The modern praise of a Japanese ritual
In the secret part of Japan, six hours north of Tokyo, the Fujiya Inn in Ginzan Onsen has brilliantly redefined the intricate relationship between contemporary architecture and ancient practices.
Where time stands still
Nestled in the Oou Mountains, a secluded town gives the eerie feeling that modern life hasn’t touched it yet. Ginzan Onsen is what the Japanese called the onsen-kyo experience and they do love coming here, especially in the winter when heavy snowfalls cover the city with a pristine white blanket of silence. Built on old silver mine, Ginzan Onsen is in fact one street, bordered by inns and tiny bridges and a picture-perfect scenery that echoes with the nostalgia of a bygone era. But its appeal doesn’t only come from its quaint charm, its traditional Japanese aesthetics or even the old-fashioned gaslights that illuminate the picturesque cobbled street at night. Guests travel to the narrow valley to enjoy the Ginzan Hot Springs, a natural treasure discovered 500 years ago that flows from the mountain. Reaching 55 degrees, hotter than most Japanese onsen, the hot milky-white therapeutic water is said to be good for curing exhaustion and relieving stress.
Traditional inn and modern design
Among the thirteen ryokan, those wooden traditional inns that line both side of the river, one can’t help but notice The Fujiya Inn, a building combining slick design with noble and ancient materials. The 350-year-old bathhouse was fully redesigned in 2006 by the much-admired Japanese architect Kengo Kuma whose masterpiece is a love letter to his ancient culture. The inn is a sight to behold starting with the existing facade recreated with traditional white plaster and the hotel’s original timber wood; it humbly attracts attention. The glass sliding door gives access to a spectacular lobby, almost devoid of furniture and infused by a warm golden light. Inside, the beautiful new atrium surrounded by thousands of sumushiko (bamboo screens), barely hides a majestic floating staircase. Everywhere, soft light shines through pale-green glass panels and delicate vertical bamboos. The ethereal atmosphere gives the distinct feeling of floating in another dimension where distraction is utterly absent. Every inch of the inn is masterfully thought and delicately crafted with exquisite bamboo screens, walls covered by handmade Hechizen-style Japanese paper and warm wood. Fujiya Inn has successfully united the art of tradition and the purity of modern architecture.
Healing the spirit
The 3-storey ryoken minimalist design invites the visitor to savour the continuity of Japanese culture despite global evolutions. Indeed, the new vision of the Fujiya Inn doesn’t discard the ancient tradition; it mostly amplifies it. The sleek and modern architecture has one desire: for the guests to shed everything and embrace the art of the onsen. A venerable institution where the kami no yu, the bath of the Gods is a promise to quiet mind and body. At the inn, the ancient ritual occurs in one of its five uniquely designed private baths but before soaking in the sulphate water, the ceremonial demands the cleaning of the body. Like many before him, the guest sits on a beautifully designed stool and splashes slightly salty water from feet to head with the help of a wood buck. Then, as he slowly enters the ofuro, the smooth deep tube made from aromatic hinoki cypress wood, the cleansing of the soul begins. Reclining underneath the warm glow of a stylish wooden skylight, the visitor silently honours the Japanese heritage, his hand lightly touching the cedar-lined wall.
Kengo Kuma & Associates – image by Daichi Ano: header, image 1, image 2 (left)
DAJ: image 2 (right)