nature, and clearly and impressively expressing it to guests, through architecture. They are also places where people will enjoy service that includes a superb harvest and preparation of the bounty of local foodstuffs.
There is no denying the fact that it is up to the hotel’s carefully considered construction and layout whether we notice the comfort of the breeze of a plateau, or recognize anew the serenity of a beach or understand that the light varies depending on the location. Through hotels, perhaps along with economic development born from serving visitors, there may be a ressurection of the joys of living in that place.

People have special affection for the mountains and rivers of their hometowns. And they inevitably find the cuisine of their hometowns more delicious than that of other towns. Of course, it’s good to have that special feeling towards the hometown in whose bosom one was raised. And yet, if one were to tell the world about the charms of one’s hometown, perhaps it might be better to tone down one’s adoration and glorification.
On one hand, the psychology of the guest is such that he will accept without question the good fortune that befalls him. So he is liable to incline both ears to the favoritism displayed in boasts about ones hometown, delight in his good luck at being able to visit, and will want to take home its foodstuffs and other products as souvenirs. It may be that the fame of most of the famous places and famous products came about as the psychology of the visitor revealed itself.

However, going forward, in thinking about industry of the future, I think it’s necessary to reexamine the possibilities of tourism as a way of comprehending and delineating each region, based on a new granularity and objectivity. This is because tourism is thought to be the largest industry of the 21st century. Through manufacturing, Japan achieved postwar reconstruction, rapid economic growth and rose to a position of economic powerhouse. However, it seems that the first chapter of this legend has come to an end. And the next chapter has already begun, with our traditional culture and topography and climate as resources. This I believe.

Chapter 1 Focus on Asia.

Geoffrey Bawa and his architecture

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright said that the beauty of nature is impressive as landscape only when architecture exists there as an artifact. Certainly, the existence of nature itself does not awaken us to its beauty of nature. Nature comes into its own in contraposition to the placement of architecture, a symbol of human agency. One of his masterpieces, Falling Water, is a villa straddling a waterfall. The establishment of architecture there makes nature more conspicuous than it is by virtue of the simple existence of a waterfall.
I’m writing this manuscript in a hotel called “Heritance Kandalama” near the town of Dambulla right in the middle of Sri Lanka, designed by Sri Lanka’s leading architect, Geoffrey Bawa, who has been attracting attention as an influencer of Aman Resorts, known for highlighting the culture and environment of localities in which they’re built.

Bawa’s style is characterized by architecture as an interpretation of the surrounding nature; in his work architecture acts as an agent for the experience of light, wind and landscape. His is not particularly progressive architecture brandishing form and structure. However, I greatly admire the wonderful natural features of Sri Lanka as presented through this architecture. If we consider a hotel as an apparatus that interprets and presents the assets of nature and a region, Bawa’s work is a good example.

Geoffrey Bawa was born to a wealthy family, the second of three brothers. His parents died relatively early, but, supported by some relatives, he was able to study abroad at Oxford. Therefore, I imagine that he possessed a multifaceted cultural viewpoint encompassing the West and Asia from a relatively young age. It is said that he loved Italy so much that he wanted to spend his life there. Apparently he traveled around the world in a Rolls Royce, so it seems that he was no destitute backpacker.
At 31, encouraged by a cousin who was impressed by his competence in remodeling his family home in Sri Lanka, Bawa entered Oxford and studied architecture. When he eventually returned to Sri Lanka, he began working as an architect. Although he was not prolific, from the very outset of his career his architecture has been imbued with the indivisible relationship between nature and architecture.

Heritance Kandalama is one example. Before our eyes is a large reservoir, built to secure the water supply for agricultural use. The hotel stands as if clinging to bedrock on the hill overlooking the lake, and the infinity pool is situated to appear as if extending over the lake. Visually, the edge of the pool connects with the surface of the distant lake. Because the artificial straight line of the pool’s edge penetrates the organic natural landscape, visitors’ experience of the surrounding nature is even more inspirational. In addition, since the bedrock has been intentionally allowed to penetrate the interior, visitors continually come in contact with the wildness of bedrock as a material. Plants flourish in tropical Sri Lanka, close to the equator. The majority of the concrete and iron building seems to be enshrouded in succulents. Therefore, it’s difficult for visitors to know the entirety of this structure, so in harmony with nature is it.

I walked through Heritance Kandalama around sunrise. Before and after sunrise is a very special time of day when we celebrate a supreme quiet and delicate light. The architecture and its every space respond gracefully to the first light of day.The mirror-like pool reflects the pale ruddy sky, creating a wonderful contrast with the distant view of the rippling lake. The dawning low light projects leaf-filtered light onto the white walls. Clear light shining on fine balusters throws long, thin shadows on the floor.

In the corner of the landing of the exterior staircase a desk and chair are arranged to command a view of the lake. Sitting there, you’ll naturally find yourself looking over a landscape continuing on into the distance. Framed by the architecture is a shimmering tropical rainforest scene made three dimensional in the low light. I get the feeling that I’m sharing the same joyous state of mind as the architect, who no doubt delighted in the richness of this land.
In the restaurant breakfast preparations have begun in the morning light; here we witness the plenitude of the Sri Lankan curry, the fresh vegetables, the radiant fruit and the fragrance of powerful aromatic Ceylon hanging on the breeze.
This is a land where the East India Company thrived and the British were widely involved in both trade and politics. Now it is as if the land has digested and assimilated all of that history and culture and now cordially offers its heritage to visitors as the blessings of its natural features.

This hotel, by not leaving nature alone but rather allowing for human intervention, makes nature stand out more, and splendidly assembles and presents to visitors the nature and attendant history and culture of this place. In other words, we can think of the hotel as the ideal interpretation of the natural features, traditions and foods of the region of its location.
This is an activity that produces pleasure as we, as living human beings, meet nature.
If Japan is going to move on to the next chapter, it’s probably necessary to reinterpret our own country and its natural features. As we face the era of drift, there has been an increase of the numbers of visitors from abroad in almost every country; this phenomenon is in no way limited to Japan. The question is how we come to grips with this and what sort of interpretation of the natural features, history and culture of our country we can offer. I believe the result will be one of the most significant determinants of the affluence of 21st century countries.

Chapter 1 Focus on Asia.

What came out of colonial rule

There is a person who, paying attention to the architecture of Geoffrey Bawa, created the form of a trip’s final destination: the hotel, achieving a degree of perfection that has become a worldwide sensation: Adrian Zeccha, founder of Aman Resorts. Born in Java to a father whose Dutch forebears managed projects for the East India Company, like Bawa he understood the eye with which the west views Asia and recognized simultaneously the limits of capitalism and the potential of local culture. Sukarno, who ruled Indonesia after the colonial era, nationalized many remaining Dutch assets. Zeccha, having lost his assets and position as a member of the ruling class, relocated his base to Malaysia and Singapore and wielded his skills as a journalist for a magazine focusing on Asian art and travel. It’s likely that his peculiar early life and personal history, unfolding against the background of colonialism, likely instilled the lifestyle and tastes of the world’s wealthy into his business intuition.

As history shows, Southeast Asia was under the colonial rule of Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, Britain, France and the United States. Both cheap labor and an array of special products such as Asian condiments, high-quality tea and cannabis that could not be obtained in the colonial nations, as well as a vast expanse of civilized pre-modern territory made up of nations with weak leadership, was a suitable frontier for capitalism. During the Age of Discovery [approximately early 15th to mid-17th centuries], Western world powers, which fully grasped the potential of this frontier, competed with one another through force to be the first to explore the globe and colonize Southeast Asia. To understand how contemporary Westerners responded to this situation, we need only observe the cultural heritage of the colonial period that remains today.

In human history, Asia is the one that had led the world’s civilization, and yet the trend of modernization sent that leadership towards the West for a bit, and the popular revolution occurred in the West and civil society and capitalism took hold there first. At the same time, the Industrial Revolution, symbolized by the steam engine, welled up in Europe, and all of a sudden civilization and culture took on the condition of admiration for the West and resentment towards the East, and Western civilization, having gained predominance, swept the world. Why popular revolution and capitalism didn’t erupt in the East and the West took the lead are mysteries of history, but spurred on by this fact, Western civilization, maintaining a clear predominance, crept into Asian culture as well.

Even though Western people of the time regarded and presented Asian style as novel and exotic, they did not place them in a central role, but rather advanced their own countries’ styles everywhere. Architecture of the colonial period is said to be eclectic and amalgamated, but the basic tone is Western, and objects like furniture, fixtures and clothing are very localized versions of Western items. Because these Westerners hauled an opera house to the far reaches of the tropical forests of the South American Amazon, in a way, this thoroughness in creating localized versions of Western cultural artifacts was, in a sense, admirable.

In otherworldly Asia, far removed from the cultures of their own countries, against the backdrop of the riches brought forth from this place, they enjoyed the springtime of capitalism by carting in luxurious living spaces and gastronomical pleasures. That desire for such practically overflowing riches made colonial culture special. If mankind’s desire is the power that improves and furthers culture, the colonies might have been a utopia of Western civilization, flourishing more brilliantly than the colonizers’ original countries. The colonies were flooded with an excessive extravagance that colonists would never have experienced if confined to their own countries, and a splendor spiced with an exotic atmosphere, in contrast to the authority originating with the nobility and aristocracy.

Teach your own country’s manners to the local people, dress them well in white uniforms, have them serve at superbly finished hotels and restaurants of the otherworldly tropics, and allow them to pour you first-rate wine at tables covered in white tablecloths. Sometimes even today we witness this sort of scene in the movies. It’s as if the further removed from civilization, the brighter glows the extravagance.

Upon the conclusion of the Pacific War, the countries of Southeast Asia escaped colonial rule and gained independence. During this period, Geoffrey Bawa developed as an adolescent and Adrian Zeccha as a young boy. In the Sri Lanka and Indonesia of the day, what exactly did Bawa and Zeccha see? I wonder if it is this blinding potentiality that they saw in Asia’s culture and natural features, identifying colonial rule in reverse perspective.

Chapter 1 Focus on Asia.

The Oberoi, Bali

The very first time my heart fluttered with joy over a hotel was at the Oberoi Beach Resort, Bali. When I was 20, I’d spent two months as a backpacker wandering around Europe, the north coast of Africa, India and Pakistan, but I’d had no connection with any place that was like a resort. At one point, in my mid-20s, I decided on the spur of the moment to take a vacation, and my wife and I went to Bali. We were staying at a seaside hotel in the Kuta District, but because someone recommended the nice atmosphere of the dining situation at the next hotel over, we went to have dinner there.
Even though it was the “next hotel over”, because resort hotel grounds are so spacious, and it was completely dark, we took a taxi. We were let off at the appointed location, but the area was pitch black, and we didn’t see anything that looked like a hotel. All we did come across were a pair of terrifying Balinese carved sculptures that seemed to rise up out of the dark. Extremely startling because they were lit from below, it seemed, oddly, that what the sculptures were indicating was the entrance to the hotel. At that point began a stairway leading down. The taxi having sped away, abandoning us in this “otherworld” of the evening, we had no choice but to descend.
After we nervously descended the staircase, we found ourselves in front of a massive door. It was a splendidly decorated door, far oversized for the mere passing of people. As things stood, however, there was nothing we could do but open it. We emerged into a corridor much larger than we would have imagined, whose walls were decorated with intricate and stylish Balinese motifs. Thinking that we had come to a place where we really didn’t belong, I felt embarrassed, and had the sensation that my feet weren’t touching the ground. From there, we proceeded outside, and were guided to the bar to wait, but to this day, I cannot forget the scene we encountered outside. 

As we descended towards the beach, the broad staircase continued on and on, but on both edges of every single step were placed candles, alight. This continued all the way to the edge of the property, accompanied by the blinding lights, undulating like small waves across the staircase. I got the strong sensation of goosebumps rising on my flesh.
I’ve experienced so many journeys since then; if the person I am today were to encounter the same place, most likely I’d feel nothing special, and the Oberoi, after enduring more than thirty years in the highly competitive Bali hotel market, has probably changed. However, just like the youngster who drinks Coke for the first time, blinking through the shock of the bursting of tiny bubbles, I want to forever keep the impression somewhere in my senses: the impact of a hotel that retains the vestiges of the Dutch colonial period. And surely, I think I will never forget the deep emotions that caused those goosebumps that time.
At the bar, drinking a luscious cocktail out of a coconut shell, I immediately fell into the relaxation of the resort experience.  

Culture is a fascinating thing. Even granting that colonies hold the history of exploitation caused by capitalism, the culture bred there, even after the end of the reign, does not simply vanish from the land. Even if there has been a history of arbitrary, one-sided exploitation for profit due to unequal circumstances, the pleasure created there does not only strongly influence the side on the receiving end of the luxury, but also those who provide. Perhaps discovering the local abundance as the lode of value or worth that can present in a global context the local culture, or the charms of their area’s natural and spiritual features, has provided a lasting impression on the local people.
Even should a strong power from without rule, or foreign architecture based only on greed for the land bristle on the land, as long as the value or worth that manifests itself there is deeply rooted in the local culture and environment, it seems likely that the local people will inherit it as an object of pride. In Bali, where Aman Resorts initially developed hotels, that atmosphere wafts richly. High class resort hotels built with Western capital continue to devote themselves to unscrupulous practices for offering clients the environment and atmosphere of the localities in which they build. However, Adrian Zecha could predict what would happen if the side that comprehended the merits and the market of those locales developed a plan for a hotel of uncompromised quality.  

Chapter 1 Focus on Asia.

If China had commanded the Age of Discovery

People say that there is no “what if” in history. Certainly, history is a discipline that values facts, disallowing rash assumptions. But I’m no historian. So as long as we treat history as that which allows us to envisage the future, I prefer to pose lots of “what if” questions precisely in order to try to grasp the reality of historical facts. In addition, I wish to then create a future story based on this.
So here’s one hypothesis: If Asia--or China--had dominated the Age of Discovery, achieving an industrial revolution before the West did, how would the world have been transformed?

Image by akg-images/Aflo
Nautical chart from the Age of Discovery. The enthusiasm for the voyage to India from Europe can be seen.“ Cantino planisphere”(1502)

For instance, China during the Song dynasty (960-1279) was at the vanguard of civilization in many ways. While paper was invented during a previous dynasty (Han: 206 BC - 220 AD), the Song dynasty stood out in terms of providing an environment in which everyone, regardless of lineage or pedigree, could access higher knowledge due to the publication and distribution of accumulated wisdom, arranged and organized in the form of books according to a precise management system. In addition, with a carefully organized and conducted system of proofreading and printing, they perfected, in a quantity and quality greater than anywhere else in the world, the printing and distribution of books.  Against this background, by developing the imperial examination system to select candidates for the state bureaucracy, the Chinese rulers of the time were able to employ as bureaucrats those with outstanding intellect and talent. Because at the time the power of the state was a synthesis of rational administrative and financial management capabilities and military might, the civil service exam system was exceptionally sophisticated to the extent that it was unlikely that a better civilization would easily emerge. In Europe, it was still the Middle Ages, in which there existed neither printing nor the distribution of books. What if China had been interested in maritime expansion during this era? The compass, already invented in China, was likely being used for navigation during the Song dynasty. 
However, the Song dynasty was easily destroyed by the northern China Jin dynasty (1115 - 1234) and then all too soon by the rising Mongols. During the reign over the land by the Yuan dynasty that followed the Song, twice the Mongol fleets were dispatched to invade Japan. The Yuan also performed military campaigns in Vietnam and Java. From this, we can understand that the Yuan was eager for expansion, but neither expedition was successful. During the reign of the Yuan dynasty, China was no more than one of the vassal states in which the administrative system was maintained, achieving no significant expansion or development. Eurasia is an interminably large continent; most likely, the Yuan, having obtained a huge territory and suffering from unlimited troubles at home and abroad, exhausted their energies in merely protecting it. They lost power in less than a hundred years.
However, during the Ming dynasty that followed the Yuan dynasty, particularly during the reign of Yongle Emperor, there was great zeal in exploratory voyages (into the South Pacific and Indian Oceans). By order of the emperor, the mariner, explorer, and admiral Zheng He commanded a large fleet that completed seven great maritime expeditions from 1405 to 1433. Zheng He spent almost his whole life sailing as a fleet commander. His fleet was comprised of 240 ships with a total crew of 27,000. In the Ming History, one of the Twenty-Four Histories (official Chinese historical writings), the largest ship he commanded was recorded as being 137 meters long, 56 meters wide and weighing 8,000 tons (according to the Wikipedia entry on Zheng He).

Image by Science Photo Library/Aflo
A drawing of Chinese fleet during the Ming dynasty. Lead by Zheng He, the massive fleet had visited the coast of the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia for 7 times, and part of it even reached East African shores.

The tremendous scale of the Ming dynasty’s fleet becomes obvious when we consider that Christopher Columbus’ fleet was manned by about 100, and the ships were about one-sixth the size of the Ming’s. This fleet visited various regions in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea area, and achieved a landing in the Indian city of Calicut (now known as Kozhikode) more than 90 years earlier than the 1498 landing led by the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. On their fourth voyage, Zheng He and part of his fleet sailed to the east coast of Africa, presently around Kenya.
However, the purpose of the Ming’s voyages was to demonstrate the wealth and power of the dynasty to distant countries and exact tributes from other rulers, not to plunder or exercise direct governance. In this tributary relationship was manifested the idea of Sinocentrism, whose aim was the establishment of a hierarchical relationship in which the dominant state neither interferes in internal affairs of, nor colonizes, a foreign country, but allows it sovereign authority in its internal affairs while creating a China-centered tributary trade. When the tribute was brought by the representatives from a vassal country, the suzerain country (Ming) would bestow a return gift several times to tens of times more valuable than the tribute. So we can assume that these voyages were not made as a way to profit from trade. It’s heartwarming to find that, as China couldn’t maintain the practice of offering such high-value return gifts, it instituted a restriction on tributes. It was likely difficult for China to preserve the dignity and honor of Sinocentrism. Therefore, it may be said that the maritime expansion carried out through Zheng He’s great voyages were a maritime expansion with dignity and moderation. Among the items that Zheng He and his crew brought back were rare treasures from foreign countries as well as exotic animals such as giraffes, lions, ostriches and zebras, an equally heartwarming outcome. 

Drawing of giraffe (19th Century) that is said to had been drawn from a preceding Chinese book. Image sourced from EXPO 2005 AICHI Calendar “Shunzan Takagi/honzouzusetsu”(2000). Photo by Tamotsu Fujii

Due to the control and restriction of Mediterranean Sea trade by Ottoman Turkey, Portugal and Spain, which had led the Age of Discovery, had no choice but to pursue maritime trade on other seas. Under the imperial order, ruffians were encouraged to “make a fortune in a single stroke”; it was maritime expansion that allowed the acquisition of riches and fame in exchange for a treacherous voyage in which men risked their lives. In other words, it was an audacious gamble in order to obtain national benefits. Preparing for voyages to secure ports of call and food supply points, as well as developing as-yet-undiscovered routes is serious business. We can imagine that this method naturally did not avert violent and aggressive urges.
What if China had made a series of voyages following Zheng He’s path and eventually crossed the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa? What kind of world would we have today if the Ming’s large fleet had discovered the Americas, circumnavigated the globe before the fleet of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, and proved that the earth is round?
Sinocentrism was not necessarily destructive. Therefore, although the Incan, Maya or Aztec Empires might have been asked to pay tribute to China, perhaps none would have been destroyed. And, what if an industrial revolution had taken place in China during the Ming or Qing dynasties? The world’s wines might have featured labels covered in Chinese characters under a Chinese monopoly corporation operating in Europe.

Chapter 1 Focus on Asia.

Asian setback

The fact is, China did not lead the Age of Discovery. The system of Chinese higher civil service examinations continued through the Ming and Qing dynasties, but longstanding systems and organizations necessarily contract systemic fatigue. It seems that, if we are to discuss without misunderstanding the knowledge that underlies the system of higher civil service examinations, they tended slightly toward the artistic and cultural, somewhat neglecting the practical sciences like engineering. The engineering revolution happened earlier in the West, where universities and libraries were established, education succeeded, and the rise of scientific knowledge thrived.
Even under the circumstances in which, Holland, England and then France, replacing Portugal and Spain, more carefully and beguilingly colonized India and East Asia, China, in a relatively stately and optimistic way, held fast to Sinocentrism. We should remember the China that, even as dynastic rule changed from Ming to Qing, had no other interactive relationship with, and was not accepted by, other countries save through the receipt of tributes. The position of Sinocentric civilization, which China had taken to be dazzling on blind faith alone, was gradually lost to the western Industrial Revolution, and Great Britain, which China confronted during the First Opium War, already had an armada equipped with cannons and steam engines. And as for trade, viewing Asia based on capitalist rationality, Great Britain focused on balanced trade among itself, India and China.
In an effort to balance trade, Great Britain, which, importing tea, porcelain, silk and other items, but exporting only very few, and thus had fallen into a trade deficit with China, decided to export to the Qing dynasty opium it acquired in India. Even after the Qing dynasty prohibited the import of opium, with the help of its military power, the British searched for and found a variety of other methods and routes to continue with the trade in China.  
Had the United Nations existed at the time, and ruled on this state of affairs, surely it would have denounced strongly this coerced trade, in the context of opium dealing, as a threat to morality and peace. Eventually, Hong Kong came under British rule for years, and this course of events in history has had a strong impact in Asia.
Today, in 2019, I can’t help but think about how this historical fact has complexly affected Asia, as Hong Kong’s people protest their inclusion into the Chinese system. Just as colonial culture created the foundation of the tourism industry in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, Hong Kong, formerly governed by Great Britain, exerts a strange influence on the rest of Asia. 

Image by Bridgeman Images/Aflo
A junk from the Qing dynasty under attack by a British steam-powered gunboat, Nemesis. (1841)

On one hand, Japan, which for over one thousand years has existed as a single country, and, isolating itself, sat all alone on the tip of East Asia, was extremely shaken by witnessing up close the First Opium War, in which China, so long deemed by Japan to be the strongest nation since the time of the Taika Reform of 645CE, fell too easily under military control of Great Britain. Japan was more sensitive than was the Chinese Empire to changes in the world around it, which meant it was more quickly affected at its center. Nagasaki, as a sensor, brought in information from overseas, and less than 30 years after the First Opium War, the feudal system characteristic of the shogunate and supervised by the samurai collapsed, imperial rule was restored, and the Meiji government was formed.
The policies laid out by the Meiji government, overly conscious of protecting Japan from foreign pressure, were extreme in their abandonment of their own culture and steering towards westernization. Simultaneously, Japan’s government was so set on establishing itself as a modern nation that could stand shoulder to shoulder with the western great powers without being annexed by them that it became quite imperialistic and expanded outward.
As it was thought essential to develop industry through the proactive study of Western science and technology as well as political systems and to equip an army so as not to be easily invaded, Japan sent a delegation of government officials and exchange students to the west, Politics, economics, science, education, armaments, and so forth: the Japanese people were unusually highly motivated to learn about manifold disciplines, and Japan changed quickly, in a historically short period of time.
That accomplishment and efficiency were both on display during the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) and it seemed as if this island nation, positioned at arm’s length from the world, had withstood the external pressure of the great powers of the world.
After that, two great wars shook the world. There were countless motives for war, but to put it concisely, the cause is likely the rapid spread on a global scale of the desire for statism and national enrichment. And its main characteristic was that the methods and technology used in warfare went through an accelerated change, and due to the introduction of new weapons (aircraft, tanks, poison gas, radar technology and so forth), there were mass casualties. In the last period of World War Two, nuclear weapons were utilized, and the world, having witnessed before its eyes, slaughter on an enormous scale, confronted the fact that the resolution of conflict through war leads to irreparable and devastating consequences.
Taking opportunity of World War One, Japan, recognizing that it had achieved its position among the great powers, superimposed the legitimate purpose of enlightenment of the people through modernism with that of enhancing national power, and eventually, the governors and diplomats were unable to control the military’s aggressive decisions towards Asian hegemony, dispatching troops to and advancing colonization through Taiwan, Korea and Manchuria, China.
Imperialism or colonialism is the rampage of capitalist desires, brought about through the mechanism of the major western powers incorporating Asia, South America and Africa into their territories; if we question the immorality of colonialism, we must first focus our attention on how the western great powers viewed Asia.
On the other hand, if we take into account how the resilience of China and Korea towards imperialism or colonization had happened with communism and independence of ethnic groups underlying, we must recognize that the reason Japan continues to be accused of its colonial past lies in a deeply ingrained grudge against the fact that Japan alone, among all Asian nations, engaged in the same behavior as those western powers.
Japan from the Meiji Restoration to World War Two made its goal to count itself among the major world powers, and so it took part in colonial rule. But with its defeat in World War Two, it lost all rights as a colonizing force; the major cities were destroyed by air raids, 3.1 million people perished in the war, and with the dropping of two nuclear bombs, two cities were gone in an instant.   

Chapter 1 Focus on Asia.

Post-World War Two Japan and Manufacturing

If we reconsider tourism from an industrial perspective, we understand that its position in the world, or rather, its presence, must be taken up objectively, and updated. It’s a little circuitous, but if we ask ourselves what are the future resources of Japan, it’s essential that we calmly ponder modern history, so please bear with me for a little longer. 

Having accepted the Potsdam Declaration and suffered defeat, Japan was in a wretched situation. The destruction caused by the aerial bombing was not confined to large cities like Tokyo and Osaka; provincial cities as well were wrecked by the frequent aerial raids. The nation was reduced to scorched earth. For seven years after the 1945 defeat, Japan was placed under the indirect governance of GHQ (General Headquarters), or Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. During that period, the Japanese government, with intervention from the United States, and oversight by the Allies’ Far East Commission, settled a new constitution, which was proclaimed in 1946. The distinctive points included in this constitution are as follows: the emperor would not be the supreme influential figure, but simply a symbol; Japan would forever renounce war as a means of solving disputes, and that Japan would be a nation governed by civilians without any political intervention by military personnel.
In 1951 in San Francisco, a peace treaty recognizing the restoration of sovereignty to Japan and its people was signed by Japan and the Allies, going into effect the following year. At the time, antagonism between the Americans and the Soviets was becoming more pronounced, and a conflict on the Korean peninsula escalated into warfare between the forces of East and West. It’s said that since all of East Asia might well be communized depending on the war situation, the United States had a strong ulterior motive to use Japan as a breakwater against the communist threat, or a bridgehead of the Western world.
In reality, Japan, an independent nation possessing no means of self defense, entered into the US-Japan Security Treaty and has accepted the US military presence in Japan. There came into existence an underlying structure in which although Japan was a sovereign nation, the United States would take care of military affairs. Herein lies the reason that both countries, Japan and the United States, continue to assert that this alliance is extremely important to the peace and security of all of East Asia.
The fact that mankind, having obtained the desperate armed force of nuclear power, uses war as a means of resolving conflict is a folly leading to the destruction of the human world. After the fall of the Soviet Union, it seemed that the tension between East and West might come to an end, but under the new circumstances of the rise of China, once again the world has regained that tension. The United States, in the context of its powerful military force and economic power, used to assume the role of police for itself and others, but in these circumstances is gradually losing any flexibility or leeway and on a grand scale turning sharply toward nationalism.
The posture of the United States, having become narrow minded and holding itself in high regard, is slowly but steadily influencing the world of the future in that direction. If rationality and objectivity take priority, and if humankind’s wisdom functions vitally, in solving our many international problems, the stance that does not have military power deserves deep respect and pride, just as is written in the preamble to the Japanese constitution. However, in a world of growing uncertainty, in which the United States is so clearly turning toward nationalism, we must think carefully about how much confidence we can have in making the request, while assuming the sacrifice of American soldiers, that the United States defend the rest of the Far East. That is, reflecting on modern history, we must think about what kind of future vision we have, as a country that embraces its pacifist constitution addressing the principle of civilian control and the eternal renunciation of war as a means of resolution. 

Let’s return to the postwar period. After the Pacific War ended, Japan, now a scorched land, was driven by the manufacturing industry. In Japan, scarce in resources like oil or metals, its vision for efficiently reestablishing an economy was the import of raw materials and their export as products; perhaps it was a natural tendency that the processing trade, or industry, sprung up. Leaving security to the United States, the environment in which we could concentrate on industrial promotion and advancement became a tailwind for postwar Japan’s industrialization and rapid economic growth. Japan’s industry has evolved at an astonishing speed, resulting in a remarkable economic achievement by transitioning from the manufacturing and control technologies for airplanes and battleships to the production of a changing array of peaceful products, from textiles, to ships, to iron and steel and then to automobiles.
I can’t assert the existence or nonexistence of national or ethnic traits, but the seriousness and scrupulousness of the Japanese certainly fit in well with the late 20th-century vision for industrialization: standardized mass production. It was an era when rational manufacture of hardware was blended with an acceleration in the precise control of production and compacting of products through electronics, and Japan’s manufacturing tactics rode that wave magnificently.
In the early days, the manufacture of automobiles, which is the mainstay of the Japanese manufacturing industry today, slipped to Germany and the United States, but in terms of manufacturing methods, product quality and market creation, Japanese manufacturers have made steady improvement, and Japan’s products had permeated the markets like water themselves, and at the end of the 20th century had achieved enough growth and refinement to drive the world’s automobile manufacturing industry.
In consumer electronics and high tech equipment as well, our precise and compact electronic products swept the world, until Made in Japan became regarded as an indicator of high quality around the world. Japanese quartz crystal timepieces became known around the world for precision and luxury pricing, and our high-performing and reliable cameras gained great renown for their accuracy and exactitude.
In 1968, Japan’s GDP was second only to the United States’ and this island nation in East Asia became a solid world economic superpower. The price of land skyrocketed, and for a moment, Japan became drunk on its own economic prosperity.
But circumstances began to change, bit by bit. It has been claimed that Japan’s stagnation has been caused by the bursting of the bubble economy, but it wasn’t only that. The advances in computers as the technology that would reform manufacturing had already begun to transform the foundation of the next-generation industry, and Japan got a late start in industries that fused software, the Internet and data science.

Chapter 1 Focus on Asia.

How we see ourselves

Just as was the case with the delay in achieving industrial transformation, there are things Japan should have considered, yet overlooked during the flourishing economy, like a vision of the future that included all of Asia, and an update of its own aesthetics.
The Meiji-era “performances” in which Japanese elites in Western gentleman-style silk top hats and mustaches attended dance parties night after night in Western-style homes may be necessary as a production comprehensively representing the power of an epoch-making civilization, and I do believe in their own way they had a meaningful effect. Whenever I see photographs or paintings of the Meiji Emperor attired in the official court dress of the Empire of Japan, consisting of European-inspired clothing, I imagine the infeasibility, difficulty, and tempestuous nature of the Meiji era. However, it would have been better if our devotion and commitment to the West had been limited to a short period of time. If Western civilization took the initiative to bring innovation to industrial science and technology, all Japan had to do was to learn that technology, but instead, we strove to conscientiously and carefully adopt everything, even including behavior and lifestyles. As Junichiro Tanizaki wrote in “In Praise of Shadows”, during the Meiji Restoration, it would have been enough to study gas lighting technology, but instead, we embraced even the shapes and patterns of the Western gas lamps. As a result, Japanese culture lost the distinctive aesthetic that we had fostered and maintained within our way of living. It is not only Japanese sensitivity, delicate, nuanced and eclectic, that Tanizaki praises in this book; rather, behind the praise of shadows, he fervently expresses his nostalgic affection for the traditional beauty that was forgotten after the civilization and enlightenment of the Meiji era.  

Image by MeijiShowa.com/Aflo
Tokyo Station (date unknown)

Of course, unlike consumer goods, culture can’t be used up until it’s gone. I believe culture is something that burns continually at the base of the sensibilities of those people who have inherited it, like a pilot light, and is like a gene that has the power to reproduce as long as one cares for it. The traditional Japanese cultural practices that may have seemed to lose their way during the Meiji era--architecture, garden design, painting and graphics, handicrafts, lifestyle aesthetics--are like the inheritance from our ancestors hidden away in the back of the family warehouse. I believe that the time has now come for them to be carefully retrieved, dusted off, and brought back out into the light in a global context. The day has come for us to identify resources that are rich and sparkling within our own culture and make use of them as resources for the future, while contributing to, and helping fertilize, the diversity of the cultures of the world (including the rest of Asia). That’s my opinion.
I’ve written a little too much about the Meiji era, but the defeat in World War II was also a shock that defies description. Wartime education did not give the people room to think, but was used to turn everyone’s attention, en masse, toward war.
In order for democracy to function well, it is postulated that all people are educated, improving their ability to think and make comprehensive judgments. From this perspective, we can identify not a few who felt the discomfort and resistance towards propaganda education, but under the abnormal circumstances in which military power dominated politics, the rationality of thought did not even function.
On the other hand, the American style engendered by Japan’s defeat, the trend of enjoying freedom and individualism, appealed to the hearts and sensibilities of postwar Japanese as an intense counterpunch to wartime education. Japanese gradually became enamored with the United States, the country that delivered defeat to their own country. Young people in particular were greatly influenced by the United States, in music, fashion, lifestyle, life stance and values. Japanese who were raised as if the American culture that had spread everywhere before they were even conscious were their nourishment, experienced as annoying those traditional Japanese culture and customs that had been upheld from ancient times. Consumer culture and fads poured oil on the fire of the trend toward entrepreneurship that drove people to novelty or modernity, while the ancient or the aged were perceived negatively. Old Japan, with all of its accumulated history, was just about to be dismissed, along with the militaristic values of the pre-war and wartime periods. 

Chapter 1 Focus on Asia.

What’s opened up

On the other hand, among the Japanese, the admiration of, and devotion to, Europe was stimulated concurrently with their worship of the United States.
Because the Japan of the time, having suffered an enormous setback, was shifting direction toward recovery and restoration, it earnestly studied the European approach, which it greatly respected, and which was based on the logic of a continent that had achieved modernity first: an approach toward cities, the environment, economics, production and education. At the risk of being misunderstood, I’d say that in contrast with American culture, from which arose a powerful essence of epicurean tendencies animated by rising prosperity, Europe was brimming with the allure of diligence and authenticity created by the fusion of tradition and modern reason.
Germany, defeated country though it was, had steadily brought forth achievements of canny rationalism, such as the Bauhaus, which left its mark on pre-war art and architecture education, exercising a great influence on contemporary art; France, which by way of a popular revolution utilized and celebrated as national resources the historical assets created under the reign of royal families was admired by the world as a nation of art; Italy, brightly and positively forged forward in manufacturing products with uninhibited expression as found in the modeling that is characteristic of Michelangelo’s work; England possessed superb traditions and knowhow regarding university education and continued to send out exceptionally talented people into the worlds of finance and economics: Matters we must learn from these European countries appeared one after another as if an enveloping fog had cleared, and Japan was once again motivated by an avid desire to learn more from them.
Freedom, pleasure and a daring attitude delivered through American culture energized the Japanese people, while the intellectual accomplishments of modernism we learned from Europe became the foundation of the significant development and growth of Japan’s industry. 

Photo by The Yomiuri Shimbun/Aflo
McDonald’s in Mitsukoshi department store in Ginza, the first outlet in Japan. Taken on 16th September, 1973

However, it’s possible that our unquestioning adoration of the advanced Western civilizations that we assumed were the victors in our defeat has led to our disdain for other Asian nations. If we change our point of view and are able to possess a rationality that perceives the whole of Asia as a single “mother body”, I believe we could discover the possibility of a productive future and industry.
By no means has the culture fostered and propagated in Japan been something brought about by modernism alone. We have learned much from continental Asia and the Korean Peninsula, and truly appreciated the awe-inspiring nature of objects brought in from these locations, but the culture of the Japanese archipelago came about through our consideration, contemplation and incorporation of these things over long periods of time.
Paper and written characters were introduced from the continent. Since ancient times, over a long period of time, we have learned from, and been taught by, China about law, the art of war, ethics, philosophy, tea, literature and the aesthetics of calligraphic works and paintings. The Japanese people have been inspired and influenced by the artistic culture of the Korean Peninsula from time immemorial, and even in today’s Japan, such items as ceramics produced during the Yi Dynasty (1392-1910) are remarkably highly rated.
Today, East Asia has many problems that are difficult to solve. These are complex things that are not easily organized in a simple diagram, like an enumeration of historical facts or the ideological conflict between East and West. Rather than being extremely aware of our neighbors and overly concerned about the borders between us, at the very least in the realm of imagination that focuses on culture, the creativity to tear down the borders may be necessary.
From a global point of view, the world today is unstable, wavering. Individual people’s movement over the face of the earth, transcending borders, is becoming increasingly dynamic. Nonetheless, precisely because of this state of affairs, attention is placed on local values and merits. The economy is the global guide, and precisely because of that, it becomes clear that the source that creates value is culture, i.e., the localities. This is because there is no such thing as a global culture. Culture is the inherent nature of the local itself.
Just as European colonial rule brought an awakening to Indonesia and Sri Lanka to the fact that they could offer as “value” in an international context what was all around them, isn’t it necessary for East Asia to bring forth, through collaboration and response, its value in a global context? To this effort the mutual understanding and liberal education concerning East Asia’s culture is indispensable. Liberal education, or refinement, or culture, is not the strategic cleverness to promote benefits for or guide profits to one’s own country, but rather “intellectual openness”.
In the case of “East meets West”, “East” refers not to one’s own country, but by necessity must refer to all Eastern countries. If we look at this as an entire Asian cultural sphere transcending nations and regimes, it is there that we must find the pulse of all of East Asian culture, which must continue to flow torrentially even today.
When I reflect on the Japanese archipelago, which, through an economic and industrial stagnation that has lasted 30 years, there has been a shift from a period of growth to one of maturity, I sense a gradual rise in the tendency to apply the above-mentioned viewpoint to the world. Not as a prosperity-crazed nation with a rapidly rising economy, but positioning our viewpoint on a past time, one thousand and several hundred years ago, and anticipating a time about fifty years in the future, what kind of Japan, what kind of East Asia and what kind of world will appear? Aren’t the wisdom and behavior that quietly bring balance to the world required of Japan, from both outside of and within Japan, the cool place that is in no way in the center of the world, an archipelago at the Eastern tip of Eurasia? Today, when AI has begun to change the world, and the future is not easy to predict, the inspiration for that vision and possibility has begun to emerge in considerable force, with young people at the center.

Chapter 2 Thinking at the East end of Eurasia.

Chapter 2 Thinking at the East end of Eurasia.

Spices: Accentuating distinctive charms around the world

When I was 20 years old, I set out on a worldwide trip for the first time in my life. I bought a one-year open ticket with Pakistan Airlines, and first entered London via Beijing and Rawalpindi. Then I went on to France, Switzerland, Italy and Germany. After that, I flew to Greece via Yugoslavia, and stayed for a while on Mykonos, then crossed over to Egypt. From there I flew to Pakistan and then entered India over land. Although this was a typical itinerary for young backpackers, from it, I got some sense of what the world is like.
One of the things I remember from time to time is the flavor of the ham and sausage I ate in Frankfurt at that time. I’d had no plans to go to Frankfurt, but because of mechanical issues, the plane bound for Paris from London stopped for a time in Frankfurt, and the airline provided eligible passengers with a free overnight stay in a hotel, a blessing I never had thought possible on my frugal backpacker’s budget. But what surprised me most was the taste of the ham and sausage served at breakfast the next morning. Up until then, I had thought ham to be the cylindrical sliced product offered by Japanese companies. However, among the idiosyncrasies in color, shape and texture of this Frankfurt meat that differed from the fresh, uncomplicated Japanese product, what surprised me most was the overwhelming spiciness. 
In a junior high school world history class, I learned about the mysteriously named East India Company. It is an historical fact that Europeans, in the pursuit of spices, silk and other goods, opened Eastern marine trade routes, colonized Southeast Asia, established a corporation, and loaded great amounts of spices on ships bound for Europe, creating vast wealth. To a boy not yet in his mid teens, however, it was utterly incomprehensible that spices like pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg could engender such enthusiasm among Europeans, giving them the determination needed to set forth in raging waters to obtain them. 
To be honest, even though I experienced this spicy ham in Frankfurt, at the time I didn’t fully realize what it meant. Later on, while traveling all over the world, I began to understand, though vaguely, what kind of values had swept across the globe throughout history. As I have experienced European cuisines, I have come to more fully understand the European fascination with pepper with each shake from a generously operative pepper shaker and each turn of a considerably large pepper mill, either of which is placed upon the table without exception. Certainly I cannot help but feel rather bleak thinking of the European meat culture in the time before the Age of Discovery when only limited amounts of spices, transported over land, were available. Pepper cannot be underestimated. Such is the power of pepper.
On the other hand, chili pepper was not available in Asia. Native to Peru in South America, it came into European hands through Columbus’ discovery of the Americas, and from there, was brought to Asia. Today, we think of the spiciest foods as being from around Szechuan, Hunan and Yunnan in China, or India or Thailand. Coming to mind are the deep red Szechuan hot pot, boiling like the cauldron of hell, into which go chili pepper and Sichuan pepper; Indian curry, made of the many-spiced garam masala and Tom Yam Kung, with its mixture of painfully spicy chili peppers and sour lemongrass. But although just writing about these makes my tongue sting, it seems that inland China, India and Thailand were some of the latest places in the world into which chili peppers were introduced. 
Even if we’re talking about the same spices, there is a variety of spiciness. Pepper has a spiciness we’d call “sharp”, while the spiciness of Sichuan pepper rather painfully numbs the tongue, and we’d call the chili pepper’s spiciness “hot”. It’s truly surprising to find that chili pepper was brought from Latin America, and so before the Age of Discovery, there were no fiery hot spices in China’s Sczechuan area, India, or Thailand. 
interchange of things that don’t exist in one’s own culture. The world’s interchange does not lead to homogenization by blending. Instead, the introduction of chili pepper intensified the individual characters of India’s masala and Sczechuan’s hot pot. Frankfurt’s ham and sausage, too, matured into an essence of food indispensable to the life of the people thanks to spices brought from Asia. 
I think that not only food culture, but all culture is the same. Indochina, Indonesia, and other former European colonies display unique maturity due to the import of European cultures, technologies and appetites. This can be said of Bali in Indonesia as well as of Sri Lanka. 
The intercultural catalyst, or “spice” for Japan was first European culture during the Meiji Restoration, and then, after World War II, American culture, just as I’ve written previously. Next, regarding tourism, so important as Japan’s future industry, what will become the catalyst that will intensify Japan’s individuality? I believe it will be the value system known as luxury. 

Chapter 2 Thinking at the East end of Eurasia.

What is Luxury? 

From ancient times through the Middle Ages, at the pinnacle of the value system was the king. Although I feel reluctant to discuss this grand, yet rigidly conventional, theme, because I think that it’s necessary to consolidate the history of values in order to consider the future of global tourism, I shall attempt here to lay out my interpretation of that history in broad strokes.
We can imagine that in order to command a huge community of people who could be identified as a nation, a terrific strength, a symbol of absolute order, which no one could refuse or repel, was needed. That is to say, kings came about because they were necessary. Even if the circumstances of the beginning of royalty were things such as individuals who were wise and excelled at martial arts won multiple battles and wars, commanding others and reigned at the top, as a consequence, the symbol of the king became more important than the actual faculties or abilities of the king in societies of ancient times and the Middle Ages. And to be completely direct and honest, while a wise and great royal leader was ideal, despots, fools, those of tender age, and even “emperors wearing no clothes” served the purpose just fine. Because conspicuous authority is the cornerstone of the value that can support a huge group of people, as long as there is a symbol that can represent such authority, a royal ruler appeared as such, and could convincingly conduct him- or herself as a monarch. In other words, the ruler could function as a ruler. Very clearly, rulers were symbols.
For example, bronzeware pieces from ancient China are densely covered with complex patterns. Confronted with the dispirited air of such a piece, completely covered with verdigris rust, one cannot help but consider the length of human history, and yet that complex and all-encompassing pattern exudes an indescribable and mysterious aura, and a magnetism. That is, I would say that the symbol represented as dense patterns suggests the ruler him- or herself.
Bronzeware, when first created, would surely have had the power to overwhelm those who saw it, like a shiny new coin. These pieces are said to have been ceremonial items, used in rituals, but no matter the type of rite, surely they functioned as symbols of great power. Signifying a tremendous achievement that could never have been made without massive investments of time and energy by highly skilled individuals, the imposing appearance of these pieces must have made ordinary people gasp in awe and reverence.
Decorations and ornaments used in the country that sees itself as China, which upholds the way of thinking that assumes Chinese cultural superiority, not limited to bronzeware, were packed with magnificent patterns representing the dignity and majesty of monarchs and rulers. Complex patterns also appear in other regions where there are dominant powers. For instance, the Taj Mahal, the tomb for the wife of Shah Jahan, India’s Mughal Emperor, is covered in intricately patterned stone inlay, comprised of many colored stones from around the world. And in the Islamic world, the inner and outer surfaces of the mosques are crowded with dense geometric patterns; the tremendousness of that density seems to embody the authority of Islam. In a way, it’s as if the impression goes beyond beauty, and one feels intimidated. Dense patterns might have been, in a sense, a show of force that functions as deterrence to war, since they indicate a menace that can be sensed from something like a full-body tattoo, as if declaring, “defiance will bring dreadful consequences.” 

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque,1603-19, Iran

In Europe as well, during the era of the absolute monarchy, baroque and rococo styles, featuring exceedingly intricate ornamentation were devised, as dazzling adornments for royal authority. The Christian Church, a symbol of faith, also had to continue to exude a majestic air of holiness and dignity as a representation of religious precepts and morals, and an enormous amount of energy was invested in the magnificent Gothic edifice. As for the chairs in which royalty and titled nobility would sit, which boast the “cabriole legs” with curves and various details, we would be better off considering them as symbols hinting at the height of a throne than as contraptions for sitting. 
Admiring royal palaces, proud of churches, inheriting as items inspiring pride interiors and furniture covered in ornamentation, people have tried to share in authority by inserting into their daily lives those patterns or replicas of those items. In the long history carved out by monarchs and countries, the implicit preference for valuing luxury has gradually been etched into people’s world views, developing and growing, just as calcareous water dripping over time forms a limestone cavern.

Hall of Mirrors,1678-84,Palacee of Versailles,France

Of course, from splendid ornamentation, refinement and restraint also came about, and the modesty known as elegance came as a derivative as well, but the adoration of the common people tended towards the radiant ornamentation at whose pinnacle was the royal palace. Even today, when the governing power of the monarchy is purely symbolic, and even ordinary people have become the star actors in their own lives, people’s longing for luxury remains firmly rooted. 

Chapter 2 Thinking at the East end of Eurasia.

Classic and Modern

As the era of monarchies largely came to an end, the world shifted to modern societies, which emerged through the form of popular revolutions in the West. This marked the arrival of societies in which the center of value was not the monarch; instead, common individuals played leading, active roles. When we consider that the French Revolution broke out at the end of the 18th century, we recognize that this is not ancient history. Rationality developed and prevailed, spreading throughout society, and a distinct way of thinking arose in which waste and excess were eliminated from the production process of architecture, furniture, daily necessities, and so forth, guided by a clear concept that it would be best if material, function and form were connected as closely as possible. This is modernism.
Architecture, interiors and furnishings that had served kings and aristocrats became supple and free, with innovative molding and design perspectives born from the movements of Art Nouveau, Futurism, Secession, De Stijl and Bauhaus. And beheld in spaces created by representative modernist talents such as Le Corbusier and Mies Van der Rohe, was an aura of the radiance of reason, emancipated from authority and style. 

Meanwhile, there were not only popular revolutions but also successive technological innovations that came to be known as the Industrial Revolution, resulting in the temporary concentration of worldwide wealth in Europe and North America. The new masters of luxury were not royal rulers but industrialists and the wealthy. In Japanese, we have the word narikin (成金); when ordinary people obtain great riches through hard work and good luck, they invest their wealth only in building themselves grand and luxurious residences. The word comes from the game of shogi, a kind of Japanese chess (the board game of generals), in which a foot soldier (fu-) is promoted(naru-成る) to gold (kin-), referring to the attitude of the nouveau riche, who behave as if they had always been members of the upper classes. In any case, the term is nuanced, suggesting ridicule of this newly enriched class’ appetite for luxury. In short, while the mechanism of society has been updated, it seems that the former adoration toward authority, deeply rooted, remained. The masses, while coolly observing the mad pursuit by the wealthy class of luxury as a symbol of royalty, seemed to have secretly harbored a respect and honor of authority, as a value that cannot be easily gained by wealth alone.
If it could be said that we humans survive based solely on reason, perhaps the wave of modernism could have been expected to cloak every single environment. And yet there’s something I feel deeply when visiting European countries. I find high tech cities lined with skyscrapers offer a comfortable environment, but at the same time, I think that perhaps the very center of value still remains in their old quarters, which have been preserved throughout the ages.

The church steeple shoots skyward in the center of town; the castle of a lord who has long managed the region with order and discipline functions as the area’s heart; commoners, who have willingly accepted the system, work to create their own housing, public square, market and entertainment quarter. Into anything that has lasted for a long time is integrated human wisdom that has been devoted to supporting the community’s sufficiency and daily life all for all that time; perhaps people can not simply resolve to utilize reason to update these kinds of things. Therefore, the inclination toward classicism runs deeper in people around the world than we might imagine.
The enormous Milan Furniture Fair (Milano Salone) is held every year. As a designer, I have had many opportunities to attend, lured by new design trends, but even at this cutting edge event oriented toward the novel, the majority of the pieces filling the gigantic exhibition space are classic, or evoke classical style; there are not a great number of purely modern items unfettered by classicism. Because furniture fairs target large-scale demand such as that from new hotels around the world, naturally that trend reflects the conservative preferences of the world’s hotels. 

After the emergence of modernism, its ideology sprouted and spread in design through Germany’s Bauhaus. Since then, rational thinking with regards to Umweltgestaltung (environmental design) spread rapidly around the world. And yet the longing for abundance and luxury is still conservative. This trend is conspicuous among the rich in particular.
It seems to me that when capital and wealth became available to more people around the world, the symbolic nature of the royal palace was transferred to the stately mansions of the rich and high-end hotels. At the latter, weddings, banquets and parties are held on a daily basis, in which they function as the joyous settings for the enjoyment of fine drink, gourmet food, high fashion and celebratory social interaction.
Ordinary people come to these places to enjoy ceremonial moments; the rich want to possess them; those who honor aesthetics come to wish they could create them. 

Chapter 2 Thinking at the East end of Eurasia.

Why Japan’s Hotels are European-Classic Style

It’s probably unavoidable, and natural, that Europeans consider the tastes of former kings and nobility as traditional, and feel towards them both yearning and nostalgia. However, looking back on Japan, I wonder why all of our famous hotels appear to lean in a similar direction.
There are several possible reasons. First, in Japan, it was thought that in an international arena, highlighting the culture of one’s own country is not elegant in the least; it would be rather annoying to visitors from abroad to be exposed to our particular cultural tastes and values without taking into account the cosmopolitan atmosphere. Because hotels representing one’s country are expected to provide for universal social rules that allow guests from across the world to enjoy a stay without any sense of unease, it was thought that we could not demand that they remove their shoes at the entrance or sit on a zabuton cushion on a tatami mat floor. The purpose of hotel services is to allow guests a relaxing and comfortable stay. It would be boorish and insensitive to impose unnecessary tension by insisting on the  reasoning that, “It’s Japanese aesthetics”. There is also the opinion that it is a virtue of modesty to welcome and host guests according to the manners of their home countries.
Another reason can be imagined. Perhaps hotels in Japan, by learning how to treat visitors from abroad, have acted as role models, educators, if you will, to help the Japanese comprehend and assimilate Western culture. Japanese people have considered it shameful to not be familiar with [Western] table manners, including the proper use of silverware. Whenever I recall my embarrassment concerning manners that differed from the culture in which I was born and raised, whether sipping soup without making any noise, or using a napkin during the meal, or how to pour wine, I cannot help but recognize the educational role played by Japan’s international hotels.
That is, it has been both the mission and the premise of Japan’s high-end hotels to present and perform Western ways flawlessly and in a sophisticated manner, leaving aside Japanese ways. These included not only table manners, but also the appropriate preparation and wearing of clothing according to seasons and occasions, the manner appropriate to the holding of ceremonies and parties, Western manners and deportment and the request and receipt of service; most surely, there should have been a vast diversity of directions. With this culture and thinking so deeply ingrained, the ways of Japanese hotels will not change easily. This is not because they are pandering to Western classicism, but rather because they continue to function in this role.
Nonetheless, when you visit any country, any cultural sphere, what ignites people’s hearts and inspiration is when you are welcomed with the essence of that country and its culture. Even though the West holds the historic predominance of earlier modernization, when civilization reaches a level of equilibrium, individual cultures naturally line up equally, each exhibiting its own uniqueness and individuality while making the world shine richly. There is something heartwarming in the attitude of humbly presenting one’s home culture to the world, with this understanding.

Thinking about these things, and reflecting on the traditional Japanese ryokan that maintains a special atmosphere and appearance, I could not suppress something like a strange desire or ambition gradually bubbling up from within.
If possible, I want to polish, and then quietly, yet with adequate preparation, to present to the world a unique cultural ingenuity nurtured in an island nation on the Eastern tip of Eurasia, one existing nowhere else in the world. And in Japan I want to soberly present cultural diversity as a contribution to the world’s abundance.
The Meiji era should be able to be considered part of the distant past. Certainly the Westernization movement of that era, like the descent of a massive meteorite, was a violent shock for Japan, and its lingering effects are still felt today. Even as we gaze at the court costume worn by the Emperor and the royal family during ceremonial events, we recognize that for the nation of Japan, Meiji has already become an established part of our tradition. But Japan and the world are changing. Industry also faces a critical juncture of a great transformation. It seems a good time to awaken from the unconsciously imprinted adoration of Western cultures.
If hotels perform the function of cultural education, I would like them to become places of the teaching of not Western, but Japanese, culture. This is not for people coming from abroad, but for Japanese people. Among the Japanese, the consciousness or awareness of Japanese style is already becoming diluted, and they are losing a sense of pride in its uniqueness and in hosting the world by its means. Under these circumstances, I think it would be interesting if the Japanese-style hotel were to come on the scene, with a stimulating effect.

I propose that we must not settle for superficial interpretations confined to conventional Japanese stylization of interiors, furnishings, textiles, ornaments and decorations. Rather, as a prerequisite of allowing for the comfort of guests from around the world, Japanese aesthetics should be injected, without hesitation, into every conceivable spatial language involving the design and construction of architecture, in relation to the land and the natural environment, and the base language that forms both guest rooms and the hotel itself; specifically speaking, this ranges from the rooms’ bedding and tables, sofas, baths and washstands, to common-use areas such as lobbies, banquet halls, restaurants, libraries and spas. It goes without saying that this must also be said about the etiquette of hospitality.
Now, more than ever, proceeding from the thinking that it is rational to make noise while slurping soba, it has become possible for us to explain this proactively to people from other countries. It’s also taken a little time to explain that one eats nigiri zushi with one’s hand. Perhaps in the same way, hotels have also begun to change, slowly, one little example at a time. 

Chapter 2 Thinking at the East end of Eurasia.

Schindler House

We often hear the story of how the founder of the Bauhaus movement, architect Walter Gropius, and his contemporary, architect Bruno Taut, gained fresh inspiration from Katsura Rikyu and other examples of traditional Japanese architecture. However, it seems that their praise was somewhat disagreeable to the contemporary leaders of the Japanese architecture world.
This is because even if Japanese architecture had not been expressly evaluated by way of Western modernism, the modernists of Japan who drove the architectural world at the time took pride in the fact that Japan was an architectural mecca, and a treasury of architectural resources that could contribute to the richness of the world. When I read this anecdote somewhere, and thought to myself that it might be right, I felt that I understood; even without being unduly praised by people from other countries, Japan has not lost sight of itself, completely engulfed in a wave of Western culture. That rationale would probably naturally manifest upon the increase of national power and economic maturity.
However, upon reconsideration, it seems to me that Taut, Gropius and Frank Lloyd Wright were struck, refreshingly, by Japan’s traditional architecture, but what they recognized may have differed slightly from the Japanese originality that our domestic architects pondered.
After the Meiji Restoration, Japanese architecture carved out a history of continual confrontation with modernism. Unlike today, with its nimble architecture, in an age when architecture was spoken of as taking responsibility for the nation itself, I wonder what kind of complications were involved in the act of working as an architect while being aware of the rivalry between tradition and Western modernism. There were many, many Japanese architects who, while avidly studying the trends of the modernist wave and those of Western modern architecture, with an eye to Japan’s identity, were also exploring paradigms for original and distinctive architecture. Following the Meiji Restoration, these many architects had no choice but to play the role of building Japan’s vision into their body of work.
Kingo Tatsuno, Togo Murano, Isoya Yoshida, Sutemi Horiguchi, Mamoru Yamada , Kunio Maekawa, Junzo Sakakura, Junzo Yoshimura , Seiichi Shirai, Yoshiro Taniguchi, Kenzo Tange, Kiyonori Kikutake, Kisho Kurokawa, Hiroshi Hara, Arata Isozaki, Tadao Ando, Toyo Ito… It’s very interesting that, from the work of individual architects who, inside Japan, a nation turning its rudder towards the modern age, continuously pursued Japan’s vision in their creations through a rich and distinguished interpretation of architecture, I can sense the conflict and exaltation they experienced, the mission they embraced and the position they were entrusted to hold.
However, the image of modernism that Taut, Gropius and Wright imagined pervaded Japanese architecture, an image they found quite moving, seems to be a little different from what Japanese architects embodied. This is not an issue of interpretation or ideology, but rather possibly an issue of relationship: a difference in the standpoint or viewpoint of each side as they related to the culture. To state it very clearly, Western architects viewed our architecture from the perspective of guests enjoying the traditional architecture of a foreign country. Japanese architects thought about it from the viewpoint of hosts, considering their country’s architecture as that which embodied the essential characteristics of Japan in the context of the period.

Located in Los Angeles is a residence called Schindler House, created by architect Rudolph Shcindler. Schindler was raised in a middle class Jewish family in Austria. After studying Austrian architecture, he emigrated to the United States, where he designed several modern residences, many in Los Angeles. Having apprenticed with Frank Lloyd Wright during the period when Wright, working on Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel, traveled between Japan and Chicago, Schindler held down the Chicago office, and in order to handle work from new clients, moved to Los Angeles and began working there. Schindler House was designed to allow Schindler and his new bride to live there together with another couple, close friends and also architects, sharing the kitchen and shower and other wet areas of the house.
When I visited Los Angeles, hearing that there was some Japanese-type housing, I unintentionally took a tour of Schindler House. At first, I was impressed with the straightforward way it captured Japan’s essence, but I didn’t care particularly; Japan’s influence can be found everywhere around the world. But the more time passed, and the more my own interest in the ideals of Japanese-style hotels with few rooms, the more I recalled Schindler House.
Schindler House is distinctive in that at the same time that it is open-minded in its stance towards the outside, the ceiling and eaves are low, and the spatial constitution, comprising not only floors and pillars but also the detailed plans of all the furniture, features a consciousness of the horizontal and the vertical whose balance is very Japanese.
If this had been a residence created with the purpose of reflecting a hobby-like preference for things Japanese, I might have gotten a very different impression, but what remained in my memory was the point that it was designed purely as the couple’s own home.

Certainly, the low eaves present a subdued impression in the midst of Los Angeles’ sunshine. One feels that the exterior, framed by the low eaves, is naturally connected with the interior, while revealing itself as a garden. That is, in this architecture, the garden was assumed as less of an exterior element and more as a living room.
The space that corresponds to the second floor is not isolated from the exterior, and is designed as an open bedroom. Southern California’s climate, with its warmth even in winter and its extremely light precipitation, is forgiving of this architecture, and so it is an idea that allows you to recognize once again that if one wants to really perpetuate Japanese architecture in one’s own living space, this style does exist. In particular, the furniture, designed with the vertical and horizontal in mind, is very interesting. Japanese architecture is characterized by the casual continuity of vertical and horizontal, low ceilings, and the framing achieved via the low eaves, designed to bring the exterior into the interior, as garden. Furniture with curvilinear volume does not suit that sort of space. To be honest, I was stunned by the sight of the furniture, the vertical and horizontal desks, chairs, sofas and ottoman whose fronts, sides and backs are indistinguishable from one another, arranged calmly and naturally around Schindler House.
And nowhere in this space was there any craft-like Japanese details. Because of that, it’s far from an old-fashioned pastiche of Japanese and Western styles, but rather a place where one can naturally enjoy the comfort of a Japanese space.

We have no way of knowing how Schindler participated in the Imperial Hotel project, nor what traditional Japanese architecture struck him, but Schindler House materialized before my eyes as a person’s own residence, as architecture one oneself uses, or, to put it another way, as an example of an assimilation or appreciation of Japanese architecture as a guest or as a user--as Japanese-style architecture with a light-heartedness in which one feels absolutely none of the weight carried by successive generations of Japanese architects.

Chapter 2 Thinking at the East end of Eurasia.

Outside Eyes

Here, I’d like to once again touch on Adrian Zecha and Aman Resorts. Secretly, I feared the opening of Aman Resorts hotels in Japan. This is because I was worried that they would get a head start on introducing a format unique to Japan by which to host and entertain guests from the rest of the world, one that we Japanese have not yet succeeded in creating. Some might call these fears utterly groundless, and may say that it is only I who don’t know about them, but there are already a number of hotels worth visiting in Japan. If that’s the case, perhaps my experience or knowledge is lacking. Or perhaps it’s just a matter of a difference of opinion. I have always felt that the reality and value of Japanese culture has enormous potential in the context of today's world. Accordingly, I’ve been almost completely unable to be satisfied with the status quo. So, I have been half afraid and half resigned to a situation in which the great potential of Japanese culture would be represented as splendid hospitality not only by Aman Resorts, but also according to outside eyes.

This is entirely because of the Japanese people’s lack of self-assessment and self-confidence with respect to their own cultural values, as well as their low expectations for, and appreciation of, the tourism industry because we have spent all 70-plus years following World War II steering a course toward becoming an industrialized nation. Above all, there is nothing other than my chagrin at my timidity as a creator who has not been able to create a suitably timely movement.

Previously, in blog post 003, I touched briefly on the background and personal history of Adrian Zecha, the founder of Aman Resorts. Born into a wealthy Indonesian family, he seems to have cultivated a sensitivity inspired by colonial culture, which endowed him with the ability to masterfully envision the ideal mode and practice of service in order to present local culture, particularly Asian culture, within the global context.

Prior to launching Aman Resorts, Adrian Zecha was a cofounder of Regent International Hotels in Hong Kong. I still have strong memories of the presence of The Regent, in which the charm and glamour of Asia’s international city, Hong Kong, seemed to be condensed. Rising above the Bay of Victoria overlooking Hong Kong Island, the hotel was in the ideal geographical location; all rooms have large windows from which to enjoy the harbor views, where one would never tire of watching the ships passing by, day and night. And it was here in the Cantonese restaurant Lijingxuan that, inspired by the power of cooking, I felt like my palate was finally going to experience its coming-of-age ceremony. Both the entrance to the restaurant and its attitude toward customer service were stately; the staff seemed to be filled with a sense of pride and prosperity that arose with the commingling of East and West. I stayed at this hotel around 1990, and it was this hotel that made me aware of the inadequacy of hospitality in the Tokyo of that time, which was booming in the bubble economy.

The Regent was built by the extraordinary hotelier Robert Burns in his heyday. Burns had turned the Kahala Hilton in Hawaii into a first-rate hotel. It is said that Adrian Zecha participated as a partner in The Regent. Unfortunately, the hotel was caught up in the financial turmoil of bubble-era Japan, and it was necessary for Burns to leave the partnership in 1992. Originally built as The Regent Hong Kong, the hotel was rebranded as InterContinental Hong Kong in 2001. These details can be found in Yumi Yamaguchi's book, Aman Densetsu (The Aman Legend).

Through his experience at The Regent, Zecha started his first hotel, Amanpuri, in Phuket, Thailand, but apparently, 20 years before The Regent was created in Hong Kong, Zecha spent a full two years in Japan.

Brought up in colonial culture, Zecha was posted in Japan as an employee of Time Life Company, an American corporation, and later in Hong Kong launched Asian Magazine and then Orientations, both featuring Asian news and culture, imbuing Zecha with knowledge. Yamaguchi’s Aman Densetsu carefully deciphers the historical context of the origin and development of Zecha’s work. The story describing his participation in The Regent and the process by which he moved onto the creation of Aman Resorts makes me think deeply. In addition to having an accurate understanding of European and American preferences for luxury and exoticism, Zecha was an expert on Asia. And he knew Japan.

It seems that during his stay in Japan, Adrian Zecha worked as a sales manager for Time Life. It was in the years 1956 through 1958, which would no longer be considered “post-war”, but the lifestyle common in the Japan of this era could in no way have been extravagant or flamboyant, nor were hotels by any means able to offer outstanding spaces or services. According to Aman Densetsu, one of the places Zecha often visited at the time was a villa on the Miura Peninsula in Kanagawa Prefecture. According to the account, based on careful research, the facility was a 14-structure villa in Hamamoroiso, commissioned to a Japanese carpenter by Horace Bristol, a photographer from the West coast of the U.S. who lived in Japan for 21 years. Apparently this villa on a hill facing the sea provided a good view of Mt. Fuji.

Having once been hired to create a concept for a hotel on Arasaki Beach on the Miura Peninsula, I remember the location. There are indeed several places on the west coast of the peninsula with its complex coastline of repeatedly overlapping capes and coves from which Mt. Fuji can be seen clearly.

Looking at the photos of Bristol’s villa in Aman Densetsu, I recognize clearly the Japanese style of the space, but at the same time see that it could suit the Western lifestyle of sitting in chairs and wearing shoes. Somehow, the villa brought to mind the Schindler house, exemplifying a desirable Japanese-style villa created with the guest in mind. The Schindler House was completed in 1920. It was around 1957 that Zecha would enjoy the villa on the weekends, visiting with his girlfriend by car. This was not a pre- or post-war emergency-era Japan but rather a Japan in a quiet, peaceful time. The author of Aman Densetsu sees the archetype of Aman Resorts in this villa. I believe this observation is right on target. One certainly feels that the villa represents the primordial image of the original Japanese hotel, in which Japanese-style architecture was designed as the ideal space in which to present the scenery and climate of Japan for the enjoyment of guests from abroad. Indeed it is, even if it’s as a space for foreigners’ hedonistic enjoyment of Japan. I sensed that the architect created the space with not with the bombastic fervor of representing “Japan” while welcoming foreign visitors as a “host”, but quite naturally yet with a little less moderation, as a demonstration, in an international context, of the sophistication and exquisite nature of Japanese space.

Unfortunately, today Adrian Zecha is not involved in Aman Resorts. Hotel management changes according to shareholders' intentions and the movement of capital. Therefore, it’s unclear under what sort of philosophy an Aman without Zecha will operate and evolve. Still, I harbor anxiety about Aman Resorts hotels developed in Japan because I deeply respect the influential power of Adrian Zecha, a man who can envision a Japanese hotel as an extension of his experiences: with the mature colonial culture in which he was raised, his cognizance of the preferences of Western influencers, and his practical understanding of the potential of Japanese culture.

As a result, looking at the Aman Group hotels that have opened in Aman-appropriate locations including Tokyo, Shima and Kyoto, to be honest, I felt a little relieved. Each reaches a very good standard, and boasts ingenious incorporation of Japanese style. Shima's Amanemu makes bold use of the motif of Ise Jingu shrine, and its manner in the use of water and hot water is splendid, but it is not the hotel I feared.

Simply put, the spatial language of the guest rooms and lobby are all rooted in the European-origin hotel style, and has not produced a language of spatial design unique to Japan. The beds are beds, the sofas are sofas, and the desks are desks, all of which have Japanese-style design, but do not attain a spatial language drawn from Japanese sensibility. What if these had been Aman Resorts hotels with Aman Resorts led by Adrian Zecha?

So what exactly is Japanese spatial design language? What is Japanese luxury? It’s about time to get into the main subject. This is how I think about it: Even if it is Japanese-style, I have no intention of vehemently arguing some pompous point involving tatami rooms or the correct placement of zabuton or the likes of wabi*. Because the hotel is altogether and essentially an international space, the basis of its service is different from that of a ryokan**. The important point is what we can practically offer, within the aesthetic sensibility of our country, regarding the universal human activities undertaken in hotels: relaxing, eating, sleeping and working. Furthermore, it seems that it’s probable that here we will find Japan’s answer to the eternal subject: luxury. The salient points are as follows.

・ interior-exterior flow
・ footwear treatment
・ essence of repose and rest
・ ambiguity of space
・ vertical and horizontal
・ corners and edges
・ water and hot water
・ use of natural materials
・ treatment of art
・ flower arrangement
・ restroom aesthetics

I think it's all about coming up with concrete answers to these issues. Going forward, I’d like to discuss these one by one.

*an aesthetics based on the acceptance of the transience of life, often characterized by austerity or imperfection.

**a traditional Japanese-style inn

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Continuity and flow between interior and exterior

Livability that creates continuity, flexibility and flow between exterior and interior spaces is the wisdom of living with Japan’s natural features and climate. Our traditional dwellings are devised to withstand the summer heat rather than the winter cold, finding livability and comfort in an open space, like the engawa that is both inside and out, functioning as an exterior zone when the weather is nice. Accordingly, when we plan to create a space of hospitality by appreciating and interpreting the Japanese climate through architecture, I think the first thing that should be considered is continuity and flow between the exterior and interior.
TENKU, the villas we introduce in the Teikuhiku low-altitude high-resolution tour, is a lodging complex that was created with this in mind. Overlooking the Kirishima mountain range on a site extending over 30,000 tsubo (almost 25 acres) and including an entire mountain, TENKU consists of just five wooden villas. This vast space, cleared and opened up through the efforts of its owner, Takeo Tajima, can be said to be luxurious, but the appeal lies in the question one is able to ask, one that may feel provocative: “How can we best spend our time here?” Naturally, each villa has a spacious wooden terrace open to the heavens, and engenders an extraordinary sense of comfort, nestled in the mountains. I recall making the slightly irresponsible suggestion to Mr. Tajima that he use the straight line of the deck to cut through the natural terrain, rich in natural undulations, so as to make the scenery stand out; to bring as much of the indoor fixtures and furniture, specifically chaise lounges, ofuro (bath) and shower, outside; and to limit what could be found within the rooms to the bare necessities, but I was surprised that these suggestions were so dependably implemented.

The terrace, boldly extending toward the distant view, is like a paradise where one can fully enjoy the mountain air. In one corner of this terrace is the bath. The water filling the tub beautifully reflects the sky, which continues, unbroken, into the sky above the Kirishima range. The declared dress code is nudity, but surely, here, I might actually be able to relax enough to go nude. Soaking in this tub under the heavens, I feel the pleasure of enjoying the scenery with my entire body.
Here and there, through openings in the terraces, splendid trees stretch toward the sky. There are lawns and vegetable gardens dotting the surroundings, and hammocks strung between trees that sway in the breeze. In a spot where there is thrown the pleasant shade in the shape of a rectangular umbrella are arranged a line of wooden chaises, and should you recline there in your carefully selected cotton bathrobe, your hand may rest on a wine cooler filled with chilled champagne. The sounds that reach your ears are the buzz of honeybees and the sound of the wind crossing the mountains.
The sense of spaciousness afforded by the view of Ago Bay on the Shima Peninsula from the terraces attached to the guest rooms of Amanemu, another inn we introduced via Teikuhiko, is also terrific. Thanks to the carefully installed wooden frames, once you open this spacious aperture, you feel like there’s no door at all, and there is created a connected space that includes the guest room and the peaceful Shima seascape. The architectural finishing touches are thorough, and a sense of comfort comes from the perfect arrangement of materials and fittings.
The treat offered at this hotel is the soothing scenery of the sea of Shima’s Ago Bay, with its unequalled stillness, unavailable unless one comes all the way to the edge of the Kii Peninsula. Allowing guests to enjoy it to the fullest is the flow between interior and exterior, which is due to the diligent design and magnificent skills of Kerry Hill Architects.

I acted as the supervising director of Sun House, the MUJI home of 2019, overseeing the project through the concept details, and I understand that the most important aspect of this one-story house is the flow between inside and outside. It flows continuously, with no difference in the levels of the interior floor and the broad exterior wooden deck. Although the three large and highly efficient frames are not wooden, the doors are designed to fit snugly and perfectly into the walls. Accordingly, when all the doors are open, the room and the garden deck become one continuous space.
The dining table is fitted with casters so that should you like, you can smoothly wheel your meal to the outer deck. This way, on days off when the weather is fine, for instance, one can easily obtain the pleasure of brunching in the garden. On the outer deck, there is also a fireplace with recessed steps on all four sides, allowing you to enjoy a barbecue or drinking sake warmed by the fire.

This is designed as a residential complex, but should public spaces like a lobby, lounge or spa, restaurant, cafe, library and such be added, developing the individual villas, there are plenty of possibilities for a functional hotel in which guests can get their fill of the natural landscape. Because it was conceived as an extension of the MUJI ideology, it’s extremely compact and concise, but if we place the gist of luxury, the point of pleasure, on one’s enjoying local natural features to the full, it’s not an entirely spartan approach.
If we consider the luxury of a hotel as preparing to present to guests the locale’s blessings in the most ideal way, that is, to make considerations for guests to be united in its environment----with Japan’s natural features--the flow between inside and outside is essential. It may sound rather crude and subjective, but it seems to me that because modern architecture developed in cold northern regions like Germany, the performance of residences was unconsciously evaluated by insulation performance isolating the outside from the inside. The steel and glass architecture Mies van der Rohe conceptualized developed toward the sky, that is, vertical living spaces, succeeded in providing controlled comfort to interiors isolated from nature. I don’t mean to interpose an objection, but when inside and outside are isolated by a wall or a window frame, we cannot enjoy nature. Eventually, our sensitivity to nature dulls.
In the midst of the intensification of high technology, it may be about time that Asia proposes a residential form that allows us to fully enjoy the blessings of natural materials or the natural environment of each locality. Space design conscious of openness or the flow between inside and outside is not only an orientation for Japan but also a southern or Asian-monsoon style. The reason behind isolating the inside from the outside is not the difference in temperature, but while I don’t make light of the point of an insect invasion, I imagine that in these places, accurate and subtle technologies that can ward off even mosquito invasions will be of practical use.
The Japanese of the past spent the winter indoors in rooms partitioned off by drafty shoji or shitomido (latticed shutters), warmed by charcoal fires in hibachi. In the summertime, the shoji would be replaced with reed sliding doors, leaving the windows open, hung with bamboo blinds for shade, offering both airflow and privacy. I think the first step may be to harness Japanese features and traditions as resources for the future, while reexamining these arrangements from the standpoint of luxury. Though these arrangements comprise a well-established spatial language for the carefully thought out Japanese inns known as ryokan, if we are to pursue Japanese-style hospitality in hotels, this is surely an indispensable point.

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Shoe removal and floor level changes

It is customary in Japan to take off one’s shoes at the genkan or entryway, then step up to enter the interior proper. This is thought of as a way to maintain interior cleanliness by clearly delineating the interior from the exterior because of the extreme humidity of Japan’s climate. It is said that this custom was firmly embedded in the pit dwellings of the Jomon Period (14,000-300 BCE). So this practice has been around since 10,000 years ago. Pit dwellings have been used as housing for the masses during the Jomon, Yayoi (300 BC-300AD), and even Heian period (794-1185). From archeological digs and the scenes of daily life recounted in the Man'yōshū, or The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves, an 8th century anthology of Japanese poetry, it has been assumed that straw or wood was laid down in the interior of dwellings as a place where items dirtied by the outdoor mud and earth would be removed as people stepped up to another level. Raised floor-style grain warehouses also were not just to protect grain from animals, but also a solution to the permeation of moisture and mud. I wonder if this led to a consciousness of maintaining interior cleanliness. It is likely that this custom of removing one’s footwear when entering a pit dwelling makes up an important aspect of the Japanese people’s aesthetic of the interior.

Cited from Website of National diet library

Although there is an increase in wooden floors in contemporary Japanese residences, tatami rooms, while on the decrease, are still going strong, and the indoor slippers used for rooms with wooden floors are still removed when entering tatami-mat rooms. This practice is seen as unconsciously expressing the higher rank of tatami-mat rooms over wooden-floored rooms in terms of cleanliness.
These days, even in China, in most homes, people remove their shoes in the vestibule. I have been involved in the development of the HOUSE VISION project for about the past decade. This is an experiment to investigate the aspects of the near future, envisaging an actual-size house with a multitude of ideas by comprehending “house” as an intersection of the industries of the future, a platform in which a variety of factors converge, including energy, transportation, communication and community. As one part of this project, I have done a number of studies of contemporary Chinese living spaces. As a result, I found a 97% rate of removing shoes in the entrance of a home, which compares exactly with Japan’s rate. However, a singular difference is that there is no level change in Chinese homes; the entrance and the main room are on the same floor. That is, because the area where you remove your shoes is on the same level as the interior, the boundary between exterior and interior has an undulating ambiguity. In this regard, thanks to the agarikamachi, or the piece of wood on the front edge of the floor of the entryway, which enforces a distinct change of levels, there is a clearly established demarcation between outside and inside.
The agarikamachi is a device to ensure that mud and dust is not brought inside, but more than that, it is a pristine space in which you enter a cleaner environment, namely, a psychological switch triggering the purification of mind and body.
So when we consider a space incorporating Japanese hospitality, the difference in floor levels and the removal of shoes are important points; they function to offer a space of cleanliness, and at the same time, to alter the meaning of a space to control the state of mind of the person entering the interior.
On the other hand, for people not in the habit of removing their shoes when they come into a room, the act is not always welcome, as it creates a sense of vulnerability, as if ripping off one layer of the clothing that guards us, not to mention the hassle of untying and retying shoelaces. Therefore, we should not arbitrarily or unilaterally force this Japanese custom upon people; we need consideration and a solution that makes the guest’s experience a comfortable one.

ASABA / AgariKamachi

In the case of the ryokan Asaba, as you duck through the noren (split curtain) and step inside, there is a grand agarikamachi, which absolutely compels guests to remove their shoes. However, to alleviate stress for guests, thorough arrangements have been made, such as a handrail, a chair upon which to sit while removing one’s shoes, and a footstool. The entry thereafter is divided into two levels: a plain, unvarnished wooden floor and then a tatami floor; in short, the change in the status of the space has two phases. Visitors are clearly impressed upon stepping into this extremely clean space, a tatami space, scrupulously cleaned from end to end in anticipation of their entrance. Making visitors feel invited into an immaculate space is the starting point of hospitality and service, and this ryokan clearly accomplishes that in the genkan.


On the other hand, at Beniya Mukayu, although it is a ryokan, the lobby and the library are spaces in which guests wear shoes, and at the entrance to each guest room, there is a kutsunugi ishi (a rectangular flat stone used for taking off one’s shoes) that serves as an agarikamachi, playing the role of exterior/interior boundary. The raised floor upon which guests tread is a wooden corridor with a black luster. The main guest room, which holds a tokonoma (alcove for seasonal formal displays), is floored with tatami mats; the bedroom and cloak area have wooden floors, and the space by the window outfitted with wicker rattan chairs, is floored with bamboo so the transition between spaces is subtly suggested underfoot. After being impressed by his or her entrance into a high quality space by the flooring material, the guest who has come into the room changes into the yukata provided for relaxing within, and in so doing also enters the state of mind of having stepped into a space of pleasure. From the room, when the guest heads out to the large public bath or the restaurant, he is naturally prompted to put on the zōri (traditional thonged sandals) already placed upon the stepping stone, and before long, because the shoes he wore into the ryokan were placed in the shoe cupboard by the room clerk, he completely forgets them during his stay.
Neither Asaba nor Beniya Mukayu offer indoor footwear like slippers for guests after they remove their street footwear. After entering the unusual space known as a ryokan, guests are provided with zōri or other footwear for going out into the garden or onto the open veranda.


In hotels, because there are other interior spaces, like event halls and restaurants, outside of the Japanese-style rooms, it’s difficult to instigate and maintain the custom of removing shoes, which are part of guests’ attire, at the entrance. If a lodging is to secure a place for shoe removal as part of its hospitality, it takes the form as it does at Beniya Mukayu, at the entrance to the guest rooms. In this case, an agarikamachi would be an obstacle for the entrance to or departure from the room by the in-room dining cart. However, if hotels can find a solution for meal delivery and service without adhering to the idea of using a cart, thanks to the difference in floor levels and a dedicated place for removing shoes, they should be able to create an impression of the guest rooms as clean and comfortable spaces.
It is also of utmost importance to carefully design a rigorous distinction between relaxation spaces in which guests can spend time in yukata or other loungewear and public zones. The change out of footwear and into loungewear is a key point to prompt the change in the guest’s psychology, and with the concurrent change in flooring, I believe that Japanese-style luxury is quite naturally expressed.

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

The features of repose

What objects invite you to rest? One example is a sofa. Called by different names in different countries or regions, perhaps “couch”, or “canapé”, this piece of furniture comes in the form of a bench, with a soft upholstered seat and armrests, and thus makes you feel very comfortable whether you’re seated or lying down. The culture of raised seating is now widespread in Japan, and the sofa is probably the main piece of living room furniture in the average home. In that sense, as far as hotels are concerned, the nature of the sofa, as a place where one can sit down and rest in leisure, must also be important. However, I will deal with the sofa as a later theme. Here, I’d like to touch on a different subject, indicated by the phrase, “the water is boiling”. This is not about the bath, but about having hot water prepared for the enjoyment of tea.
What’s the first thing we do when we’re led to a hotel guest room? Whether staying one or two nights or a little longer, we are relieved for a time to have a place to be. We put our luggage in the place provided and hang our jacket on a hanger in the closet. In these situations, closets and hangers are important for creating the impression of a room, but to provide even more cultured hospitality, how about making it possible for guests to enjoy a cup of hot tea by making it possible for them to prepare hot water in the room? Drinking tea as a way of taking a break is a common cultural practice around the world, and there are various types of brewing methods, tools and beverages: black, green or roasted green tea; brown rice, kelp or jasmine tea, Tatsui, Tetsu-kannon or herbal tea; matcha and a wide variety of coffees. Rather than adhering to the austere concept that while in Japan, guests should drink Japanese green tea, I suggest that hotels prepare selections based on guests’ preferences to allow them to enjoy a cup of tea freely on their own.
Imagine, if you will, a cabinet in the guest room known as a “mizuya table”, reminiscent of the mizuya dansu, or kitchen cabinet in traditional Japanese homes. This would be an efficiently designed cabinet storing a refrigerator, coffee maker, various cups and saucers for enjoying coffee and tea, and a minibar. The sides, door and large tabletop are made of especially simple wood, and there are two square recesses at the end of the tabletop, one a kind of “hearth” from which a kettle of boiling water peeks out, and the other a tiny sink with minimal faucet fittings. This setup would provide hot and cold water and require minimal drainage. 

With a chair positioned at this mizuya table, guests can use it as a desk. Today, a place where one can calmly activate and use a tablet or laptop is surprisingly important, and it’s by no means relaxing anymore to escape Internet reception or forget about work. In fact, an environment where one can quickly connect without a password is essential for hotels, because today, work and rest are indivisible. Investors check stock prices from cruises and writers finish a piece moments before going out for a meal. Work is not labor, but the nourishment that fuels self-fulfillment, as well as a source of happiness and meaning in life. Today’s hotel is a place where one initiates this ON and OFF simultaneously.
Of course, this table is not just a place to work. Like today’s kitchen, which functions as a place to perform the work of cooking, but which also can be transformed into a café, home bar or a place to practice flower arranging, this table is a study that plays the role of a café where you can enjoy a wide variety of beverages.
An induction heater is built into the hearth, keeping the water at an optimal temperature. A slight waft of steam rises from either a chagama tea ceremony kettle or from the spout of an iron tetsubin kettle. If a chagama were used, it might be interesting to have a hishaku (bamboo ladle) placed alongside. Even those with no interest in the tea ceremony would be able to imagine how this tool is used. It seems to me that the hishaku and the boiling water together could act as a portal into a world of repose.
Today’s guests have had their fill of the furnishings found in every hotel everywhere: sofas, beds, writing desks, and minibars in cabinets shoved up against a wall. Whether guests are visiting for work or to lose themselves in recreation, it must be a pleasure to be treated to hot water standing by at the ideal temperature. Japanese-style luxury may come to be recognized as a feature of this sort of repose.

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Shoe removal and floor level changes

Japanese space is said to be abundantly flexible, but how about actual living spaces today? Once the futons are put away in the closet, the space becomes an empty tatami room, where a foldable table is brought out and the family enjoys dinner together. Until sometime past the middle of the Showa era, this certainly described the daily lifestyle of ordinary people. So I remember that, when I heard that Japan’s tatami spaces could act as both bedrooms and dining rooms, it made sense to me. However, most Japanese have chosen not to continue living this way; it has become common to separate multipurpose spaces by function, into dining rooms and kitchens, models indicated by the term nDK [number of rooms in housing with a separate dining room and kitchen], in the end developing into a form of housing in which living rooms and bedrooms are independent.
The floor plans of the top-of-the-line high-rise mansions in Tokyo’s most prestigious neighborhoods can by no means be considered original. The style of construction now becoming common, described by basic spatial language such as bedroom, living room, kitchen, bath, toilet, which may be said to be “stateless” or “ubiquitous style” rather than “European style”, is recognized as an asset only as far as any one dwelling is either very spacious, highly extravagant, or has a great number of rooms. And while every ostentatious and excessive contrivance possible has been installed at every turn, whether it be lavish walk-in closets or wine cellars, or bathrooms equipped with saunas, there is no apparent ingenuity as far as interiors go. Perhaps people do not wish to live in original settings, but would rather feel comfortable and acceptable in conventional, ordinary ones. Therefore, I imagine that for living spaces, the ordinary is more calming than the creative, and people would rather the differentiating points be expressed in scale or opulence. 
Certainly, as the saying goes, “okite hanjo, nete ichijo” [awake, half a mat; asleep, a full mat], one can live with the minimum amount of space, and it may well be due to a mean-spirited futurism, which pursues only novelty, and--without discovering its essence-- rails against a form of living space that has been thoroughly considered and honed, developing over many years in response to a certain lifestyle.
However, if it’s in Japan, whose cultural sphere is underpinned by a culture based on a tradition of the flexibility of the tatami space, I think perhaps it’s viable to reset to zero the typical vocabulary of Western space (kitchen, dining room, bedroom) and work on re-editing by adopting a looser and more flexible definition of interior spaces.

Cited from catalog of MUJI INFILL

For instance, let’s think about the space that corresponds to the act of sleeping. Because sleep is important, furniture that provides for sleeping in peace was devised. In Europe, this piece of furniture was the bed. This is a cushioned piece of sleep equipment positioned 50-60cm off the floor. On many beds, there is a vertical piece known as a headboard, which likely gives a sense of security, intimating protection for the head, and also acts as a solid surface on which to rest the back when sitting up in bed. There are variations ranging from the western bed’s soft surface, into which the body sinks for sleep, to the firm surface of the shikibuton, or bottom futon, a quilted mattress that is laid directly upon the tatami matted floor. As a response to a single function--sleep--the bed is a well-devised piece of furniture.
However, before going to sleep and after waking up, people tend to spend their time busy with various waking actions. As we are not robots, we do not just lay down, switch off, and fall asleep. We’re quite busy with numerous tasks: setting an alarm for the morning, plugging in our mobile phones, writing a blog post, sending a message to a friend, or checking tomorrow’s schedule. During the time before sleep comes, we engage in varied activities; we might continue reading an historical novel, watch something on YouTube or have a nightcap. And after waking, we take part in yet another series of actions, which might include checking the news or email on our smartphones, drink a morning cup of coffee, or take a few yoga poses. We don’t just open our eyes and jump out of our bedding. 

Cited from catalog of MUJI INFILL

Thinking about this, I designed an ambiguous piece of furniture meant to respond to those actions we perform before we go to sleep and after we wake up. This is not a bed to be placed against a wall, but an island-style bed that can be approached from any direction. On top of the headboard there is a flat surface that can be used as a table either from the bed or from the opposite side. On the steps, one can place objects or take a seat. By removing the sheets and futon, one can also use it as a sofa. In other words, with the introduction of this single piece of furniture, the space becomes ambiguous and multipurpose. I would almost go so far as to say that, even in a cramped space, utilizing the surrounding walls to their fullest, simply by placing this piece of furniture smack dab in the middle, almost every aspect of one’s daily life can be accommodated. 

Cited from catalog of MUJI INFILL

In the case of hotels, this product could be used in urban business hotels in search of good value for money, and could be an interesting choice in new sleeping furniture for spacious resort spaces. This bed can be paired with the mizuya table introduced in a previous blog, which has both cafe and study functions, a piece of furniture ambiguous in itself. I think this combination suggests the possibility for the emergence of a brand-new and profound spatial language. 

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Vertical and horizontal

Spaces created by humans are made up of the vertical and the horizontal. This is probably because the act of standing is achieved due to hard surfaces and gravity. In Japanese architecture, if we go back to the pit dwellings, level surfaces were slightly rounded, but in private homes and buildings in the shinden-zukuri [a type of Heian-era palatial architecture], shoin-zukuri [traditional style of Japanese residential architecture] and sukiya-zukuri [a residential architectural style originating in the tea ceremony], the pillar-and-beam framework is rectangular. In the interior as well, shoji (sliding doors) and fusuma (sliding screens) have many exclusively rectangular outlines formed by lattice crosspieces and lacquered edges. Of course the rectangular is not limited to Japanese spaces. While there are some exceptions, for the most part, the work of two preeminent modernist architects, Le Corbusier and Mies Van Der Rohe, is rectangular. I wonder if the properties of a rectangle are derived from rationality. 

Apparently, because a shape derived from the mathematical principle “4” is very unstable, a parallelogram with four right angles rarely emerges in nature. What is stable is “3”. In chairs, a three-legged one is stable, but a four-legged one wobbles unsteadily. Honey bees like hexagons, and spider webs never include rectangles. Only in rare cases do mineral crystals form perfect cubes. However, human beings prefer rectangles above all other shapes. Why is this?
Let’s take a little look at the world with a view to “4”. To the degree that we survey the world calmly, we can comprehend that human beings have designed their living environments as rectangles. Having thus divided the organic earth with its undulating surface, they created grid-like streets intersecting at right angles, lined with countless rectangular buildings. The entrances to these buildings are rectangular, and rectangular elevators ascend and descend vertically. Inside, people traverse rectangular corridors by turning in right angles, and, upon opening rectangular doors, find rectangular rooms. Inside are arranged pieces of rectangular furniture and some rectangular windows. Accordingly, the scenery viewed from these windows is trimmed rectangularly. The tables, the shelves, the televisions, and the remotes that control the latter are all rectangular. On the rectangular desks, there are rectangular computers whose rectangular keys are punched so that the words thus created can be printed on rectangular paper. The envelopes into which these papers are inserted, and the stamps affixed to them are also rectangular. And yet the postmarks may be round.
Why have human beings made their environments rectangular like this? It must originate in the human body. People have two eyes, set horizontally. And it is not only our eyes, but all of our sensory organs are thus situated in bilateral symmetry. Perhaps the premise of the human body was vital to acknowledging and accepting both horizontal and vertical. However, the bodies of the monkey and the elephant also exhibit symmetry. The traits that make human beings unique, distinguishing them from other organisms, are the paired abilities of walking upright on two legs and the skilled use of the hands freed by this bipedalism.
Perhaps it’s possible to think that people’s hands, which became free when man began to walk upright, sought out straight lines and right angles. Both are relatively easy to discover using two hands. If one folds a large leaf like that of a banana in two, the fold forms a straight line. And, if another fold is made so as to bring that straight edge in contact with itself, a right angle is achieved. The extension of that is a rectangle. That is, a rectangle is the most common or familiar mathematical or modeling principle that can be obtained or derived with the use of hands. This means that the form of even the most cutting edge computer or smartphone is in fact classic. Incidentally, the monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is a rectangular black slab. 

Manhole covers are round, not square. if they were square, the lids would fall into the holes; the covers must be round. And were balls not round, ball games would not have come into existence. We won’t reference roundness in detail here, but in the same way, paper must be rectangular. If it were round, there would be waste. The established proportions of a piece of paper is such that the length:width ratio is 1:√2, establishing the same ratio no matter how many times a page is folded.
I believe that it is Japanese space that has carried out this principle quite seriously. In western space there is certainly a vertical orientation, but as is evident in church architecture, there is an added curvilinear element. Even without bringing up Art Nouveau architecture or the work of Antonio Gaudi, Zaha Hadid or Frank Ghery, there is an abundance of cubic surfaces in western culture. The foundation of furniture, even in the west, is certainly the rectangle, but sometimes there appear leather- or cloth-covered chairs or sofas with curves that are positively captivating, and not a few instances in which these create the focus of an interior. In order for a glamorous piece of cubic-surfaced furniture to successfully resonate in an interior, it needs to have quite a large space to accommodate its volume; it doesn’t sit neatly in a smallish, rectangular Japanese tatami-mat room.
If today’s world is full of cubic surfaces, in terms of the pursuit of creativity, I think it may be effective for Japan to remain committed to the vertical and horizontal instead. I’ve written about Schindler House before. I was very interested in the fact that all the furniture skillfully utilized the vertical and the horizontal in every way, and the items such as the desk, sofas and chairs, rarely found in traditional Japanese houses, were designed by Schindler himself.
Within a rectangular space with a low roof and eaves, compact furniture designed based on the principle of vertical and horizontal seems a good match. In particular, taking account of the empty areas or margins, continually taking stock of the “ma”, or negative space that originates in this minimal framework or structure in the pursuit of the vertical and horizontal, today there is still plenty of room for the birth of a new spatial language, or a new furniture.  

Pictured in the photograph is Edge-Zero, the exhibition house for HOUSE VISION 2018, displayed in Beijing. I led the design of this project, which was a collaboration with Youzhu, a Chinese residential interior design company. The project was designed with the premise that its space, limited to about 70 square meters, be used efficiently, allowing for no waste. All the wall surfaces were to be used for storage, and all the furniture, designed to be approachable and usable from all four directions, be positioned in island-form. We were able to make the most efficient use of limited space by making sure that furniture had neither a “front” nor a “back” side, so that it could be used from all directions.
This was designed as a residence, but it could also be seen as a guest room in a villa-type hotel. With a spacious terrace in front, relating the connection between an efficient interior and an open exterior, as well as extremely simple materials, it basically becomes the Sun House that I introduced previously. We can focus on lavish materials and finishes in any way, but I believe that the seed of Japanese luxury is hidden in the vertical and horizontal framework, eliminating all excess elements.

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Corner and border/ tatami, fusuma and shoji

If Japan garners high praise for technical elaboration, it also inspires people’s imagination with startling simplicity. As for technical intricacy and resplendence, there are things worth appreciating in every culture around the world. However, the technique of having a seemingly empty space function as a receptacle for the wide variety of images people create in their own minds can be considered a minimalism unique to Japan, one formulated in the later half of the Muromachi period and beyond. I will touch on this theme again when the occasion arises, but in such an environment in which the figurative language plays an active role, it is important that the spatial language that focuses on hospitality should be kept to a bare minimum.
However, a simple, concise space sometimes appears as that which is not refined, but simply bland and impoverished. For a minimal space, one must consciously aim to create beauty through a tendency towards the essential. The power of this space to evoke images in the viewer/visitor is only made manifest when this consciousness reaches every detail. A karesansui (dry landscape) rock garden, which appears empty, is not simply a garden with small rocks randomly dotted about in a sea of pure white sand; the spaces between the rocks, the strategic planting of mosses around the rocks, the way of featuring sand crests at the rocks’ edges, and moreover, a maintenance method that assures that nothing artificial is sensed: all of these are of vital importance. 
In this way, the essential means of bringing forth luxury out of a simple and concise space that has been consciously created are corners and borders. 
For example, a tatami mat room is characterized by corners and borders. A tatami has a ratio of 1:2. Because its fabric borders form clearly visible edges only on the long sides, boundaries between tatami mats when laid upon the floor are marked by these edges. It’s likely that different widths of these fabric borders were explored over time, but the fact that the current width has been settled upon must mean that the Japanese aesthetic sense is rooted in this stable equilibrium. In a room, these borders create a unique visual rhythm. Moving about tatami rooms without treading on these edges is part of Japanese etiquette, and yet it is not because one is following conventional rules that one senses an unnecessary tension. Instead, it is probably that the body unconsciously responds to the rhythm created by the edges of the tatami mat, giving rise to a mentality that tends to avoid destroying that rhythm, and all the rhythms of the room collaborate, including those of the fusuma sliding screens and shoji sliding doors, which together ingeniously transmit to all who enter the components intrinsic to Japanese-style spaces. 
Because in relatively small tatami rooms these borders may feel like a nuisance, there is the so-called “Ryukyu tatami”, which has no cloth borders, but because it has a much tighter weave, has a different texture than a traditional tatami. Accordingly, it’s interesting that a room or space floored with the tightly woven Ryukyu tatami produces a blank space that feels somewhat like a musical rest. In other words, the width and rhythm of the tatami edges correspond to the pitch and dimensions of the mesh of the tatami mat. That Le Corbusier sensed that there were too many lines in a Japanese-style space is understandable in one sense. I think he must have felt that the information contained therein is excessive, starting with the texture of the weave of the tatami mats, then their borders, then the edges of the fusuma, and finally the alcove post, adding its subtle intonation to the order of all of these components. While traditional Japanese spaces are certainly simple, their rhythms, so detailed and fine, may well be inordinate.

Tawaraya Ryokan

The width of the edges of the interior partitions (fusuma) is also determined, and normally these are finished in lacquer. Because the wooden understructure is papered with multiple layers of washi, the tension of the paper from the inside seems rather plump and fleshy, and its appearance changes subtly with changes in humidity. On dry sunny days, the tension is high, but on rainy days, the paper absorbs the humidity in the room and appears soft and full. In this way, the fusuma “breathes”. 
The hikite, the handhold by which one opens and closes the fusuma, is perfectly positioned. Its black-painted metal and the fusuma’s glossy lacquered edge are the only parts one may touch. 
Suibokuga, the ink wash paintings adorning fusuma, and damie, the richly colored gold-leaf embellished screen paintings featuring traditional Japanese themes of natural beauty that act as interior decoration, are part of the Japanese aesthetic, but I think the unadorned, plain white fusuma are beautiful. There are refined and modest fusuma stenciled with mica designs but the elegance of a graceful white fusuma with lacquered edges whose handle bearing an inimitable design fits perfectly gives one a wonderful feeling of cleansing both body and mind; the rhythm of Japanese space seems to reach to the depths of one's senses. 
The interwoven rhythm of tatami and fusuma, beginning with the weave of the tatami’s surface, is the basso continuo that divides the space into vertical and horizontal, gently resounding in the room. 

Tawaraya Ryokan

Shoji are typically found on the perimeter of tatami rooms, allowing light to filter in and thereby effectively transforming them into light-emitting surfaces. The grid pattern of the cross pieces and the seams of the shoji paper create a layering of finely oscillating rhythms. There are actually many variations in the pitch and composition of the cross pieces, like the taikobari papering technique used to curb the rhythm of the shoji, or the pattern in which the vertical pitch is narrowed by eliminating the horizontal pieces, creating manifold rhythms in shoji frames, but these are unimportant technical details. In short, the essence of the shoji screen is to present itself as a surface that emits a faint light by filtering the light from outside through the fibers of washi paper. 
When the shoji are stored in the built-in door pocket at the end of the exterior wall, the boundary between the garden and the tatami room disappears, turning the tatami room into a space connected with the outside. At these times, it wouldn’t be pleasant to look at if the sills of the shoji and the storm shutters were uneven. When the shoji or shutters are left open, the wooden grooved tracks in which the shutters slide back out of the way are designed to be shallow, so as not to be noticed.

Tawaraya Ryokan

Depending on the aperture, the view of the garden can be nicely trimmed into a beautiful scene, but because of the low overhanging eaves, the garden scenery extends horizontally. As ways to further perfect the framing of the scene, there is the veranda that juts out over the garden as well as blinds made of split bamboo or other natural materials that can be suspended from the eaves. The borders thus created function as the finishing touches on the trimming of the garden scene, adorning a mysterious depth and continuation of the space that goes beyond mere visibility. 
There are also yukimi shoji, or snow-viewing shoji; each shoji has two sections, upper and lower. The lower is made of glass and has a movable screen. When the cold of winter precludes leaving the partitions open, the lower parts are slid upward, exhibiting the outdoor scenery. Clearly named in anticipation of the scene of inhabitants within viewing the snow piling up in the garden without, it is truly a device filled with an elegant sensibility. 
This space, in which corners and edges converge, is the Japanese-style room. This is why you must be able to sense how destructive it feels to place a sofa or a bed on a tatami mat. 

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Corner and border / The limits of materials and technology

There’s another important point that affects the quality of a space: the borders between floors and walls, which give clear edges to minimal spaces.  
You’re no doubt familiar with the baseboard. Wrapped around the bottom of the room at the boundary between floor and wall as a reinforcement material, it is a long thin board usually between 5-10cm wide and about 5mm thick. Over years of cleaning, when brooms or mops inevitably come in contact with the walls, their bottom edges become dirty and damaged. Imagine the combination of a white plaster wall and wooden floors. Before you know it, the edges of cleaning tools, whether brooms, vacuums or robotic cleaners, have damaged the bottom portions of the walls. Accordingly, baseboards are installed to deter this sort of damage.  
However, baseboards blur the border between floor and wall, obscuring the competition between the two, lessening the effect of a contrast between materials that otherwise would have been apparent. And yet, if left alone, the bottom part of the wall would be damaged; so in the end, a range of inventive preventions or deterrents has given birth to an aspect of the character of Japanese space. 

In baseboards, called habaki in Japanese, there are dehabaki, in which the thickness of the baseboard juts out from the wall, and irihabaki, or sunken baseboards, which are flush with the wall. In the case of the latter, there are various dimensions of the sunken area, but it invariably creates shading, making the remaining portion of the wall appear to float in the air, while the lower portion is starkly conspicuous.
At the corner of the wall, the outward-jutting portion formed by two walls is called the desumi, or projected corner, while the inward-jutting portion is called the irisumi, or sunken corner. Obviously, when utilizing a sunken baseboard, the projected and sunken corners fit neatly. However, because this type of baseboard requires calculation from the very beginning of the planning process, it costs both labor and money. It can be said, however, that the investment of a great amount of time and effort on the planning stage ensures the creation of a dignified visual tension in the lower part of the wall.
The architectural and stylistic features known in Japan as sukiya, referring generally to a small space that is simple and austere, represent an aesthetic culture created both by knowledgeable clients who concentrated their passion and enthusiasm into these very details and the highly skilled carpenters and craftspeople who responded competently to their employers’ requests. Today, this aesthetic is gradually disappearing, concrete is becoming the mainstream material for construction and cost benefit and rationality are being incorporated into architectural planning. However, Japanese luxury continues to breathe naturally in this sort of continuum of sensitivity.
Furthermore, in today’s interiors, it’s important to decide how to deal with electrical outlets and other tech interfaces. Even having, with great effort, created a space with comforting rhythms, the whole thing can be instantly ruined with a mistake in these fixtures.
While it may seem that to reference details like these is just picking at trifles, because quality resides in the subtlest details, it is precisely those details that do matter. The pursuit of common ground between the sensibility of sukiya-style architecture and technology is a key to space design for today and the future. 

Guest room of MUJI HOTEL

It’s obvious and natural that today’s living environments, changing rapidly with technological progress, be “wired”--connected by electrical cords. As a consequence, people have become completely tolerant of exposure to communications cables and electrical cords. However, for ideal practical and aesthetic comfort in these spaces, technological interfaces should be installed for maximum ease of use, while hidden from view. Technology is progressing towards a point at which we can avoid visible wiring, but for the time being, we need to face the issue of how to deal with the physical state of technological connectivity. 
There are no doubt ways to either hide such items in the shadows or have them mimic parts of the environment like a chameleon, but the luxury of Japanese space lies in the attention given to the corners and edges, so concise that it seems to contain nothing at all. 

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Water and hot spring water / the blessings of a volcanic archipelago

Well, I may have delved too deeply into details and particulars for a time. Let’s take a moment now to observe the lands of Japan from a distance.
It is said that the Japanese archipelago, comprising four large islands and thousands of smaller ones, is made up of landmasses torn from the east coast of the Eurasian continent; the archipelago exists because the Pacific and Philippine Sea Plates collide with one another, eventually hitting the Eurasian Plate, creating friction causing these higher density oceanic plates to be pushed underneath the less dense, more buoyant continental plate, continually pushing up the seafloor.

Illustration : Yoshitaka Mizutani

When the two plates plunge below the continental plate, magma is generated due to the release of water from the subducted slab, and a volcanic belt is created parallel to the oceanic trench. Geologists say that the oceanic plates move about eight centimeters per year, continually moving underneath the continental plate. Mountains are built due to this friction, and earthquakes are generated periodically to cancel the resulting strain. Sometimes accumulated magma erupts from a volcano. It’s terrifying that large earthquakes occur in cycles lasting over 100 years, but because Japan is an archipelago continually born from the movement of the earth’s crust, there’s no way we can escape from this fate. If we were to compare nature based on a scientific theory of plate tectonics, which works within a vast time frame of more than ten million years, and the lifespan of a human being, usually less than 90 years, we are made to recognize that the latter is a mere instant in the eternity of nature. Trembling with awe in the face of a power beyond mortal control, we must know there’s an exact path for us to lead, accepting divine providence, ensuring dignity and happiness, fully conscious of the bliss of a life lived in a period that is comparatively but a blink of the universe.
It makes sense that of the landmass of the Japanese islands, which was created by this mountain-building activity, 70% is mountainous. Water-filled winds crossing the ocean bring an abundance of rain and snow when they encounter Japan’s mountains. With a temperate zone monsoon climate in which the direction of the winds changes with the seasons, the typhoons that originate in the equatorial region from early summer to autumn sometimes travel across the Japanese islands. And while there is certainly a threat in these torrential rains, it is thanks to them that there is plenty of water, the mountains are always covered with trees and the trees are able to store great amounts of water in their roots. Typhoon disasters are serious, but they make high rises, streets and cars as shiny as if they had been put through a dishwasher, and the sense of a kind of purification brought on by the clear weather following a typhoon may also be part of the spirit of this country. 

Ex-fomation WRINKLES “Complex trails : The Rivers and Roads of Japan” Chie Uchida / Aki Takada

On one hand, because the water flows from the steep mountains to the sea, it’s as if the country is covered in a network of capillary-like rivers. And that water is of a singular quality. Because the currents are quick, the percentage that seeps underground and is filtered through the volcanic rock is small, and soft water, containing very little calcium, becomes a multitude of clear streams that descend the mountains. The limpid water allows sunlight to pass to the riverbeds, encouraging the growth of mosses upon which freshwater fish like ayu, yamame and iwana feed, making these riverbeds effective breeding grounds. Water containing large quantities of minerals from the forests flows to the sea, engendering the growth of a lot of plankton in the coastal areas, which in turn means that the islands are surrounded by spectacular fishing grounds.
This water has also fostered a climate suitable for wet rice cultivation, as indicated by Japan’s ancient name Toyoashihara no mizuho no kuni, or “Country of lush ears of bountiful reed plains”. The cultivation of rice transmitted from the Chinese continent has become deeply rooted in Japan, so that people have not only grown the crop on the flat plains, but have also cultivated the sloping lands of mountainous regions to create terraced rice fields. This rice cultivation itself has also nurtured Japan’s regional culture. To the Japanese, rice is more than a staple food; it is a primary factor regulating seasonal activities. From sowing seeds in the spring, planting in the paddies the seedlings nurtured so carefully in the nursery, weeding in the summer to reaping the rice in the fall, we harvest the blessings of nature, and those rhythms, from which the stability and tranquility of daily life are obtained, have generated annual festivals and other events. It can be thought that awe and respect for nature and the worshipful soul have also been nurtured through the cycles or rhythms of rice cultivation. The straw resulting from the threshing of rice becomes a material for daily life, and people worked diligently over the winter to make it into various necessary articles.
That is, it is more in line with reality to say not that rice farming was introduced into the daily lives of the Japanese but that the performance of rice cultivation gave birth to Japanese culture. The cultivation of rice transcends the sphere of agricultural production; it is the very rhythm that creates the foundation of Japan’s culture of everyday life, of which the backdrop was the fertile water produced by the mountains and rivers of the archipelago. 

On one hand, because Japan is an archipelago in a volcanic zone, there are hot springs everywhere. And while it may be a notable characteristic of Japanese today that they feel like this goes without saying, a calm look around the world will reveal that there are very few countries in which one encounters hot springs as frequently as one does in Japan. If you look at the position of the plates, you can imagine that other Pacific Rim countries, like Chile in South America, have earthquakes, volcanoes and hot springs on the scale of Japan, but there they do not go to the trouble of digging 1000m down to reveal a hot spring.
Contrary to Japan, Iceland straddles the mid-Atlantic Ridge, running SW to NE, where the tectonic plates are being pulled apart. Both are situated in volcanic zones where magma is generated. Accordingly, there are many hot springs. However, they are all quite small and spring up naturally. The exception is the Blue Lagoon, a public bath/heated swimming pool about the size of a baseball field whose water is a byproduct of geothermal electric power generation. Here, the turbine is turned and electricity generated by steam energy from water heated below the surface, and the attendant water is white with the abundant silica contained within. One is overwhelmed with the scenery of this vast heated pool. Thinking about it from that perspective, perhaps we can consider Iceland a hot spring country on par with Japan. 

From the point of view of plate tectonics, active volcanoes and places with high mountains are energy storage locations, and hot springs well up in the Swiss Alps as well as in Indonesia. The ancient Romans created a city in the volcanic zone of the Italian Peninsula, establishing magnificent public baths and  celebrating a bathing culture. This fantastic story of how the hot springs of the Roman era developed differently from those in Japan is exactly as explained in Mari Yamazaki’s manga series Thermae Romae.  Hot springs have been prized by civilized society since ancient times, and have healed people. Therefore, I don’t wish to make the self-serving argument that Japan is an unrivalled hot spring country demonstrating a variety of examples along those lines.
Of course, in Japan, hot springs have been continually cherished for a long time, and the hot spring culture, including open air baths, has been developed with great variety. As a backdrop to the origin of hot spring health resort culture, the livelihood cycle based on rice cultivation also had great influence, with the manners and knowhow related to hygienic management deepening with time as well. However, considering the nature of Japanese luxury in the context of offering hospitality to people from around the world, I thought it necessary to reexamine from the beginning the pleasures provided by water and hot spring water.
This is not the time to immerse ourselves in traditional hot spring culture. In the post-industrial era we’re entering, I would like to think of the rare climate of the Japanese archipelago as a resource, with the hot spring as a factor for maximizing cultural originality. This is the context in which I consider water and hot spring water. I would like to look closely once again at what we can see by combining an aesthetic sensibility that is delicate, thorough, subtle and concise with architecture, design and technology. 

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Peter Zumthor’s Therme Vals

The architect Peter Zumthor completed his masterpiece, Therme Vals, a hotel and hot spring spa in the Swiss village of Vals, in 1996. I first heard of this facility on a visit to the San Francisco studio of designer Tamotsu Yagi. At this first meeting, all of a sudden Mr. Yagi plopped down two architecture magazines in front of me. And while I was embarrassed by the intensity of the encounter, which Mr. Yagi delivered as if it were a designers’ greeting by which we were to share and intuitively understand a source of inspiration, my heart was gripped by the two works of architecture thus presented.
One was Zumthor’s Therme Vals and the other was Herzog & de Meuron’s Dominus Winery. These were works of Swiss architects who were just beginning to attract attention. The spa architecture of Therme Vals, appearing to be a submerged lobby of a modern hotel, was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and I felt as if my eyes were riveted to the photographs. The winery, a work like a wire mesh apple box filled precisely and extremely tightly with pale grey local basalt, was striking, appearing suddenly in the vineyards with an exterior like a minimalist breakwater. Inside, the diffused reflection of the light, trickling through the fissures in the stone-packed units, like sunlight filtered through trees, was truly beautiful.
Because the impact of this first encounter was so extreme, shortly thereafter I visited both sites, but Zumthor’s spa facility was particularly impressive. I took the opportunity to visit several of Zumthor’s projects dotted about Switzerland and Austria, and was deeply enthused by the potency of the use of local materials and the poetic and minimal intimation of the spaces. It’s an exaggeration to call it divine inspiration, but in Zumthor’s work, just as in that of Sri Lanka’s Geoffrey Bawa, whose work I covered in Blog 002, the core of my soul was overcome by this ideal form of architecture, acting as a medium through which visitors sense the charm of the land. My soul was moved, even though this was neither a museum nor a church, but rather a spa.
Therme Vals stands in the center of the idyllic scenery of the Swiss Alps. The chime of the cowbells reverberates from every direction, and while summer finds this mountain district enveloped in beauteous greenery, the winters leave it utterly covered in snow. Piercing a nook of a hill is a work of ultra-modern architecture. The material is a locally quarried greenish stone built up in layers like geological strata; the main area--floor, walls, ceiling and so forth--is made up of laminate layers of this stone. The unique texture is particularly suitable for highlighting the charms of this minimalist architecture.
While the portion of the architecture penetrating the hill was a dark and gloomy space, like the inside of a cave, the outside space was open and generous, like an outdoor pool. It’s certainly an interesting contrast. It felt like a submerged hotel lobby because it is not an enclosed space in which one can see the four corners; there are no corners or ends of hallways; the spa is designed like an endless maze, extending ever farther into the interior.

Photo by Pedro Varela / Therme Vals(https://www.flickr.com/photos/rucativava/

While going deep into the maze-like building, bathers may dead end in a small area, leading to the discovery of a space resembling a high-ceilinged tiny chapel, or to a separate bathing room in which countless yellow petals float on the water. Pushing aside a heavy black rubber curtain, one enters the sauna space. In the center of the room is placed a large cuboid stone on which one can lie face up. In the sauna space, one once again journeys through many passages, deeper into the interior. Into the mysterious atmosphere of the sauna, filled with mist and illuminated with a single downlight, it seems not unlikely that an alien or some such thing might descend.
I intuitively thought that perhaps the architect, wondering why humans are healed by hot spring spas, imagined those various states of mind and for field research visited several facilities with ancient roots. Somehow, although in a spa designed for relaxation, I sensed an austere feeling, like a monastery in which one should speak in a hushed voice.
The shower was unlike a Japanese one, in which you turn the handle and the perfect amount of water is released, precisely controlled. Instead, you grasp a relatively large lever with both hands, and from an unimagined height, an unexpectedly large volume of water comes torrentially tumbling down. Somehow, though, the body is invigorated by this surprising shower, which is almost painful because of the amount of water bombarding it. Maybe this is what it feels like to stand under a waterfall. It seems that here, the relationship between water as a physical object and the human body and soul has been masterfully calculated.

Photo by Alamy

In the lounge, beautifully designed chaises are placed at comfortable distances. On one of these, if you lie down and look forward, you are afforded a slight view of the scenery outside--through a small window punched in the wall in an even pitch with the position of the chaise. Because it’s in the middle of the Swiss Alps, if the entire wall were glass, a vast and magnificent landscape would open up before one’s eyes, but the facility is designed such that the walls purposefully block the scene, and from dim interior spaces, one can perceive the outside through small apertures.

Photo by fcamusd / Therme Vals,Switzerland.(https://www.flickr.com/photos/_freelance/

On the other hand, the bathing space that resembles an outdoor pool is completely open, and is even without a roof, so that poolside, the snow piles up thickly. Three wide metal periscope-like pipes on the bottom of the pool suddenly appear at the surface to gush warm water; here, too, one can bathe wholeheartedly in hot water as if under a waterfall.
Healed by water and hot water, lying on a beautifully placed poolside chaise, one can savor an incomparable sense of liberation, accepting the nature of the Swiss Alps with the whole body.
I visited this place twice, both in the deep snow of winter and in the refreshing summertime, and I don’t know why, but I felt like it would reveal my future work to me, so I couldn’t enjoy it whether I was in the hot bath or lying on the chaise lounge. In any case, I felt that I received an intimation or some sort of power from this place.

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Hot springs: luxury in nature’s bounty

The charm of Japan’s hot spring inns lies in their rustic character, but there is such a great variety of contributing factors that it’s hard to clarify just where that charm originates. However, in considering the essence of Japanese luxury, one would have to say that a sensibility that has some appreciation for the weathering of nature is crucial. It’s certainly not like a movie set, where a layer of antique veneer is applied to add character. A clue to Japanese luxury is hidden in finding value in that which is spontaneous or nonchalant, and honestly incorporating the treasures of nature; in the elegance of that which is tranquil and faded and in the simple charm of that which is modest, rather than overdone. It’s meaningful to discover this value not in tea rooms or gardens, which are the outcome of labored acts, but in activities and spaces that seem unhurried and nonchalant, such as hot spring inns.
It’s high time we break away from tea rooms and gardens and approach onsen inns with the same seriousness. I can’t help thinking that there is a great trove of value to be found there. Today in Japan there are a number of inns and establishments that engender admiration for their skillful incorporation of rustic beauty. Favorites of the bloodline of this rustic beauty are Akita’s Tsuru no Yu, Gajoen in Kagoshima and Gunma’s Hoshi Onsen, which we’ve taken up in our “Low altitude high resolution tour”. Their amenities are neither sophisticated nor minimalistic, but rather born of their attitude toward nature as it is, and thus hint at the path toward Japanese luxury.

Akita’s Tsuru no Yu is in a village called Nyuto Onsen, near Lake Tazawa. Even in this area rich with good onsen inns, Tsuru no Yu stands out. This establishment, which has been a hot spring resort since ancient times, passed on to the current proprietor, Kazushi Sato, in 1981. Although there was not even a rotenburo (open-air bath) at the time, he could sense the charm of the area. After taking over the management, Mr. Sato was demolishing the shelter of a waterfall shower in preparation for renovation, when he moved a stone just a bit, and hot water came gushing out of a fissure. The water of the rotenburo he created there, opaque and not too hot, allows for long, relaxed leisurely baths. The landscape viewed from this pale hot spring, following the natural terrain, is particularly alluring. Jutting out from part of the rotenburo is a gazebo whose gnarled lumber makes it seem as if it were constructed hastily, lending an exquisite charm to the scene. In the distinctive Akita dialect, Mr. Sato claims that he’s just “thrown it together for now”, but like a well-designed tea house, it casually embodies the ambiance of a thatched hut in the wilderness.
Immersed in this whitish hot spring, one can fully experience the comfort of putting one’s body in the care of nature’s grace. The pleasure of a hot spring is not a contentment savored only alone; there is also the carefree atmosphere of close friends easily sharing their thoughts and feelings. At Tsuru no Yu, the mixed bathing may be one of the factors leading to this sense of liberation. The sense of security in concealing one’s body in the opaque water may well engender the feeling of freedom. The people I saw submerged and chatting together here seemed truly happy.

The appointments in the guest room of this traditional Japanese home, which was moved to the site from its original location, are somewhat coarse, rather than elegant or refined. This perfect imperfection loosens the posture of the soul for visitors, allowing relaxation. In summer, the greenery grows wildly, and in the winter, the snowfall, which can reach up to two meters, covers the inn completely and luxuriously. Within, the natural pallid water springs forth, creating a fairytale-like scene. A certain fortitude here allows for this outpouring of nature to be entirely converted into the charm of the inn. The way Tsuru no Yu embraces the rotenburo is unsurpassed. And it would be difficult to make a better building in terms of the architectural design process. Tsuru no Yu, operated as a modest and unpretentious destination, is not in the deluxe category, but when you consider the luxury of the natural resource of a mountain hot spring, you’ll surely put it on your list of must-visit onsen inns.

Gajoen impresses me every time I visit. This inn was one of the first spring inns in a relocated and reconstructed traditional Japanese-style thatched roof house, and the charm has certainly not worn off, even today. Takeo Tajima, who in 1992 created the unprecedented space called TENKU, built this inn in 1970, half a century ago, but special mention should be made of the way the hot spring baths are placed in the guest rooms. Lately, this setup is becoming commonplace, but in this case, the rooms have an unusual structure, in which it is difficult to make the distinction between inside and outside. Kagoshima’s mild climate surely allows for the fact that a stone tub is placed boldly on the wooden floor, and greenery grows in the space between tub and floor. With no ceiling over the stone tub, this area is neither indoors nor out, so perhaps it’s better to think of this not as individual private rooms with a hot spring tub, but as a single rotenburo with a private room. Here, the acts of sleeping and bathing follow one another naturally. When I’m at Gajoen, my spirit gradually becomes wild like that of a primitive man. Perhaps the luxury that Takeo Tajima offers awakens the wildness that lies dormant within us. Finding the source of value in awakening humankind’s primordial sense is a viewpoint that perhaps even the greatest tea master, Sen no Rikyū, did not consider.

In the corridors and in the nearby gardens, carrots and konnyaku dry in the sun. Chickens and their peeps, unfazed by people, wander about. At mealtimes, the smoke from the indoor open hearth slowly drifts out of the thatched roof, like smoke signals floating. After dinner, a well-proportioned mix of shochu and hot water is warmed in green bamboo cups set in the hearth. Guests drink freely. In short, this place and its habits are full of the blessings of nature and the wisdom of living carried forth from the distant past, but the proprietor seems to be summoning them unconsciously. The treatment and use of the hot spring water are no doubt based on this same way of thinking.

Hoshi Onsen in Gunma Prefecture is a hot spring inn that stands alone in a valley embraced by the heart of a mountain deep in a mountainous area. As I’ve said before, water and hot springs abound in Japan’s multitude of mountains. This district is no exception. The bathing facility at Hoshi Onsen is situated directly over the source of the hot spring.
Standing since the Meiji Era, the building was constructed with great zeal by Mitsugu Okamura, a parliamentarian who strongly lobbied for and contributed to the construction of the Joetsu Railway traversing Gunma Prefecture. Okamura, said to have received an oracle at the station building of Tokyo Station, designed by the Meiji-era architect Kingo Tatsuno, commissioned a design imparting a similar atmosphere. The semicircular upper part of the bathhouse windows were designed so that the light pouring in from the ceiling and the windows would be like that of a church. The large bath is divided into four squares, with the source of the hot spring welling up in each. The water temperature differs from square to square, progressing from tepid to normal hot spring temperature, allowing guests to match their bath temperatures to their moods.
Another interesting feature of the design is that in each section floats a large log sliced vertically in half. Guests can shift these logs around as they like, resting their heads or feet on them, finding the perfect position for relaxing. With the combination of the grand scale, like a spacious Japanese-style reception hall, the beauty of the light streaming in through the windows of the old building and the freshness of the clear water of the hot spring, this is one of the finest examples of Japan’s onsen.

This place is, just as they say, nestled in the foothills of the mountains. I took a walk in the geta sandals provided by the inn to see a nearby waterfall. I was surprised to find leeches sucking on my bare feet without realizing it. The valley is very quiet; all you can hear are the sounds of running water and the cries of cicadas echoing through the mountains. The chorus of the cicadas is audible, but strangely quiet. When I come here, I feel healed by nothing but water, hot springs and nature. This should be remembered as a place to think about the origin of hot springs in Japan.

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Glittering water

Luxury is difficult to define. Pertinent interpretations are included in the Japanese term, “粋 (sui)”, representing quintessence. Beniya Mukayu, mentioned before in this blog, is a fourth-generation hot spring inn located in the resort area of Kaga Yamashiro Onsen in Ishikawa Prefecture. The current proprietor, Kazunari Nakamichi, completely changed course from his predecessors’ focus on attracting groups; under his management, the inn offers individual guest rooms with private, open-air hot spring baths. Working together with singular intent, he and his wife Sachiko traveled around Japan to study other hot spring inns, and eventually commissioned architect Kiyoshi Sey Takeyama to renovate theirs.
In the beginning, when only the lobby and four guest rooms had been remodeled, the proprietors witnessed a guest who had mistakenly booked an original room burst into tears. They resolved never again to place a guest in this situation, and set themselves the task of renovating the rest of the rooms.

The inn has a central garden: a grove of assorted trees surrounded by both old and new buildings. Takeyama designed each guest room to face the garden, lending a sense of amplitude to the modern Japanese spaces. The combination of the character of the walls, made of straw mixed with diatomaceous earth from Ishikawa Prefecture’s Noto region; the ceilings simply finished in dark colors; shoji screens with square frames on the larger side and the split bamboo floors of the window-side areas creates a bold yet meticulous Japanese space that is very comfortable. The rooms have been neatly maintained; every time I visit, I find the details more refined and polished. However burdened I feel by the trifles of daily life, once I am here, in this environment, my stiff and huddled spirit is alleviated, freed and thoroughly refreshed.

The bath in each guest room, either round or square depending on the room, is made of unfinished wood. I'm always impressed with the sight of the tub overflowing with the water of the hot spring. Guided to the room by a staff member, through the window I glimpse the water, swollen by surface tension, glittering and pale with the light reflected from the garden. As I’m of a larger build, when I get into the tub, the hot water overflows in a wonderfully overdone way, rushing obstreperously over the edges. What might otherwise seem a huge waste is, in this land of water and hot springs, a unique pleasure. I have no idea how, but after a bit, the water is somehow grazing the brim again. With the recent proliferation of private open-air hot spring baths in various establishments, this kind of luxury may seem to have become commonplace, but the question is whether or not those concerned have the determination to continuously and diligently pursue the sui of creating a huge difference in feel and service. We'll soon see their aesthetics and service naturally recognized and globally prized.

The internationally financed hotel Amanemu, located in Shima, Mie Prefecture, boasts an outstandingly high level of perfection. There is the interior/exterior flexibility I’ve mentioned before, but I’d also like to point out the tranquility that is one's consistent companion here. The plateau overlooking the sea of Shima at the tip of the Kii Peninsula is truly quiet; it seems as if one can make out even the wingbeats of distant birds. Every guest room stands alone, like a villa, and the collection of structures is dotted about the grounds, but when the wooden shutters are opened, not a single barrier separates the rooms from their outdoor settings, and each becomes one with the Shima seascape. Here, scenery and tranquility are fashioned and determined through architecture.

There is an infinity pool here whose edge seems to merge with both sea and sky. Its mirrored surface reflects a scene of silence, filling the air with a sense of serenity. While the degree of perfection is superb, the atmosphere hardly intimidates. Here I also sensed the peak of sophistication and style concerning the approach to--and practice of--managing water.
This hotel’s hot spring is called a thermal spring. Not a typical hot spring ringed by rugged stones, it is designed as a quite generous and modern bathing space with multiple levels and pools. It was winter when I visited, and I was overwhelmed by the grand scale of the bathing zone that stretched out beyond the billowing clouds of steam. Indeed, it came to me then that this is what happens when the allure of Japanese hot springs is abstracted and reconstructed within a new, global context.

The temperature of the thermal spring is perfectly controlled. The upper part is moderately warm and the lower, a little lukewarm. Island-like spaces have arbor-style roofs, under each of which lies a toweling-swathed mattress topped with a series of similarly absorbent pillows and a table bearing bottled water. Laying here wrapped in a robe after completely relaxing with a warm-water soak, I was drawn into slumber.
I suggest you keep Amanemu in mind for its thorough expression of the tranquility of Shima, at the tip of the Kii Peninsula, as a landscape integrating water, hot springs, and space.

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Wetlands and Rivers

It is a crucial viewpoint for Japan to protect its nature and utilize it, and not man-made objects, as advanced and high-quality tourism resources. Here, I will note several regions that I recently visited that reinforced this opinion.
Kushiro Marsh is a valuable, untouched natural resource. Six thousand years ago, when the Jomon people lived here, this was a more temperate region and a sea; the water level was two to three meters higher than it is now. Because the remains of several pit dwellings have been found on higher ground in the area, we can assume that it was easy to live around here. Eventually, with the lower temperatures, the water level also fell, forming the present shoreline about 4,000 years ago. The inland area is marshy with a high capacity for water retention, and it is said that the reeds and sedges that accumulated over thousands of years turned into peat, creating vast wetlands.
The indigenous Ainu have always respected and honored the sanctity of nature. That spirit has been handed down to the present day. With one step into the Kushiro Marsh, one senses the wildness within the silence. The water flows freely, the reeds grow densely, and the brown bear, white-tailed eagle and Yezu deer live in the balance dictated by their instincts.

I board a canoe at Toro Lake, and follow the current down the Kushiro River. If you depart before dawn, you come upon the magical surfaces of lake and river shrouded in fog, but the afternoon scenery is equally delightful. Here, one experiences in the flesh the vigor and intensity of nature in a place completely protected from human activity, not only because this area has been spared the influence of development, but because it is a region that is quite dangerous to those who enter it incautiously.
where the aging of the citizenry and depopulation continue, but in actuality, in terms of resources for the future, this village actually holds a grand and pure thing. One accesses the wetlands via guided trekking and canoeing, but I believe that it is in a place like this that Japan’s future direction can be tested, considering how one can both protect and practically utilize this natural resource.

The Shimanto River is a clear stream that runs in the western portion of Kochi Prefecture. Of course the river is also clean, but the surrounding scenery, which is integrated with the lives of the people there, made me seriously contemplate something. What I really want to focus on are the bridges known as “submersible bridges”.
ce where there is no means of escape from nature’s fury; the people there have prepared well, arranging their living environment to soften nature’s wrath, enhancing their adaptation to typhoons. With rising waters, the Shimanto River transforms into a tempestuous muddy flow, but interestingly, at times of high water, the submersible bridges easily slip below the surface. These bridges, lacking guardrails that would obstruct the current, are constructed such that their cross section resembles an airplane’s wing; by slipping through the oncoming stream, they escape damage.

There are approximately 60 of these submersible bridges, ranging from short ones to long ones, from upstream to downstream. These bridges, inevitably born of the necessity of the lives of the area’s people, may well be termed “environmental design”.
Recently, there have been constructed a number of "drainage bridges" based on solid piers, built at a much greater height and undaunted by rising water. But unfortunately, in exchange for their convenience, these bridges are destroying the Shimanto River’s scenery, of which its submersible bridges are part and parcel. Certainly, bridges that are impassable every time they are overwhelmed by rising rivers may be inconvenient, but if the people in the Shimanto River basin take both comfort and pride in living in close proximity to the river, with a kindred sense of nature’s hazards, it would be more enriching to protect this landscape.

Makoto Umebara, a graphic designer based in Kochi Prefecture who is quite familiar with this matter, has been working assiduously to educate others, not only in Kochi but also in other areas around the country. Recently, he has started branding local products under the term “Shimanto Watershed Agriculture" to support farmers who grow crops like rice, vegetables, tea and chestnuts in the area around the river.
It seems the work he does shows an early comprehension of the fact that the source of human happiness lies not in how much money we make or how agreeable is our life, but in the landscape that surrounds us and the pride that place exudes. The Shimanto River, with its concrete embankments, is not a perfectly clear river, but with its conspicuous scenes of lives lived in harmony with the water, it is a beautiful one. I learned these things from the landscape of the submersible bridges and the work of Makoto Umebara.

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Bay and horizon

If the people who live in the Shimanto River watershed take pride in the scenery of submersible bridges, then it seems that the people of the villages surrounding the tiny inlet of Ine Bay at the western end of Wakasa Bay in Kyoto Prefecture on the Japan Sea side also must harbor a special feeling for their seascape.
Japan is an island nation surrounded by oceans, but in addition to having a complex topography, the country borders the following diverse bodies of water: the Japan Sea, the Pacific Ocean, the East China Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. Because their currents differ greatly, each sea facing each different region has its own distinct characteristics.
If Wakasa Bay were a clenched fist, tiny Ine Bay would be located at the base of the pinky, no more conspicuous than a mole. Situated at the entrance to the bay is Aoshima, protecting it from the raging waves of the open sea, perhaps in one way guiding the ideal currents into the bay. Every day before dawn, the fishing boats head out to the stationary offshore nets.
In Ine Bay, the tidal difference is only about 30cm. That of the Pacific coast is 2-3m, and that of the Ariake Sea at spring tide apparently reaches 6m. Because I had thought that the seas were all connected, I was surprised to learn these facts. Because of ocean currents, the tidal difference on the Japan Sea is slight, but even among spots on this body of water, Ine Bay is exceptional in this regard. In addition, thanks to Aoshima, waves don’t form easily, so the bay is quite calm. This environment has created a unique streetscape, in which an array of funaya, or boathouses, with boat storage on the first floor, rings the bay. There are about 230 of these boathouses, designated together as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings. The oldest of them dates from the Edo period (1603-1868 CE).

On the first floor, which faces the water, there is a ramp devised for hauling in the boats for storage. Because the wooden boats deteriorate easily, each house manages its boats in this way. The second floor is not a dwelling, but rather is set aside for fishing equipment. A narrow road rings the town, threaded between the back sides of the funaya and the main houses, where the people live. Each house and funaya comprise a set.
The people of Ine live together with this quiet sea. And while the sea directly in front of the boathouses is like a garden, it drops suddenly to a depth of two meters. Looking into the clear water, you can see the outlines of fish. Suspended from the eaves into the water are several ropes, on the ends of which are simple contraptions known as mondori baskets. Baited with scraps of fish from the kitchen, these traps snare fish of various sizes as well as octopodes. If something is caught, it’s transferred to the holding basket nearby. Both the catch and the refrigerator are compactly tucked under the eaves of the houses.
The first family to remodel one of these boathouses for guests was Kengo Kagi and his wife, who opened the inn Kagiya. In this casual space, the catch of the day was served for the evening meal, expertly prepared. There is a radiance in work done with pride in the blessings of the sea, offering the abundance of the region to visitors with an attitude of generosity.
Akihiko Yoshida, Secretary-General of the Ine Town Tourism Association, having moved here a little over eight years ago, is making every effort to revitalize Ine while protecting it and avoiding the ills of overtourism. Known to all the locals, Yoshida easily greets them and gains us free access to the interiors of the boathouses as well as the houses. Perhaps it goes without saying, but from each and every boathouse, one can gaze upon the sea of Ine and the tranquil scene of those on the opposite shore.
I’ve pondered the question of whether these sorts of things can be thought of as tourist attractions, but I’ve come to believe that what impresses domestic visitors from outside the region as well as international ones is the resource of the land itself. How can we give visitors a taste of that abundance while still protecting this lifestyle? We require a little higher resolution thinking about how to create facilities, institutions and structures for that purpose.

The lodging Umitsubaki Hayama, situated at the tip of the Kii Peninsula in Wakayama Prefecture, is small and simple, but the impression of the complete view of the horizon offered there remains in my mind. The horizon is the subject of a continuing series of photographs--under the theme “seascapes”--by the modern artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. To borrow his words, this horizon must be nearly identical to that reflected in the eyes of the first humans. If you stand erect on the edge of the cliff here, and look straight ahead, there you’ll see the horizon over the sea. It is a scene that feels at once peaceful, cosmic and primitive, endlessly captivating, no matter how long one gazes out at it.
It’s an extremely simple composition, and yet the horizon over the sea reveals completely different expressions depending on the time at, and position from, which it is perceived. While the poignantly and dynamically evolving light surrounding dawn and dusk is spectacular, the noonday sea, acutely severed in two by the blue of the depths and the blue of the sky, is also beautiful. The night horizon, when the moon and stars bleed into the sea is fascinating too. No doubt there are also changes that occur with the seasons.

Transportation wise, it is bone-breaking to reach this location, from which one gazes at a distant Pacific. The inn standing here, one whose value seems to lie in this single horizon, is Umitsubaki Hayama. Admirably, the inn utilizes the local flower, the tsubaki, or camellia, as the ultimate representation of how to harness and make the most of the water. There were camellias planted on the terraces, their red flowers blooming steadfastly, though exposed to the ocean breeze. The camellias arranged by the proprietress in the guest rooms had the effect of creating an atmosphere of dignity and serenity.

Despite both being in the same Japan, there is a world of difference between the images of the horizon when seen over the Pacific Ocean and the Ine Bay in the Japan Sea. When you think about it, just as the term tsutsu uraura [from coast to coast--all over the land] suggests, the coastline of Japan is interwoven with distinctively individual seascapes. How closely will we be able to look upon those variations and discover in each its unique value? Here lies dormant the future of high resolution tourism.

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Cotton and yukata

After discussing water and hot water for a bit, here I’d like to delve into clothing. There’s a surprisingly close tie between mood and attire. After ruminating on the subject for some time, I realized that our feelings change quite a bit depending on what we’re wearing. Of course there is the functionality of clothing, protecting our bodies from heat and cold; and the fun of dressing up--fashion--is also important, but the clothes we wear also largely influence our emotions and state of mind. For instance, if one is invited to a black tie event, one decisively changes one’s mood and presents one’s personality in the package of formal wear in order to properly celebrate an auspicious occasion. Some people may think this a bother, but everywhere around the world, people have devised ways to produce special occasions or gala events and the attendant costumes or clothing in order to give their lives a sense of purpose or structure.
And uniforms bolster the spirits more than one might think while performing a duty or role. Even if you yourself have never experienced the elation of wearing the star baseball player’s number and fulfilling that role, just wearing the same T-shirt as your doubles partner in a ping-pong match creates a strange sense of alliance and solidarity between you. This is a psychological effect that cannot be underestimated.

On the other hand, there are also clothes that put one’s mind and spirit into a state of relaxation, the complete opposite of formal wear or uniforms. These are often named for either the circumstances in which they are worn: everyday clothes, casual wear, “one mile wear” (the last indicating the distance from one’s home that one would feel comfortable wearing this sort of clothing); or, alternately, the material of which they’re made: jersey, fleece, etc.. These are distinguished by the traits of not binding the body, being of a size that hangs loosely, and having an elasticity that allows the clothing to move with the body. And of course, the fabric must have a comfortable texture.
In Japan, since the Edo era, cotton has been the preferred fabric used for clothing that is not very elastic, but that gives one a sense of liberation. Representative of this clothing is the yukata. The yukata is a very special piece of clothing, capable of transporting body and mind from hare to ke, or from the formal to the everyday, from the realm of tension to that of repose. There are proper yukata that can be worn outside as casual wear, and even, recently that can be thought of as fashionable clothing, but what we’re talking about here is the yukata that is closer to pajamas or sleep-wear, a piece of clothing that alleviates the body’s tension.
It’s not clear exactly when the custom began, but most of Japan’s ryokan and modest hotels supply yukata to their guests as nightclothes. Naturally, the perception of yukata as clothing that aids the body in relaxation has spread.
However, even though the yukata invites one to tap into the awareness of peace and ease, the soft, wrinkle-prone fabric features are not enough; yukata are very often starched. This may well include an element of staging a purification of the body in order to aid in crossing over from this shore, besmirched with vulgarity, to the shore of pleasure. In the instant in which one runs one's arms through the sleeves of a starched yukata, having shaken it open in a single motion, one’s mind and body are purified, and one passes from this world to that. At an onsen, “that world” is the world of hot water, namely, the world of liberation from earthly bondage. The yukata is like a magic cloak for the Japanese, transforming us into content creatures of comfort.

The yukata is also designed for easy dressing and undressing. It comes off with a quick, effortless pull on the sash. At the bathhouse, one disrobes, slipping out of the yukata, folding it loosely and placing it in the basket provided, takes a tenugui (small, lightweight bathing towel), and heads inside. The yukata’s use and benefits seem easily intuited by visitors from abroad, who apparently enjoy this garment.

As I was writing this, I realized that in recent years, the use of starch on yukata seems to be gradually declining. The sight of a yukata tightly creased and properly folded hasn’t changed, but there are fewer starched yukata. Or perhaps it’s just that they are starched more lightly. In either case, if we’re to consider Japanese luxury, it seems deeper consideration is needed for the stiffly starched yukata and the psychological impact of the moment of sliding one’s arms into such a garment. Depending on the dampness of the body, the yukata envelops it in the blink of an eye, and grants the body a gentle and tender relaxation; the distinct and instantaneous sensation one gets from slipping into its well-starched cloth is unique to the yukata. Why not consider the wisdom that has been incorporated into thin cotton since the Edo era?

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Bathrobes and towels

If we’re to offer someone the experience of comfort, it’s essential to closely examine materials that are pleasant to use. But this is not enough; it is also extremely important to stimulate all the users’ senses, employing the material to lead their senses, including touch and smell, in the direction of nuance. Because it is only through heightened senses that one can delight in the delectation of the material, and fully appreciate its luxury. Put another way, a carefully examined material actually refines the user’s sensory scale and enhances the precision of his or her somatic perception. As for cotton, how it feels on the skin depends on how much it is stiffened with starch.
During a hotel stay, the bathrobe and towel are extremely important influences on comfort. And while our daily lives also include bathrobes and towels, if we review them from the perspective of whether or not they are capable of awakening the senses, we need to consider not only their quality, texture, thickness and weight, but also focus on the “continuity of experience”-- how they are presented and how they are used. In other words, we must think about how best to attend to the circumstances of their application.
A bathrobe is a one-piece garment made of terrycloth affixed with a belt around the waist. While some may use it as a towel while still wet from a bath or shower, most people don a robe after drying off with a towel. A soft, absorbent cotton robe is very comfortable to a body still warm and sweaty or damp, but if the fabric is too thick, it's too heavy to be comfortable; the weight on one’s shoulders takes away from the pleasure. Or if multiple washes have hardened the fibers, it feels rigid and harsh. Lately we’ve seen the use of waffle-weave fabric, which has a certain springiness, but some are unenthusiastic about it because it leaves marks on the skin. The ideal bathrobe is made of fluffy, soft cotton pile fabric with just the right thickness. The same applies to towels, which should be reasonably thin and lightweight.

Because they’re made of cotton, bathrobes can be dyed any color, but basically, they should be white. White is the color of undyed material, and completely unsullied white is also a guarantee of the highest level of cleanliness. How successfully this cleanliness and whiteness are purveyed affects the client’s senses, proactive behavior and appraisal of comfort. Proper attention should be paid to folding, placing, hanging, drying, and warming bathrobes and towels, as well as smoothly processing them after use.

In the past few years, Italy has seen the development of substantial bathing facilities in which I sense a glimpse of ancient Roman public baths. One such is the QC Terme Roma Spa and Resort, near the Rome-Fiumicino International Airport. Most likely it was built with a conscious nod to an ancient bathing house; while there is a dark, tunnel-like space dotted with various baths, it also has an open outdoor pool and hot tub. The facility is packed with ingenious elements designed to encourage a leisurely full-day sojourn, rather than a short-term visit. Compared to Switzerland’s Therme Vals, which is an austere and meditative space, this facility is designed for corporeal luxury and open-air bathing.

What impressed me about the bathing facility in Rome was the ubiquitous arrangement of clean and functional bathrobe hangers. To spend a comfortable time in this facility, where swimsuits are mandatory, bathrobes and towels are necessities. Wearing a bathrobe between soaks to have a meal or drink in the poolside restaurant or bar lends a sense of aplomb to the public space. These spaces, bustling with robed merrymakers, produce quite the effect. It would ruin the experience if, stepping out of the bath, you were to inadvertently slip on another’s robe or vice versa. To prevent such a mishap, the spa is equipped with solid standing hangers. I remember feeling that this sort of care and ingenuity is quite important. This kind of minute point may in fact be the legacy of the wisdom of the Roman-era baths.

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

A garment that could provide relaxation and concentration

I wonder if there could be a garment that is neither yukata nor bathrobe, but creates relaxation and concentration for the body and mind. There are probably a great number of people who say that loose-fitting shorts and a T-shirt are the best. It would certainly not be easy to do better than that. Also, we can't overlook the opinion that the free-spirited motif of an aloha shirt is exactly what liberates the mind and body. This is also very convincing. The exhilaration brought about by the pattern of the aloha shirt combined with the relaxed atmosphere of Hawaii is certainly wonderful.
However, I would like to consider what might be the ultimate in relaxation wear, something that eliminates every quirk and individuality, and strips away even the vague tension involved in dressing. As I’ve stated several times, I believe that work and rest will gradually be activities done in the same place. And in fact, the process of loosening up the body and mind can, in turn, produce great concentration and endurance. Is there any piece of clothing that can induce such a state of mind, a feeling of being so liberated that one forgets the existence of the ego, as if one has become completely invisible?
If I envisioned the perfect hotel in the perfect location, I would like to design a set of clothes for it with the same awareness as I would for its space. This clothing would be made of natural material, a fabric with the perfect degree of stretch, and it would be something that could be worn indoors or out, even in the hotel dining room.

In Japanese ryokan, guests head to the dining area dressed in yukata or a yukata and the short jacket known as a hanten. This is actually natural, since wearing street clothes here would feel like a disruption of the atmosphere. However, I feel like wearing a bathrobe to a restaurant is a breach of etiquette. Western customs demand that one wear formal attire or at least a necktie or jacket in a restaurant. You can wear a bathrobe while on your way to the hotel spa or pool, but you can't walk around in the lobby or the restaurant in such attire. This so-called dress code is understandable, but I think it would be nice to have some luxury hotels that are free of such rules.
The ideal garment would supposedly consist of two pieces, a top and a bottom. It would be very loose and fit both young and old, men and women, fat and thin. The colors would be soothing ones that blend into the environment. The pants would fit both skinny young people and middle-aged men with bellies. The shirt could be a light linen or fine cotton. This garment would be not just loose, but graceful in its lines, creating an inner sense of elegance and composure for the wearer. It's about escaping from the tension of social interaction, but not being too completely unwound. It would be clothing to be worn while working and resting, quietly facing your inner self as a human being.
Footwear is also important. A pair of carefully constructed, relatively supportive slippers is fine for indoor use, but it’s best to change footwear when going outdoors. These shoes should not be as casual as slippers, and should not bare ones feet like flip-flops or sandals. It might be more comfortable to lightly cover the heels as well. How about some sort of footwear that’s as light as a feather and easy to wear?
The words relaxation and luxury sound a little bit similar to me. Imagine a situation in which the feeling of liberation creates superb concentration while allowing the body to experience the highest degree of relaxation and pleasure.

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Feel Natural Materials

Japan's spatial emotion comes from materials. While using light materials such as wood and paper, we may soon think of Japanese teahouse (Sukiya) (based on the grid of Japanese weights and measures, it luxuriously extends the Japanese partition board and sliding door, floor and partition board ) and civilian buildings (after rough cutting of thick logs, it is made of thick wooden structure). Fired board fences, bamboo fences displaying countless diversities, gorgeous corridors and stairs, and the unique atmosphere of shallow scaly walls and pillars made with hand axes may also emerge from memory.
These feelings to space form Japanese are different from western countries, the latter uses marble and bricks that are precisely cut to create mathematical theoretical order. It is different from China, which has to be elaborately carved on the surface of objects, or Islamic architecture covered with geometric patterns. Because the emphasis is different to feel the beauty of the materials that make up space.

「House of Suki」Sumitomo Forestry×Hiroshi SUGIMOTO

The harsh white color of the stucco wall may also be characteristic of Japanese houses. It is said that the so-called plaster is the borrowed pronunciation of “lime” of the Tang Dynasty. In a word, plaster is mixed with Funori and hemp fibers in lime powder. After using it to paint wall, the slightly moist and graceful wall surface is finished. Of course, although the wall made of plaster is not unique to Japan, the plaster wall is painted without adding patterns and textures and keeps the precision of the plane. It makes people feel that is Japanese characteristics. People often say that plaster is breathing. When the humidity is high, the material will absorb water, but when it is dry, on the contrary, it will release water, so it can keep the room at a constant humidity. Perhaps its function and the feeling of moist and cool can calm people's hearts.
In civilian buildings, the word mortar is often heard. Mortar is a kind of material mixed with sand in cement, which can build walls with rough texture. Similarly, if used well, it will be unique. If the roof is repaired with rubble, it will build a house with Japanese style accordingly. Although mortar is often used for its convenience, if we talk about the completion character, we always think plaster as the best choice.
Stone will be used as the cornerstone of architecture, the steppingstone of courtyard, and the cushion at the entrance. In most cases, we do not cut stones but use its natural shape into play. Several heavy Stone are also arranged in the courtyard, which seems to inadvertently reflect each other with natural Stone, which is also one of the characteristics of Japanese space. In my opinion, even if we don't specifically mention the Japanese teahouse (Sukiya) and the representative courtyard, they seem to be universally connected in modern space.
In addition, the wood used in Japanese space is solid, that is to say, it is used in a solid state, which is also a major characteristic. Even if you hit the surface with your middle finger joint, there will be no hollow echo. Instead, the echo sounds non-hollow but dull, which gives people a feeling of solid. No matter the cross section of the column or beam, the materials inside are exposed intact. Therefore, the joint of wood, that is, tenon, is made by exquisite carpentry to keep it beautiful even if it is directly exposed.
Furthermore, wood is a kind of pure material without painting, also known as "white wood". White wood does not refer to white trees, but to raw and unpainted materials. Saw is the tool to finish the skin of white wood. White wood piece cut by blades is exquisite and even, and also thinner and shinier than paper. The carpenter's spirit can be clearly seen from that blade. Now, perhaps people can enjoy the ingenious use of these luxurious white wood only in places like sushi restaurant, and can enjoy the wonderful solid and pure materials such as horizontal frames, thick columns and beams, which can be seen everywhere in Japanese buildings. Even today, nearly 70% land in Japan is mountains and forests. Therefore, it is reasonable to use a large amount of wood in buildings.

「House of Suki」Sumitomo Forestry×Hiroshi SUGIMOTO

In modern times, concrete construction has become the mainstream. It keeps the original "pure" state of materials. The original state of fair-faced concrete is beautiful which is used by Japanese architects. For example, Tadao Ando's building is probably a concrete of white wood. Even without any surface modification, the concrete surface into the mold is also smooth, and the light flows skillfully from various gaps. It’s a kind of unique charm, the light seems to crawl into the room through its surface, which is a bright color of traditional architecture in modern Japan.
I want to keep the aesthetic consciousness of Japanese space in my memory, which is reflected by using materials like stone, soil, wood, paper, and concretes in their pure state filled inside.

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Tokonoma: Beauty indoors

A zashiki is a room used for entertaining guests in which tatami mats are installed from end to end. The tokonoma, or alcove, was created to complete a system in which the tatami provides the basis of the module and which includes fusuma (sliding doors) and shoji screens. The tokonoma is a space of about one tatami mat, located in the back of a square room, and sits in an indentation in the wall. There is plenty of variety in the forms a tokonoma takes, possibly with a tatami on its floor, or a wooden floor, maybe one step above the main floor (kekomi yuka), or flush with the tatami mats of the main floor (fumikomi yuka), but it is the custom to arrange in this indented area one or a few pieces of art, such as a hanging scroll, flowers, an incense burner. In the lives and living spaces of today’s Japanese, this is a disappearing custom and space, but in the tea ceremony, it is valued as the principal space in which the master entertains guests.
The origin of the tokonoma is in the shoinzukuri style of architecture that was created in the Muromachi period (1338-1573). It was at that time that the spatial vocabulary of the tokonoma (recessed alcove), chigaidana, (staggered shelves) and tsukeshoin (writing desk with a view), was explicitly developed. Until that time, the prodigious norm of residential construction was the Heian-era palatial architecture known as Shinden-zukuri, used for the residences of the aristocracy, but it was said that Shoin-zukuri was developed by the rising class of samurai families, who emphasized face-to-face meetings and reception of visitors.
It is surmised that the original function of shoin, as a place to write (basically to do desk work) was overshadowed by the symbolic meaning it came to hold, as media to express to guests and visitors the owner’s status, nobility, interests and tastes. The defined roles of chigaidana and tokonoma seem to have been implicit; the former was a place to display imported goods and other art, and the latter was a holy space for Buddhist ritual implements. But in reality, they acted as spaces through which to communicate the aesthetic sensibilities of the head of the household.

Poster, Newspaper, 2005 “Tea House”
Photo: Yoshihiko Ueda Coodinater: Mari Hashimoto

The simplest example of Shoin architecture is Dojinsai, which even today remains in Togu-Do of Jishoji Ginkaku, and the most luxurious or magnificent one is probably the hall of Ninomaru-goten Palace in Nijo Castle. There is no tokonoma in Dojinsai, but the extremely simple and concise shoin and chigaidana strongly reflect the “wabi” taste of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the shogun at the time, and represents the aesthetics of what became the origin of the tearoom.
In addition, the Ohiroma, or Grand Hall of Nijo Castle, is surrounded by room partitions decorated with the gorgeous work of the Kano school, and with the exaggerated structure with the differences in levels, from the upper level where the master sits, to the lower level where the guests sit, it is easy to understand this design as an embodiment of the authority of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who built the foundation of the Edo era.
From these examples, we can imagine that whether it was a state of elegant simplicity or a symbol of the conspicuous power of the shogun, this space functioned as an apparatus by which to send a message to visitors, so it seems that this is the root or foundation of the unique aura to the tokonoma that floats in the Japanese zashiki.
In recent years, Japanese housing has been led in a direction that allows people to live rationally and comfortably, and the tokonoma is disappearing from the floor plans of modern 2DK and 3DK houses. The same is true for hotel rooms. When we overlook the original function of the house, in which the parlor is considered as the primary element of the house due to the emphasis placed on its social significance, we may begin to tend towards the narrow-minded attitude of using the tokonoma to "show off".
I'm not going to get into a solemn discussion of etiquette and customs here, but for arranging art indoors, there’s good reason to pay renewed attention to the tokonoma, if we consider it as an ingenious method of concentrating the art in one place, rather than dispersing it throughout the room. This can actually be thought of as a technique for embodying Japanese luxury that can be effective today and in the future. As mentioned above, the tokonoma has various aspects, but the underlying idea is to create an aesthetic space indoors by focusing the viewer’s attention on one point in the room. There are many elements that adorn a space, including paintings, photographs, sculptures, furniture, handicrafts and flowers, but instead of scattering their energy all over the room, we can collect all the beauty into a single point by concentrating them in the tokonoma. I would like to keep this idea or device in mind.

When you are invited to a home in Europe or the United States, you may find many framed photographs of various sizes lining the walls. In many cases, they are family photos, but in some cases, they are collections of paintings. In any case, the walls are filled with so many pieces of art that it seems as if empty walls are simply not allowed. They are certainly magnificent and rewarding to look at, but it is the Japanese preference to concentrate all the attractions onto one place, avoiding this sort of crowded atmosphere.
In Japan, when inviting guests, the host or hostess devotes him or herself to arranging the art in the tokonoma. When the guests arrive, they first look at the arrangement and carefully assess the host’s consciousness or intention. It is true that the hanging scrolls, flowers, and incense burner are ceremonious or formal, however, just as the "form" of haiku poetry with its 5-7-5 rule, induces infinite expressions, Japanese space has been refined by integrating or concentrating consciousness into the tokonoma. If we value tradition, it is important to consider not the form itself but the refinement that has been created there.
I don't think that the tokonoma is indispensable to living spaces in the future, and the question of how to interpret the meaning of the first character (for toko, which literally means floor or bed, while ma means space or room) may be a mundane question that’s been repeatedly explored in the history of Japanese architecture. However, the idea of how to concentrate beauty in a single spot will likely be a guiding principle to demonstrating the originality of our culture.
It is certainly an expression of luxury to array crystal glasses on an elegant table and hang an opulent chandelier. But in Japan, with its more than a millennium of history, a single piece of time-honored wood positioned as a tokobashira (alcove post) can create a space that emits an aura of unusual value. In the composition of the tokonoma, the post placed at one of the front corners of the alcove to separate the alcove from the adjoining wall is called the tokobashira and has been designed to be different from other structural pillars, perhaps using a tree with the bark still attached, or a uniquely imbalanced timber. In other words, the toko has been carefully created to naturally draw the attention of guests to this special space. A simple tatami room with no special features can exhibit an overwhelming uniqueness with only a single alcove post.

In the tokonoma, the host might hang paintings or calligraphy, or display flowers; this is a space prepared as a special stage to express the warm hospitality of the host. There are countless aspects or lenses through which to make this presentation, such as the season; the subject of the painting or calligraphy and the style of the scroll; or the materials for the flower arrangement, the way they are arranged and the choice of vase and pedestal.
This kind of ingenuity moves the hearts not only of Japanese people; there are people all over the world who are highly sensitive to individual cultures. By simply understanding a little bit of how beauty is presented in Japanese culture, they too can appreciate the devices and mechanisms that generate beauty, just as a great mathematician needs no hints to come to a solution. This is because the shared human sensibilities engendering emotional dynamism, which react to beauty and art, are activated despite differences in culture and form.
To harness tradition as a resource for the future is, I believe, to stir up the current of such sensibilities.

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?

Arranging living plants

One of the things that inspires me at a nice inn or restaurant is flowers that have been arranged. Aside from the ikebana technique or school, it takes a certain amount of time and effort to arrange live flowers in a space, and the visitors or customers unconsciously sense this attentiveness of the owner or whoever was responsible for the arrangement. Although for adding a bright touch to a space, the same effect may be derived from artificial flowers, the presence of live plants and flowers implicitly suggests a deep communication between the person who has created the space and the space itself, and guests implicitly perceive that they are receiving cordial hospitality.
Arranging flowers is not just about beautifully representing plants. There is an Ikebana master named Shuho who worked as the hananofu (first master florist) at Ginkakuji temple. This rare hananofu, who bases her creations on the founding spirit of ikebana, prioritizes an attitude of approaching the essence or soul of flowers and plants rather than their figurative aspects.

Quoted from "Zoukajinen" by Shuho Photo: Tadayuki Minamoto

Ikebana originated in the middle of the Muromachi period during the reign of Ashikaga Yoshimasa, as part of the Higashiyama culture, coinciding with the rise of Japanese -style kotan (subdued refinement) and minimalism. It was a Zen-oriented approach to flowers as they represented life. Rather than using plants to create showy decorations, the focus was on erecting them in an upright posture. The tool used at that time to do it was not the needled holder known as a Kenzan, but rather a "komiwara", a bundle of dried rice straw that had been carefully cut and arranged. The komiwara were then re-bundled and cut as needed to correspond to various materials and dimensions, and placed in a vase as a base from which to hold flowers and plants.
As one who has inherited the original way of hana no tatekata (ikekata), or way of setting up and arranging flowers, Ms. Shuho still sets up flowers using komiwara, and says that it is crucial to first make sure that the flower’s base, rather than the top, and the water's edge are beautifully finished. Of course, balance and harmony between the center of flower and the surrounding area is also important, but it is said that a dignified atmosphere occurs naturally when one keeps one’s own artifice to a minimum and allows the mind to tend to the margins surrounding the standing flower. Certainly, the flowers arranged by Ms. Shuho are so beautiful at their bases that when I simply look at them, my back seems to straighten up on its own.
Also, even in the world of cha-no-yu (tea ceremony), the master arranges flowers in the tokonoma (alcove), but there is no specific methodology for arranging them. There is only a short phrase spoken by the tea master Sen-no-rikyu: “Let the flowers be found in the field.” This phrase has a profound meaning, and thanks to the significance of this phrase, the spirit of flowers in cha-no-yu has been handed down without wavering.


On the other hand, there is the world of bonsai, which is not about taking rooted, living flowers and cutting and arranging them, but about creating art from an entire living plant, the art of giving birth to the exquisiteness of the trunk and branches of a living tree with its root planted in a pot while controlling its growth and caring for it over the course of many years. Since the lifetime of a plant is longer than that of a human being, some of the longest-lived bonsai have been preserved for more than 400 years.
We tend to be overwhelmed by bonsai’s shapes and the aura of the art, and think of it as a world of particular preferences. However, if we think of it as a part of modern furnishing, including young bonsai and communication and harmony with a space, there are wonderful possibilities. I once had an opportunity to ask a leading expert in this field, Mr. Seiji Morimae, what the difference is between a bonsai tree and an ordinary tree. He answered simply, "Whether it is on a bon tray or not." But he went on to say, "However, in that case, the person who has put a tree on the bon becomes its [mother] nature." This unequivocal reply was immediately clear to me.
To be honest, I cannot become the nature of a bonsai plant; I cannot provide what nature provides for a plant to create a miniature version of what would be found in the wild. I travel a lot and can't provide enough light and water for a bonsai on a consistent basis. I have already had the bitter experience of killing two bonsai plants. But that is why I understand the intimate relationship between humans and bonsai.

Seisouka Photo: Taiki Fukao

There is a relationship between living plants and trees and the minds of Japanese people who arrange them in space, as described above. In other words, to associate oneself with a living bloom is to perceive or experience life and nature and the space in which they are placed, via the plant, and to dedicate one's heart and effort to it. It's not an easy thing to do, but, when you can do it, you will find that there is something that captivates your spirit. This is the reason why, when I visit a Japanese inn and see flowers arranged there, I sense the mood or mental attitude of both the inn and its owner.
Luxury in Japan is not about extravagance. It can be summarized in a single arrangement of the life of a flower, plant or tree.

Chapter 3 What is luxury in Japan?


Why do people clean? People are probably instinctively aware that living and being active put a strain on the environment. If so, it’s probably a good idea to behave in such a way that does not pollute or dirty this natural environment with which we are blessed so that we can live, so as not to burden it. But people’s imaginations or wisdom did not have the power to imagine the state of the earth that results from the continual burdening, nor to consider the well-being of the generations to come. Today, we witness the unfolding crisis before our eyes: masses of plastic waste washing ashore on the beaches, changes to yields of agricultural and marine products due to climate change, sea level changes due to melting polar ice, and have started to speak bleak words, like “sustainability”. Civilization is trying to slam on the brakes and is rushing to change course. I do not disagree with this as a necessary reflection and response. However, before we begin to talk about the big theme of “the earth”, why don’t we pause to reflect on our inherent sensitivity to nature and the environment?
First of all, let’s talk about cleaning. People are creatures that clean. Cleaning has been done in every culture and civilization in its own way since the beginning of time, without anyone teaching us how to do it.
In one of our projects, we collected images of scenes of cleaning around the world. We took photos of people cleaning in Germany, Turkey, Iran, China and Japan. We witnessed cleaning between the seats of an opera house, a violinist cleaning her instrument, window washing at a church, leaf removal in a park, street sweeping around a mosque, polishing pottery in a bazaar, the annual village-wide cleaning of carpets in Iran, sweeping of the Great Wall of China, window washing of a Tianjin high-rise, the annual ominugui (wiping down) of the Great Buddha in Nara’s Todaiji temple, fish tank scrubbing at an aquarium, elephant grooming at a zoo, dusting and wiping down of the tatami room in an average Japanese home, wiping the floors of a Zen temple….
As I looked at each image one after the other while editing them, I became strangely filled with deep emotion. I realized that people are creatures that clean. Why do people clean? I cannot help but think that here is a hint for a better future.

Quoted from the book“掃除 CLEANING” by MUJI Photo: Taiki Fukao

After a little observation, I realized that cleaning is an action by which we restore the balance between humans and nature. Humans are the only animals that construct on the wild earth cities and other environments to suit our needs. That’s why in Japanese we use the characters 人工 to describe the environments people have constructed in the face of nature.  The character means human and means craft/construct. While the man-made should feel good to us, as plastic and concrete and other materials that encroach upon nature proliferate, people begin to yearn for nature. People have begun to realize that  “人工”, or that which is “human-crafted/constructed” is just large-scale waste.
On the other hand, if nature is left unattended, grime and fallen leaves and such will pile up and vegetation will grow rampantly. Nature does not exist to protect humans. If left alone, it will take on a savage guise and overrun human activity. In vacant houses, in the blink of an eye, grass sends out shoots in the spaces between the tatami and the floors, and begins to grow, and within a few years, the house is swallowed by vegetation. At this point, greenery wields such power that one is hardly likely to utter the familiar phrase, “keep it green”. This is why humans have lived in such a way that while accepting nature to some degree, we also work to enervate it to a certain extent. It seems to me that this is cleaning, and that balance itself is the essence of cleaning. 

Quoted from the book“掃除 CLEANING” by MUJI Photo: Taiki Fukao

While I was thinking about cleaning this way, all of a sudden my mind landed on gardens. I thought that gardens, particularly Japanese gardens, continue to express “cleaning”, that is, the sublation of nature and human activity, or in other words, their antagonistic balance. Cleaning is not unique to Japan, of course, but Japan is good at turning things like drinking tea and arranging flowers into arts like the tea ceremony and ikebana.
It’s tasteless to overdo the artificial aspect of creating a home environment. Don’t sweep the leaves to excess nor trim the vegetation too much, but just let it grow in moderation. The essence of a garden is to find a moderate level of comfort within the conflict between human agency and nature, like the water’s edge where the waves wash the sandy beach. Gardening may be considered an aesthetic act or a creative work, but any kind of human manipulation of nature is, in a sense, just a mess or trick against the law of nature. However, when people who have experienced an attachment to that trick of a garden and come to love it materialize, and, in sweeping away the fallen leaves, tending the moss, and pruning the branches to just the right extent continue to protect it and take care of it, the result is the completion of a “garden”. Of course it takes time, but it is not only the years that make a garden. After all is said and done, the continued management of what I would call, “the water’s edge, or the boundary, of nature and human agency” is essential.
Rather than thinking broadly about global warming countermeasures or sustainable society, isn’t it important to recognize the presumably intrinsic wisdom and sensitivity of human beings that has accumulated in our history and civilization? 

Planting Design: AMKK Makoto Azuma Photo: AMKK Shunsuke Shiinoki

Every time I return from international travel and land in one of Japan’s international airports, I sense how well cleaned they are. The architecture of airports everywhere is plain and unsophisticated, but the cleanliness is thorough. It’s not so clean that there isn’t a single stain on the floor, but that even if there had been some sort of smudge, you recognize the traces of a painstaking attempt to restore the surface to a state of cleanliness. In every nook and corner, there is this atmosphere of consideration and attention.
The most prominent of spaces is the bathroom. In the cleanliness of the bathrooms, I sense a thread of hope connecting to Japan’s future. If there is not something that inspires both the people who use the space and the people who clean it, the bathroom will not become clean. In that, I sense the same principal and aesthetic that is represented by the garden. I believe that Japan’s bathrooms are both garden and cleaning and that sustainability is found in such a place.

Chapter 4 The Perspective from High Resolution Tour

Chapter 4 The Perspective from High Resolution Tour

As The World Heads towards Nomadism

How will human travel and voluntary migration change as we approach the middle of the 21st century? The global spread of COVID-19 has accelerated the transition to remote work and communication, proving that people can maintain a full range of activities without traveling. Therefore, some predict that human mobility will trend toward decline. Certainly, the coronavirus crisis may be a major punctuation mark indicating a turning point for civilization. If the Earth or nature is possessed of some providence that maintains homeostasis or performs some sort of natural purification function against the human overpopulation and an overly damaged environment, it is only fitting that there be a reaction against excessive human travel, and thus I reckon that viruses and extreme weather may be interconnected phenomena in this regard.
However, I believe people will gradually begin traveling more, once circumstances allow, because, from the historical perspective of civilization, the world has already entered the age of mobility.
The antonym of nomadic movement is settlement. Ever since the development of agriculture, settlement, which is a stable way of living in connection with agricultural fields, has been shaken by the coevolution of communications technology and the means of transportation. We should think of the maturation of remote work and communication as creating the circumstances not for working from home, but for working from anywhere.
Over the past half century, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of travelers crossing national borders. Fifty years ago, there were about 120 million of these border-crossing travelers, most of them Westerners. But as of 2019, there were 1.2 billion, or almost ten times as many. Japanese, Arab and Chinese have all become frequent travelers. This trend is expected to intensify, and by 2030, about 1.8 to two billion people are likely to undertake voluntary international travel. In total, this equals between ⅓ and ¼ of the entire global population. It looks like this kind of mobility is going to create an entirely new normal for the world.

Global cooperation has been going on for a long time. Information, resources, capital, people and products circulate, transcending national borders. On one hand, the more the world globalizes, the higher the value of the local, that is, of cultural specificities. The idiosyncrasies or cultural and traditional originality of each place grow more brilliant in the global context. The world is not mixed to a homogeneous gray; people understand that the more clearly the individuality of each culture sparkles, the richer the whole world. Italian food is best enjoyed in the climate of the Mediterranean Sea, Japanese food in that of the Japanese archipelago. Emitting their own distinct brilliance are the architecture and clothing created with the Thai aesthetic in Thailand and the villas and music associated with the climate of its many Indo-Pacific islands in Indonesia. As people travel globally, they savor the splendor and wonders of the Earth, the environment, and human culture in each and every locality. Global / local are not antonyms, but rather a linked pair of concepts that are beginning to produce new values.

Chapter 4 The Perspective from High Resolution Tour

Reflecting on the figures

The growth of inbound tourism to Japan clearly reflects a change; in 2009, the number of visitors to Japan was only 6.8 million. By 2019, that number had reached about 32 million. That's a 4.7-fold increase in only a decade.
Gradual increases in inbound numbers (in millions) during this period were also seen by tourism powerhouses such as Spain (50-80), Italy (40-65) and France (80-90). These are rough estimates, but mean that these countries are receiving visitors in numbers that surpass their own populations. Japan has long been convinced that tourism is a second-rate industry and that its star industry is manufacturing, but with 60 million people expected to visit Japan by 2030, it is clear that we must reassess our national vision regarding industry.

If we look at this issue from an industrial perspective, it’s easy to understand the effect of inbound tourism in terms of sales; the almost 32 million foreign visitors to Japan in 2019 spent about 5 trillion yen. In 2030, with an expected 60 million visitors, this number is projected to double or triple. These figures can not be overlooked when considering future trends in Japan’s industry.

Japanese industry, unable to outgrow a manufacturing-oriented viewpoint, while appearing vaguely aware of this situation, seems to be ignoring it. This is because, while Japanese industry has excelled at managing precise systems and manufacturing mechanisms, as far as work involving the assessment of value, it has accumulated neither the human resources nor the management know-how to precisely control structures of investment and return, or to manage the sensory knowledge of characteristics affecting the tourist experience, like beauty, taste, dignity, style and comfort.
While there have been moves like purchasing an entire hotel when coming across one that was well built and well run, there have been no attempts to build such hotels from scratch. Rather than describing Japanese industry as standing by idly, arms folded, it would be more accurate to say that it could not figure out how to try its hand at all. In Japan, there are certainly both prestigious hotels and traditional resort hotels. However, as we understand by going back to the birth of Japanese hotels, they were established as a way to move towards assimilating or adopting Western culture, and were not designed to welcome visitors to Japan in the Japanese way.
Therefore, foreign investment from places with experience managing beauty and value, such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and the U.S., has steadily been directed to Japan, the potential of whose tourism industry has been duly noted. The global tragedy of the coronavirus crisis led to reevaluation of many industries, including Japanese tourism, which experienced a reprieve of sorts.
On the other hand, it would of course be imprudent to rely solely on data and quantitative forecasts and thus to expect economic benefits from inbound tourism. And existing tourist spots such as Kyoto, where over-tourism is an old problem, were already becoming positively uncomfortable due to the swarms of tourists, advancing like locusts. In fact, around the world, more and more places, Venice and Barcelona for example, are seen as likely to be overrun by the huge numbers of inbound visitors. Therefore, we must move away from the idea that people around the world have thought of as “sightseeing” and if possible, find a way to create a similar economic effect while inviting a smaller number of people to Japan: those who can appreciate and enjoy the climate, culture, and services. Japan needs to become a place where connoisseurs from all over the world are willing to pay a high price to visit, breathe in the atmosphere and enjoy the architecture and services. This is an important point to keep in mind.

Chapter 4 The Perspective from High Resolution Tour

Tourism resources are future resources

Generally speaking, tourism resources are considered climate, natural features, culture and food. In each of these, Japan has great potential.
Located on the eastern edge of the Eurasian continent, Japan is an archipelago seemingly floating in the sea, extending both east-west and north-south and, reflecting this topography, the four seasons are rich in change. Because Japan is a chain of volcanic islands, more than half of the country is mountains, and 67% of that land is covered in forests. Countless rivers flow from the mountains to the sea in a density that resembles loofah fibers, providing an excellent source of water. Also because it is a volcanic archipelago, Japan boasts multitudes of hot springs throughout its territory.
Existing as a sovereign nation for more than a thousand years, Japan has a vast cultural heritage. France, which seems ancient, is actually younger than Japan, if we align the birth of France with that of the Bourbon dynasty, starting with the reign of Henri IV in 1589, and that of Japan as coinciding with the start of the Azuchi Momoyama period (1558-1600 CE).

The contemporary artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, saying that “the materials of the past are the resources of the future,” has expanded his domain to architecture; he has established the New Material Research Laboratory (NMRL), gathering and storing old wood and stones such as what seem to be the cornerstones of the temples of the Tenpyo era (729-749); wood fragments from the remains of historic shrines and warehouses and scraps of waterwheels that are no longer in use as materials for new construction/architecture. This concept originates from the approach of discovering the scarcity and value of materials that make up spaces in the midst of the accumulation of history and time. This is an example that’s full of suggestions of how to create a setting that creates value. We may have much to learn about how to create value that will inspire desire in people from around the world from this contemporary artist working on the forefront.
The culinary culture of preparing food in careful consideration of the seasons with ingredients that are in their prime, locally produced and represent seasonal variations has been practiced not only at the luxurious traditional Japanese dining establishment known as ryotei and western-style restaurants, but also in the home cooking of ordinary households. The fundamental Japanese seasoning has also been devised based on the unique umami flavor of the soup stock of dried bonito flakes and kelp. Today, sensitive chefs around the world are all paying attention to umami as a world of flavor that holds its own against western gastronomy.
Certainly Japan has extensive tourist attractions full of possibilities, but up until this point, they have not been seriously considered as resources that could make the country viable, or sustain it. With a few exceptions, however, only Japan’s hot spring resorts and traditional inns in popular tourist areas have enjoyed a modicum of prosperity as an industry offering domestic tourists merriment and relaxation to soothe their tired bodies and minds and let their hair down at banquets after devoting themselves to production or manufacturing. I don’t mean in any way to repudiate this kind of tourism, but there is tourism that springs from another way of thinking. A new perspective on tourism is about to blossom for the future of the Japanese archipelago, one based on climate, natural features, culture and food.

Chapter 4 The Perspective from High Resolution Tour

Wa (Japan/Japanese Harmony) in the Industrial Age

Japan made its debut on the world stage about 150 years ago, but the Japanese people have never seen tourism as a resource for increasing the affluence of their nation. With the political revolution of 1868 known as the Meiji Restoration, in the face of logic-based Western science, technology and industrial ideology, Japan reacted first with surprise, and then with impatience. Accordingly, a plan of action was set to abandon our own country’s culture and completely westernize the nation. With an eye on the context of the distant future of the 21st century, there was no time to consider Japan's unique culture as a resource; instead, the country devoted itself to developing new industry to “enrich the country and strengthen the army,” as the Meiji slogan went. This was not surprising, given the sense of crisis that if it were not on alert, Japan might become subsumed by the Western powers. Victorious in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and receiving reparations from the Qing Dynasty equaling three times Japan's national budget, Japan was able to send many talented people to study in Europe and the United States, and thus imbue itself with modernity in a short period of time.
Japan seemed to have somehow managed to maintain its national identity, but soon it was unable to control its surging momentum, allowing militarism to rise, and made the mistake of expanding into Asia as a colonial power. The results were the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and the Pacific War (1941-1945), magnifying the horrors of war and leading to Japan’s being overthrown by the United States and burned to the ground.
The post-war reconstruction following its reduction to scorched earth was relentless and severe, but Japan found a way through by devoting itself to the mission of becoming an industrialized nation in an environment in which the world was flourishing through capitalism. Japan plunged forward towards rapid economic growth on the industrialization model of the mass production of small-scale and highly efficient products combining electronics and production, which also perfectly matched the serious and patient Japanese temperament. In accordance, the land management vision for the archipelago at the time was the “industrialization of the country”. The nation shifted en masse to the production industry, converting imported raw materials like petroleum and iron ore to cars, ships, semiconductors, televisions and household appliances. The coastline was covered in port facilities and petrochemical complexes, the population gathered in the cities, which were connected by rapid transit rail and expressways, as well as air routes. The countryside waited for roads and railroads to be laid out, and the government worked to meet those needs. In this way, the Japanese archipelago was restructured into what was basically a nationwide factory. So where did Japan’s culture go?
No matter the circumstances, culture is that which is sustained and preserved by those who are determined to keep the cultural ground moist and vibrant. While there was no obvious movement in this environment, in which the vision for industrialization has been promoted so strongly, there were those who took on its preservation, and who succeeded those who came before, like groundwater running silently in abundance. In domains such as ryokan and ryotei, (Japanese traditional inns and restaurants), where the value of hospitality is highly appreciated, the classic aesthetics and arts--the arrangement of space, and treatment of the seasons, flower arrangement, garden design, the arts of tea and calligraphy--these have been quietly inherited over time. It is said that Japanese aesthetic sense and sensitivity have been conserved inconspicuously yet tenaciously through these practices, and the pride and dignity of those Japanese people who value them has never been eroded.
On the other hand, industry is stimulated by trade between countries and companies, and in these situations, the cultures of individual countries are used as instruments of hospitality. In post-war Japan, culture, governed largely as it was by industry and politics, was managed in a manner that was, to put it bluntly, uncouth, short-sighted and intrusive.
The common Japanese phrase, "Fujiyama, geisha" characterizes the superficial nature of our own introduction of Japan. Other terms describe familiar performances based on Japanese traditional culture, such as wearing happi coats, hanging lanterns, and vigorously beating wa-daiko (Japanese drums), serving sushi and tempura, demonstrating origami, and serving matcha tea under red wa-gasa (Japanese umbrellas) on scarlet carpets…but this list of typologies has little depth to be appreciated. If we were to deliberately review Mount Fuji, we would find it an undeniable symbol of Japan; geisha exemplify a magnificent popular culture and sushi is a lovely dish of which Japan can be proud. However, the impression changes somewhat when presented as a list: “Fujiyama, geisha, sushi, origami”. Trying to attract the attention of people from other countries with a kind of exoticism by offering archetypes of individual cultures is akin to bargaining off one’s own culture. I think that this is something of which the “sellers” are aware, but in a world that is transitioning to a post-industrial society, it’s about time to recognize the disadvantages of this folly.
Among the cultures of the world, Japan’s is truly unique, and its essence is not easily understood. It’s not an initial “wow!” that surprises, but more of a shock of understanding arising after some time that triggers a deeper and stronger interest within the audience.

In the current environment of information overload, no matter what the subject, people say, “I know! I know”, whether it’s the virus, yoga or the Galápagos Islands. Why do they say “I know” twice? What and how much do we know? It seems that through just the slightest contact with information, we are supposed to know all about its subject. So today, effective communication is really about making the audience understand how much they don’t know, bringing the subject out of the realm of the known and into that of the unknown. If we can do this, people’s interest will naturally begin to grow.
To a certain extent, it’s understandable that politics and the economy have extracted all possible knowledge in order to manage the trends of this island nation. However, it’s time for us to take a look at the real resources that will have to be deployed to run the Japan of the future.

Chapter 4 The Perspective from High Resolution Tour

My experiences with JAPAN HOUSE

From 2015 to 2019, I was the executive producer of the JAPAN HOUSE project of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. JAPAN HOUSE was set up in Sao Paulo, Los Angeles and London as a center of information dissemination on Japanese culture designed to inspire interest in and appreciation for Japan among people around the world. These centers, each thoughtfully designed by an eminent Japanese professional (Kengo Kuma, Kohei Nawa and Masamichi Katayama) opened successively in 2017- 2018. JAPAN HOUSE activities are based on the idea of delivering to the world the impact of truly knowing Japan. In principles of planning and conceptualization, the project avoided a standardized introduction of Japan and created carefully analyzed spaces for sales, exhibitions, food, libraries, performances and other activities, focusing on a management policy that deliberately refrains from casual national boasting and incidental Japanesque.


In the sales space, we chose to place not popular best sellers, but crafts and high-tech products of a certain standard, whose use we demonstrated through carefully placed high-resolution images. For example, in one video, tea leaves (chaba) are scooped out of a tea caddy (chazutsu) with a tea scoop (chami), put into a teapot (kyusu), and covered with boiling water. This tea is then poured into teacups (yunomi) one by one, which are then placed on saucers (chataku) which are in turn carried on a tray (bon) and served to guests. This whole tea process, commonplace to Japanese, is quite new to non-Japanese people, and it is only when they see it that they become interested in these specialized products: chazutsu, kyusu, chami, chaba, yunomi, chataku and bon. Also, culturally significant products like these, when shown in action in a video, gain a certain radiance; a video showing the grating process is going more enthralling than a simple line of products used for grating daikon, ginger and wasabi.
And, by showing video clips of the craft production process edited in different ways, exhibiting not only the earnest expressions and attitudes of the craftspeople behind these culturally meaningful and traditionally crafted products, but also their sophisticated techniques, we are able to elicit an understanding of the spirit with which the handicraft is imbued, an interest in the product and an appreciation of a price that may at first have seemed bafflingly expensive.
My hunch, based on these experiences with JAPAN HOUSE, is that probably more than 90% of the world’s people have never really paid attention to Japan. Of course, they may think they know about familiar Japanese cultural assets like sushi, anime, and origami. But by alerting people to the dearth of their understanding, we can spark an interest in Japan that is truly astonishing. This is because Japan is so incredibly different from other cultures. In today's world context, in which the value of both the universal and the locally specific are recognized, this potential is truly enormous.

In fact, the number of visitors to JAPAN HOUSE has continued to grow far beyond expectations. In Sao Paulo it has already gained an overwhelming presence as a hub for cultural dissemination and in London it has also evolved into an indispensable entity as a shop selling luxury articles and a gallery holding enticing exhibitions.
Currently, I act as creative advisor and my role is to look after the situation. Two or three traveling exhibitions a year are sent out from Japan to each of the locations, while the curators at each facility conduct research on Japan from their own perspectives and organize exhibitions and events. The atmosphere at all three facilities is rather more vibrant and energetic than when they first opened. Thanks to these experiences with JAPAN HOUSE, I have been able to clearly awaken to the potential of Japan as a future resource.

Chapter 4 The Perspective from High Resolution Tour

Toward another dimension of tourism

As we face the middle of the 21st century, the age of nomadic movement, the issue for Japan is how to bring out the appeal of the archipelago without compromise, utilizing the accumulated culture and tradition with a modern sensibility, avoiding the pitfalls of nostalgia. This is a truly exciting theme.
As a concrete example, I focus on the hotel. Here, by hotel, I mean not a place in which to spend a night during one’s travels, nor a space in which some showy special event is presented, but rather an invention or measure created to manifest the latent value of the environment and climate through facility and architecture. We do not steal the area’s picturesque scenery in order to supply a service. The hotel of which I speak is orchestrated with a sense of beauty and wisdom carefully conceived in order to visualize the latent charm of a place whose scenery, food and culture would not be clearly recognized if it were not for such a hotel. Therefore I would like you to imagine a scene in which such a hotel, where the main purpose of one’s stay is to experience the hotel and its surroundings, is quietly being born in a suitable location in Japan.
It is best if architecture is something that allows one to sense at every turn the ingenuity that invites in the scenery as it is, not something that stands in the middle of nature competing in form and individuality. There should be as many variations of architectural style as there are regional climates.
With this in mind, every month over the past three years, I have traveled throughout the country, visiting places that seem to be able to offer value as a new resource in tourism, taking photos and videos on my own, writing and editing text and recording my introductions to these places on the website High Resolution Tour. This is a kind of research and basic study on tourism in Japan.

What has come to mind as I’ve traveled around Japan is the variety of nature’s features. No two seas are the same, and no two mountains. The Japanese archipelago is like a tree heavily laden with fruit of all kinds: peninsulas, mountains, lakes. Honshu, the main island, is the trunk, while Kyushu, Shikoku and Hokkaido are sturdy branches. Among the fruits ripening there, there really are no two the same, whether peninsula, mountain or lake. There are environments that hold snow, rising severely, those that bear deep forests and the sources of rivers, marshy grasslands wrapped in fog, sandy beaches struck by crystal clear waves, those where exposed cliffs create picturesque scenery, those enclosed by layer upon layer of coral reefs…. And the islands are the same. The Seto Inland Sea is a marine area that is like a medium connecting local cultures, but there are more than 700 islands scattered within its bounds, more diverse than one can imagine in size, lifestyles, agricultural and marine products, tides and winds.
I am neither a capitalist nor a businessperson. Accordingly, I have no intention of investing in any specific project in order to make a profit. The real pleasure of the work of a designer is not increasing business or capital, but the creativity of potential and ideas. I am most interested in those qualitative outcomes. My role and my delight is in what happens before the investor tenders capital, before the businessperson finalizes a specific concept; it is in perceiving the essence and potential of the value created by that area and that culture, forming it into a specific idea, and presenting it.
And yet at the same time, one aspect of the work is to sense the dangers and the errors in the expression or management of the disparity between aesthetics and values. Once, during a raid on a facility where members of a dangerous new religious group were holed up, the first person in the line of hazmat masked investigators entered carrying a canary in a cage. The reason given was that birds are much more sensitive to poisonous gases than are humans, reacting with much flapping of wings. I remember thinking when I read this article that designers play much the same role. In projects in which one is managing aesthetics or subtle values, accurate and sensitive sensors are essential. In the same way that the layperson first reaches for the curio or antique, the businessperson more often than not is unaware of his or her own ignorance and makes quite a few mistakes. In the case of antiques, it’s just a matter of the wasteful spending of an individual, but if it’s on the scale of a hotel, then what? It will affect not just the fate of the employees but also the impression and valuation of the related surrounding area. Even the post-industrial society needs some industrial knowhow. It is vital to organize those with a good sense of aesthetics and to optimally edit and package regions and their culture, for it is only by doing so that we can bring into those areas a new dimension of tourism.

Chapter 4 The Perspective from High Resolution Tour

Peninsula Airways

Please allow me to introduce an example of a conceptual project I call Peninsula Airways.
This is a concept for a new airline utilizing flying boats that can take off and land either on water or on land. There is a model (US-2) of rescue amphibious aircraft used by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. This aircraft has the highest landing capability, allowing it to alight in seas with waves of up to three meters in height. Naturally, when carrying passengers they will not make dangerous landings, but will have the flexibility to be able to land on calm lakes, inland seas, and even on the Japan Sea or the Pacific Ocean. Once outfitted with seats as a passenger plane, it will be able to carry 38 people. The cruising range is more than 4,700km, which is really an impressive capability, considering the distance between Tokyo and Naha is only 1,600km. With a cruising speed of more than 480km/h, it flies twice as fast as the Shinkansen (bullet train).
I conceptualized air routes by which this type of aircraft would be fitted out as passenger planes and string together the peninsulas of the Japanese archipelago. One route I considered is a round trip from the Boso to the Nemuro Peninsula, via the Oshika Peninsula and Cape Erimo, and another is an eastbound or westbound route via various peninsulas. Although it wouldn’t involve peninsulas, there might also be a route connecting Lake Biwa, the Seto Inland Sea and the Ariake Sea. In any case, because these are amphibious planes, there is no need to build airports, as the seas act as runways. It’s possible to naturally envision air routes of a completely different character from conventional intercity transportation.
Today’s passenger jets fly at an altitude of 10,000 meters, and so when it’s cloudy, it’s nearly impossible to see the earth’s surface. But when flying at an altitude of about 1,000 meters, just 1.5 times the height of Tokyo Skytree, passengers can see what’s on the ground in some detail. Propeller-driven flying boats, flying at low altitudes under “visual flight rules”, do not go up in rain or clouds. And the Japanese archipelago has an extremely varied terrain, which is perfect for sightseeing at this altitude and speed. Of course there are 3,000-meter mountains all over Japan, but these planes avoid that terrain, maintaining their altitude above lower ground.
While entertaining this vision, I actually flew over the archipelago in a propeller plane multiple times and it was an ineffable experience. Every time I flew over the jagged Sanriku coastline, which extends from southern Aomori Prefecture through Iwate and then northern Miyagi Prefectures, I could not tear my gaze away. Matsushima, a group of islands in Miyagi Prefecture ranked as one of the Three Views of Japan, is beautiful even when seen from the sky. Flying over Lake Akan while gazing at the drift ice from Hokkaido[s Shiretoko Peninsula, I unconsciously lose track of time when confronted with the magnificent view of Mt. Akan and the caldera lake (Lake Akan) white with snow. I was fascinated by these beautiful mountains with their gentle foothills: Mount Yotei in Niseko in Hokkaido, Mt. Fuji in the center of the archipelago, and Mt. Kaimondake on the southern coast of Kagoshima Prefecture.
Come to think of it, it could be because there has not been any passenger service to these landscapes at this altitude that this vision of the untouched Japanese archipelago remains completely available to low-altitude flight.
Incidentally, most people don’t understand how long it takes to get by car and Shinkansen from Tokyo to Iwate Prefecture’s Cape Todo on the easternmost tip of Honshu. By ground transportation, it would take at least five hours: two and a half hours by Shinkansen from Tokyo to Morioka and another two and a half by car from there. By amphibious plane from Haneda Airport, the whole trip would take an hour and a half. Moreover, during the trip, one would enjoy the spectacular view of the ria coastline.
During the Age of Sail, peninsulas were like antennae, places where information and cultures fluttered about, passing one another. In the era when the Kitamaebune* plied the Japan Sea, the peninsulas on the Japan Sea must have experienced the flurry of the passage of information and culture. Even today, there are many regions that retain the vestiges of those ancient times. However, since the development of intercity high-speed rail and air routes, they have grown desolate and are now the most inaccessible places in our country.
Peninsulas are surrounded on three sides by the sea, making them superbly rich natural environments. For example, just by imagining and envisioning the “Peninsula Airways” project, these sorts of places suddenly seem to feel brighter. My hotel concept is surrounded by a mist of undeveloped possibilities, but with the participation of interested people and capital, it may suddenly and valiantly reveal itself from out of the fog.

*the shipping route (and the cargo ships traveling it) for trade from Osaka through the Seto Inland Sea and the Kanmon Straits to ports on the Sea of Japan and later to Hokkaido

Chapter 5 The pleasure of movement

Clothing, food, shelter, movement

When I was talking with the Hong Kong designer Alan Chan about what he might choose as the fourth item following “clothing, food and shelter” he replied “movement.” He was referring to the Hong Kong residents’ instinctive pleasure in changing locations, since Hong Kong is such a confined environment. For my part, I hadn’t decided on anything, so I think I said “rest” or “creativity”, but I didn’t have a very good answer as I recall. But I remember thinking “movement” made sense. Even those who are not Hong Kong residents are constantly attracted to movement.
Once in an interview, when I was asked when I was happiest, I replied that it was when I was headed to the airport to go abroad. It was an honest feeling, but I think I’m not the only one who feels this way. Fundamentally, the human being is curiosity itself, dressed in clothing and walking around, so travel is the ideal situation for fulfilling the desires expressed as curiosity; for anyone, the time spent going to the airport, which is the prologue to travel, is thrilling. There are those who dislike long flights because they are unable to sleep, but there are also plenty of people who enjoy them; there’s food, entertainment like movies and books, and the considerable sense of liberation from the natural break from work engendered by such flights. Above all, the feeling of moving creates a secret excitement.
In the case of airplanes, because we are moving at a speed that would likely make an accident fatal, we probably unconsciously are deeply stressed. Even so, somehow, movement has the power to energize our lives. Therefore, I think we should devise ways to enhance movement itself. I’d like to consider designing movement, or moving.

Chapter 5 The pleasure of movement

A small-scale airline

Passenger planes haven’t changed much over the past 40 years. Once, there was the beautiful and fast Concorde, on which I was able to fly just once. I had had some trouble with my booking in London, and was asked, “How would you like to take the Concorde? You’ll arrive in New York five hours early, and will be able to have your evening meal on the other end.” Without thinking, I said, “Yes!” three times in a row.
My heartbeat quickened as I boarded the plane. I was as excited as if I were boarding a spaceship. The interior was rounded, and the walkway, sandwiched between a pair of seats on either side, was narrower than that of the Shinkansen. When I put my hand on the window during flight, it was hot. I really experienced the considerable friction I imagined was produced between the atmosphere and the fuselage. The wine that the attendant poured for me while withstanding the plane’s vibrations was a Bordeaux Grand Cru, but the feeling of the ride and the peculiar inclination of the fuselage created by the ogee wing characteristic of the supersonic aircraft was more invigorating than the wine. When I got up to use the restroom, the door to the cockpit was open, and I was a bit surprised when I saw all of them turned towards the cabin, chatting with the passengers. Certainly at that time, and going forward, aircraft would have been flown almost completely on autopilot once they had reached the assigned altitude and flight was stable.
Shortly after, the Concorde disappeared, partly due to a safety problem. But an aircraft that consumed so much fuel while having a destructive effect on the stratosphere in order to transport only a few rich people across the Atlantic a little faster was not allowed to continue, even though it was beautiful. Perhaps that was just the way it had to be.
How will passenger plane travel change going forward? As far as the fuselage is concerned, there may be no drastic changes in the near future. As soon as in-flight wireless transmission becomes possible, the distinctive sense of isolation from the rest of the world that was formerly part of being high in the sky will fade. With the advent of noise cancelling technology that neutralizes the engine sound, we are able to escape the din. However, because we can freely access movies anywhere and anytime, it would be useful to have information about our destinations well summarized in video content. As for part of the in-flight service, the main attraction is the variety of food, but what I picture is a no service class. Perhaps there will be an airport deli from which you can buy food anytime between departure and arrival and eat it whenever you like. There is the question of what to do about hot food and cold drinks to keep them at the ideal temperatures, but if the proactive introduction of self service leads to the actualization of cheap flights, young people and the frugal will take advantage of both. Food packaging with an even smaller ecological footprint will surely be devised and used. We may well see the surprising development of ultra-economical packaging with regards to food preservation and transport, as well as ease of use and ease of disposal for the purpose of air travel.
What about small-scale propeller aircraft? I sense that in Japan, attention will gradually turn towards these kinds of planes. I noticed their potential about a dozen years ago, when, in order to take photos for the poster for the Setouchi International Art Triennale, I flew through the skies over the Seto Inland Sea in a four-person Cessna. Taking off from Takamatsu Airport, we swirled over Shodoshima and searched at will for locations while flying over the islands of Naoshima, Ogijima and Megijima. At that time, the islands dotted through the sea appeared divine, and I felt just as if I were witnessing the myth of Japan’s making from the sky. Also, the passing ships and the trails of their receding waves were vivid and beautiful to the eye. The view from the sea or the mountains is nice, but the one from a low altitude of less than 1,000 meters is exceptionally wonderful. The common cruising altitude for most commercial airplanes is about 10,000 meters, and at this height, unless it's a clear day, you can't see the ground, and even if you can, it's so far away, which makes it seem slightly unrealistic. The low altitude flight avoids weather conditions such as rain and clouds, so that you can get a good view of the earth's surface.


One summer day after having that experience, I happened to be visiting my family home. For my mother's birthday, I suggested a scenic flight in a Cessna. My mother was somewhat reluctant, but my grandmother’s eyes lit up when she heard my proposal; a three-generation trip was arranged. The flight, originating at Okayama’s Okanan Airport, took less than an hour, the fare was reasonable and the tour was first rate. The islands of the Seto Inland Sea, the city where my family lives, the schools I’d graduated from, all looked like miniature models. It was a great feeling to get a bird's eye view of not just the sea and mountains, but the places we know so well. I asked to fly over our house twice, and the view of my hometown from the sky, including the streets and rivers of the area where I grew up, Korakuen Garden and Okayama Castle, was nostalgic and touching. Though this was the first time my grandmother, at that time over 90, had ever flown, she experienced no airsickness and enjoyed the scenery immensely.
This was just a little experience, but the flight in a small propeller plane was far more memorable than my trip in the Concorde. Since then, I have been captivated by the potential of small-scale air travel. When Sky Trek, an on-demand charter and sightseeing flight service using small propeller planes, was launched, I immediately became a member and used the service to visit places like Hokkaido, the northernmost prefecture, and Kagoshima at the southwestern tip of the island of Kyushu. Unfortunately, there were no airports in Tokyo suitable for these planes, so I had to go by helicopter to the nearest airport, but the transfer was unexpectedly smooth. When viewed repeatedly from a low altitude, the Japanese archipelago, which could be called an ideal Geopark*, allowed me to grasp the uplift that created it and the texture of its coastlines.
I have already mentioned the idea of Peninsula Airways in the previous article. Peninsula Airways is not just a wild idea; I continue to seriously consider the feasibility of using propeller-driven amphibious aircraft. First and most importantly, if water takeoffs and landings are feasible, there will be no need to build airports. In addition, it would be possible to connect scenic waterside and waterfront spots, whether on the open sea, inland seas or lakes, thus making the most of Japan's topography. In addition, I would like to mention the dazzling splendor of the low-altitude aerial view of the archipelago.
Amphibious aircraft are transportation tools that really should be utilized in Japan. The US-2 used by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force as a rescue seaplane, is a rare aircraft with excellent stability for takeoff and landing, even in waves as high as three meters. As a passenger plane, it can accommodate 37 seats. The area used and speed reached during takeoff and landing is only 150m and 100km/hour, respectively. In Japan's oceans, which are covered by fishing rights along the coasts, I believe that the environmental impact of this type of aircraft is the same as that of a fishing boat. I would like to see the government take the lead in enacting and deregulating the relevant laws. Probably the biggest hurdle is the issue of profitability, but this will be cleared the moment the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Tourism Agency, together with interested private companies, reassesses Japan's coastal areas as a resource of the future.
Drones will be added to the mix of transportation services and the use of helicopters and small-sized jets will gradually increase, but it seems to me that the key is how we develop and bring to maturity existing technologies as services.

*A Geopark is defined by UNESCO … as a territory encompassing one or more sites of scientific importance, not only for geological reasons but also by virtue of its archaeological, ecological or cultural value.--Wikipedia

Chapter 5 The pleasure of movement

Self-driving cars

I don’t have a driver’s license. So I can’t really talk about cars from the point of view of a driver. But when it comes to discussions about self-driving cars, if anything, this viewpoint has value. And if a society with self-driving cars actually becomes a reality, I am secretly thinking that would be an appropriate time for me to get a license!
From the standpoint of rationality, self-driving cars are the ideal form of transportation. For some time now, I’ve considered cars to be quite a coarse or violent form of transportation. Just by virtue of the rule that one mustn’t cross over the white line, humans, who are prone to making mistakes, are passing one another at high rates of speed on the narrow planes we call roads. There’s no guarantee that the drivers in the oncoming cars won’t make a mistake. And while people appear to be worried about just that sort of safety issue with self-driving cars, as far as the rate of accidents, it’s said that machines make much more accurate decisions than people do, and accidents are far less likely to occur. If anything, there will certainly come a time when we look back and think that we allowed danger to run rampant when cars operated by flesh-and-blood humans sped past one another at high speeds. However, we cannot forget that human beings are creatures for whom the convenience and pleasure of travel take priority, despite a certain probability that traffic accidents will surely continue to occur. That’s how appealing the convenience of being able to independently go where one wishes.
Automated driving may fundamentally change the concepts of cars and roads, and even the way we think about towns and cities. The arrangement by which streets are divided by intersections, traffic signals are placed at intersections and roads are divided into low speed and high speed was conceived and devised based on the assumption that humans, who are limited in their judgment and steering abilities, are driving. Based on the assumption of AI-controlled self-driving cars that move along by selecting the most rational route with almost no collisions, the way cities and roads are built would certainly be completely different. There would probably be no more traffic signals. Groups of self-driving cars would thread easily around one another without incident, moving super smoothly, just as schools of fish swim underwater without bumping into one another.
When a service that allows unmanned cars to appear before us, what I think will become important is cleanliness. This is because we can stay in hotels because the bedrooms and bathrooms are cleaned and the sheets are changed. In business hotels and the like, the paper seal of cleanliness placed around the lid of the toilet is a surprisingly important indication.
While the outward appearance of cars certainly reflect users’ tastes and current trends, for the time being, the seats within will likely become more and more like airline seats; the required equipment and functionality, whether it be a one-seater or four-seater, such as the ability to recline, or a simple pull-out table, are similar to those needed for airline seats. However, the most troublesome issue with such assistant-less service would be to encounter a dirty car. The layout and cleaning system for these cars will certainly have no small impact on this point. Accuracy and safety will improve to the extent that they are controlled by AI. And of course, because people will be liberated from driving, they will be able to drink, read or sleep as they please.
On the other hand, movement by car that is no longer driving but simply mobility, will be quite boring. I imagine that getting to the destination will be understood as a pretext, and that the real joy of driving a car has been about the pleasure of controlling a machine with a powerful engine, as if riding a wild horse. If the purpose of driving is transportation, then driving is simply labor, but the essence of driving may be an irreplaceable feeling of euphoria and expansion of the body’s faculties. Despite the fact that I don’t have a driver’s license, I feel like even I can understand this. So, if driving is replaced by mobile devices, and there is still freedom left for people to drive, I would like to obtain a driver's license for the first time. By that time I would have reached old age, but if allowed, I would love to have a chance to drive a beautiful sports car, dashing through the pleasant landscape in the European countryside.

Chapter 5 The pleasure of movement

The pleasures of train travel

The loss of the dining cars on Japan's bullet trains, a sacrifice to speed and efficiency, is really too bad.There was a strange sense of contentment in the experience of chatting over drinks with colleagues on the way home from a business trip. It’s not that the food in the dining car was particularly tasty. It’s most likely that behind this enjoyment was a feeling of solidarity that came from sharing scenery and food while traveling together. These days, some railroad companies run special trains packed with a variety of services, but this experiment touches upon both the important and the dangerous parts of train travel: the potential pleasure of journeying by train and the moral hazard of overindulgence caused by excessive recreation. There is a very popular TV program in Japan, broadcast daily by TV Asahi since June, 1987, called See the World by Train. I watch it whenever I come across it. It quietly and objectively covers train travel around the world. This program is not about the speed or opulence of the trains; from the scenery viewed from the train windows and the atmosphere of fellow travelers, the local character of the place through which the train runs is vividly portrayed, completely captivating viewers. Disputes caused by the disparity in wealth around the world are neverending, but I believe what determines happiness is not the degree of wealth, but rather the positive self-focused emotions, like pride and contentment. Train travel clearly reveals this.
Trains travel through every area of Japan, and the scenery visible from their windows is rich. There are many who lament the replacement of the old Japanese-style houses and the rural countryside scenery with the monotony of modern housing, but I think this is the aftermath of the collision between western and Japanese culture that occurred during the Meiji era. We live in an era of chaos and confusion that cannot possibly quiet down in 100 or even 200 years. Villages of traditional homes certainly created beautiful scenery, but today we travel through the Japanese archipelago at 300 km an hour on long, narrow-nosed bullet trains. There was no way that all of the old houses could have continued to exist just as they were. We have coped with the challenges of building the wealth we enjoy today, amassed through the forcible industrialization to which Japan shifted as it came back from the horrific devastation caused by the fires of its defeat in World War II. I am deeply aware of the country dirtied by concrete and the landscapes damaged by the prioritization of economic growth. This is why I hope that as we look to the future we can clear away some of this clutter, even bit by bit. Even though our lifestyles have changed, we remain connected to an unbroken thread of aesthetics that has been carried on by the people who made Japan what it is today, living in modest homes, honestly cultivating terraced rice paddies in this sloping land and constantly paying respect to nature.
Ekiben, the boxed meals sold at train stations and on trains, are a blessing born of our country’s culture of hospitality. The pleasure of traveling on a train, immersed in eating a locally sourced meal–itself the culmination of traditional insight into how to best relish the bounty of nature–enjoying the scenery from the windows, rocked by the motion of the train, is the kind of gratifying experience and contentment that anyone can appreciate. In this happiness, I sense a ray of hope for the future.
I hear that Hokkaido's railroads are in the red, but to me, this actually indicates great potential; there is no reason why the railroads of this land, with its wonderful unspoiled nature, landscapes created by human activities–rice paddies, fields, pastures–and abundant harvests of the sea and mountains cannot attract tourists. The climate may be cold, but there are many countries with harsher winters than that of even our northernmost main island of Hokkaido. People say that snow isolates and separates people from one other, but isn't snow a magical resource creating spectacular scenery? Certainly, if the railroads are used only by residents, their revenue will shrink along with the population, a decrease due to both the closure of coal mines and the combination of an aging population and falling birthrate. However, worldwide, with rising inbound tourism, various industries are entering a new phase. There must be people from all over the world who would enjoy the pleasure of traveling by rail through Hokkaido, which is blessed with rich tourism resources in many ways.
We should first conceptualize a straightforward plan for a hotel that embodies the bounty of Hokkaido’s climate, natural features and food culture and features architecture and services geared not to the casual business client or single-night tourist but to ensure that the stay at this lodging is the ultimate goal.
Canoeing through the Kushiro Wetlands’ pristine nature and the mirror-like surface of its waters is an exceptional pleasure. The precious experience of walking on the ice floes that drift ashore on the Shiretoko Peninsula is available nowhere else. It seems that the silence and tranquility of the brackish Lake Furen on the Nemuro Peninsula and the flavor of the Hanasaki crab unloaded at the Nemuro fishing harbor are both just waiting for the creation of some sort of mechanism, arrangement or institution that will amplify them. Since the towns of Niseko and Kutchan started gaining recognition among overseas ski enthusiasts for the exceptional quality of their snow, foreign capital companies have rushed in to build hotels there. However, just to the north of this area is the world-famous Yoichi whiskey distillery, and despite the fact that in that same neighborhood there is a fishing port that supplies abundant fruits of the sea, there is no facility uniting the two. And although the locally caught smelt are proffered to guests with an air of importance at Tokyo’s luxurious ryotei (traditional Japanese restaurants), with the exaggerated announcement, “We present Mu River smelt,” there are no restaurants in the Mu River vicinity introducing them with anything approaching this reverence. As for the representation as “production areas” for sea urchin, salted salmon roe, crab, scallops, salmon and Okhotsk Atka mackerel, I believe “production area” should be upgraded to “kingdom” or “territory”, helping to define each region by its characteristic natural bounty. Were that the case, I’m sure that Hokkaido’s railroads would be full of people who came to enjoy these riches along with the natural features and scenery of the island.
It’s more comfortable when railroad cars are designed to be simple and straightforward, rather than particularly luxurious. Once I took a trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai on the Eastern & Oriental Express. The interior was appointed with European-style high quality fixtures, and the tables in the dining car were covered in sharp white tablecloths. The food and wine were adequate, but when, while we were eating, the train passed slowly by the edges of the towns where people were living. It was too close, and I was discomfited by the sense that our extravagance was somehow impolite. The luxury of this train was probably a product of the value system of the former colonial era, but for passengers, this rather elitist and aristocratic position is not comfortable. This is a point that would be well heeded by those running trains through Japan.
Therefore, I think traditional train cars make sense: painted in subdued colors like dark blue or dark brown, with relatively comfortable seats and tables, and rotating 2-seater benches so that passengers can face one another. As long as the tables are at the perfect position and can be pulled out or put away with a click, functionally, it will suffice. And I would like the design to ensure that the windows provide a spacious field of view. Beyond that, as long as there are ekiben (boxed meals) and nice beverages available before and after boarding, riders will be happy.
I suggest that if ridership increases, the Hokkaido railroads should create a truly innovative and unprecedented dining car. Regions where train travel is splendidly comfortable are bliss. Not only Hokkaido, but regions all over Japan are full of such potential.
I’d like to look forward to maglev trains as well, but in this era of remote conferences, I think our future will be enriched more by seriously considering where we will find the pleasure in travel, rather than by running straight through a dark tunnel to reduce the travel time between Tokyo and Osaka by about an hour. As for that particular trip, I think it would be more appealing to create a Japan Sea route and a Pacific Ocean route and be able to choose between them; this would more likely give Japan a greater sense of affluence and revitalization in different parts of the country.

Chapter 5 The pleasure of movement


Japan’s ferries, which are built to carry cars, are quite advanced. Until the construction of large high-tech bridges such as the Seto Ohashi Bridge, ferries were generally considered part of the road system; the Honshi Renrakusen ferries between Okayama and Kagawa Prefectures even used to be called the Utaka Kokudo (national road) Ferry or Honshi Ferry, connecting the islands of Honshu and Shikoku. Undergoing gradual improvements, these ships were quite convenient. How refreshing it was to step out onto the deck and enjoy the breeze blowing around the islands, rather than secluding myself in my cabin.
Back in 1993, I was awaiting a boat to take me to a place called Jungle Lodge, on the edge of the city of Manaus, in the middle of the rainforest and the middle reaches of the Amazon River, which at that point is as wide as the Seto Inland Sea. When I saw the ship that arrived, I realized that it was about the size of Japan’s ocean ferries. Be that as it may, it looked too much like the familiar Seto Inland Sea ferries. While looking around the interior of the ship, I discovered cast in metal on the controls near the ship’s wheel the Japanese characters for forward and backward; the passenger boat sailing along the Amazon River had been brought there from Japan. Brazil has a large number of Japanese immigrants, and there are many people of Japanese descent who have found considerable success in agriculture and many other industries. Brazil is on the other side of the world from Japan, but the oceans are interconnected. Japanese ferries, then, highly regarded for their performance, were naturally active in the Amazon.
It’s the year 2021, and I am writing this manuscript in a hotel room near Hishiura Port, the gateway to Nakanoshima, one of the Oki Islands. Beyond the window is the inland sea of the Sea of Japan, occasionally crossed by ferries; they appear quite dashing and are certainly comfortable. My stress simply melts away when I hold onto the railing on the deck, enjoying the view of the horizon and the passing islands. Traveling from the mainland to distant Japanese islands such as the Ogasawara and Nansei Islands takes plenty of time, but on the island-hopping ferries connecting those like the Oki Islands, the ride isn’t long. And while it’s quite pleasant to stay in one’s cabin, clipping along in a high-speed boat, there’s something special about the comfort of a relaxed trip, feeling the ocean breeze on your skin. I think this point should be more clearly recognized.


Japan’s seas are truly diverse, and in the Oki Islands, where there are no sandy beaches, the roughness of the rock faces, evoking the upheavals of igneous rock, is impressive. And while the character of this seascape is indeed one of Japan’s tourist attractions, I would love to see a little more ingenuity exercised regarding the characteristic sound of the boats’ engines and vibrations. Guntû, a ryokan-like luxury passenger liner that travels the Seto Inland Sea, is powered by an electric motor, so it’s really quiet. If relaxing travel through the archipelago, surrounded by the sea, were managed on electric ferries, people around the world, burning with curiosity, would begin to visit this archipelago in order to experience these rare seascapes by boat. Guntû has a flat bottom designed to navigate the quiet Seto Inland Sea. Taking it as an example, I would wager that a new boating culture will likely blossom if we can enhance the comfort level of traveling and staying overnight on ships with accommodations so as to enjoy the scenery and seascapes of every part of Japan.
Except for on the Seto Inland Sea, where the waves are gentle, one may not always find a stay at sea comfortable, due to the rocking of the boat. However, there has to be a way to solve this problem. People who study the distant Galapagos Islands of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean stay on small cruisers while touring the islands. This is because strict environmental protection measures have been passed, with rules stating that there may be no more than ten visitors at a time on the islands, that they can stay no more than three hours, and they must be accompanied by a guide with a degree in biology. Therefore, visitors transfer from the small cruiser to smaller inflatable rubber dinghies called “panga”, disembarking on islands without man-made facilities such as piers.
Disembarkation aside, I’d like to go into the details of the comfort of the small cruisers. First, the accommodation is entirely offshore. The minimum stay for a cruise is three nights, and to make one round of all of the notable points takes between one week and ten days. I’ve heard there are boats that hold 100 people, but based on the cruisers I saw at the ports, I would say that boats carrying 16-20 passengers were the norm. The one I experienced was one of the smaller cruisers. Each private room had a toilet and a shower, but they were very cramped. Shampooing in the shower actually made me seasick. Of course, standing on the deck and staring at the horizon naturally quells this queasiness. We served ourselves from buffet-style meals prepared by the onboard chef and brought them to our own individual tables. These were proper meals, including soup, and wine was also available. As the rhythm of life onboard continued, we gradually became used to the rocking of the boat.
While Japan is sometimes assailed by typhoons, if you avoid that season, the problem of turbulence can be mitigated by the size of the boat. What if we chose and renovated large ferries, boats that allow passengers to enjoy the cradle of the waves and the sea breeze? We should consider collaborating with anchorages to offer tours in which people can spend one week, two weeks, even a month, unhurriedly traveling the open seas and inland seas of the Japanese archipelago on boats whose hulls are left as they are, but whose passenger cabins are completely renovated so that although small, they have been transformed into private rooms from which guests can enjoy the beautiful scenery. Engines will be exchanged for motors. And from time to time, guests will be free to utilize hotels at the anchorages.
As for vehicles, there can be courtesy cars or rental cars available so people can explore the ports of call, and passengers will be able to experience the different cultures of the various regions where the ships dock. There are hot springs all over the Japanese archipelago, and the quality, character and ambience of the springs vary from one place to another. It’s a concept that can bring back to the peninsulas and remote islands the kind of bustle and prosperity experienced in the Edo- and Meiji-era days of the Kitamaebune, when cargo ships traveled from Osaka through the Seto Inland Sea and Kanmon Straits to ports on the Sea of Japan and even Hokkaido. I believe that with careful planning, this vision can be realized. Today, when we can already work from anywhere, I think there are quite a few people who would like to try mixing “on” and “off” time while traveling by ferry for two weeks at a time.

Chapter 5 The pleasure of movement

Setouchi Design Conference

We should convert resources to value through concepts for hotels that turn the topography and environment of local regions into strengths and plans to carefully analyze the attitudes of international clientele. It is essential that business owners who share this vision coordinate and collaborate with one another, and in so doing, ensure great progress in the multiplication of value for all concerned. Hotels are businesses that visualize or place value on natural features and culture, and movement/travel is an industry that channels a human-oriented point-to-point process into an active market. If business owners who can share the same vision and outlook trust one another and keep in close contact, they will no doubt collaborate confidently, and new dimensions of prosperity will become tangible one after the other. 21st century design wants to work in this context.
It’s about time to gather people with the ideas, insight, creativity, energy and desire to invest, writers, inventors, advisors and influencers, and I would like to put in visible form the possibility for a new industry that makes Japan’s natural features and traditions into a resource for the future, and to create a positive influence in that direction. From this idea was born an advocacy organization known as the Setouchi Design Conference. The founding members are Setouchi Holdings’ former representative, Katsunari Kamihara; Chairman of the Ishikawa Cultural Promotion Foundation, Yasuharu Ishikawa, and myself.
In April of 2021, supporting members held a preliminary meeting on board the floating ryokan, Guntu. This group included individuals who own hotels and restaurants, direct museums, or work in the travel service industry and education; those who write about Japanese art or represent Japan’s tourist sites; a temple priest and advisors to consulting companies; managers of confectioneries; investors; magazine publishers; regional managers; those who chair art foundations, and even potters and designers.
Since I was born in Okayama City, the Seto Inland Sea is like my hometown, and as I am looking forward to my fifth time managing the art direction of the Setouchi Triennale, an international art festival, I have been deepening my ties to Setouchi. Based on the international art festival and the art facilities built on Naoshima and Teshima, the international recognition of the Setouchi area continues to build. Furthermore, as the Seto Inland Sea serves as an “inter-local media” connecting Shikoku, Chugoku, Kyushu and Kinki, and has therefore become more than just a region, we thought it a fitting name for a conference focusing on the connection between the global and the local.
The first meeting will be held in October 2021, on Miyajima Island in Hiroshima, and again will include all members. The aim is for members to strive to communicate intentions, presenting concrete concepts and plans for the future, expressing frank opinions so as to avoid irrelevant development, and cross-pollinate one another's projects to bring forth great results. Japan has a long history of manufacturing, and companies in key industries can precisely manage the control of manufacturing and product quality as well as the supply, inventory, shipping and so forth of materials, but they are not very good at discernment, or soft management, which is the ability to identify and articulate value. Selecting the right architecture for a given locale and the architects who can design it; examining interiors and paying attention to details; sharing an aesthetic sense regarding cuisine; procuring ingredients; selecting venues, furnishings and utensils; setting customer service policies and collaborating with surrounding industries: not only are they inexperienced at such things, they are not even aware of their ineptitude in these matters. What's more, ambitious managers or those in charge with authority over these areas often exhibit a misconceived sense of beauty that can often lead to irreversible consequences. The members gathered at this conference are all well known for their work in their respective fields and capable of influencing the world. Each one of them wants to be like the members of a well-integrated soccer team, improving value for all and deepening collaboration by keeping close contact with one another, working to advance the future of tourism in a more propitious direction. I expect that the number of attendees will change flexibly depending on the circumstances.
As is clear from its use of Setouchi, defined as “inter-local media” as the name of the conference, this project is, of course, not limited exclusively to the Seto Inland Sea. What kind of collaboration and value will hotels, museums, ryotei, inns, airline services, cruise ship services, media, architecture, design and art be able to create in the various parts of this archipelago? How investors, national and local governments and businesses will apply themselves to this vision will be the crucial point in the coming decade.