We check-in at The House of Light, a little-known James Turrell work in Tokamachi, Japan, where guests can stay overnight to watch sunrise and sunset framed through one of the artist’s signature holes-in-the-ceiling.
To truly know the work of James Turrell is to have travelled far and wide to experience his signature light-as-art installations that are of such an architectural scale that they rarely, if ever, go on tour. The aficionado much therefore tick off a trip to Jerusalem to visit Space That Sees at the Israel Museum, Argentina to explore The James Turrell Museum and Arizona to view the artist’s work in progress that is Roden Crater. And that is just the beginning of an itinerary that could take in Austria, Indianapolis, the English countryside and more. So it is helpful that there exists one little-known Turrell work that visitors can actually spend the night in.
The House of Light in Tokamachi, Japan, is not quite the James Turrell Hotel but it was specially created by the artist as a guesthouse for meditation. Inspired by Junichiro Tanizaki’s essay ‘In Praise of Shadows’, it appears as a traditional Japanese house built half way up a lush mountain overlooking a valley. “I wished to realize the ‘world of shadows we are losing,’ as Tanizaki wrote, as a space where one can experience living in light, by relating light inside to light outside,” says Turrell of the building that was finished in 2000.
Inside, a Zen-like atmosphere is cultivated by tatami mats and the smell of wood. While all the lighting was orchestrated by Turrell (the dimmer switches are marked with the level recommended by the artist), the focal point is the square hole in the ceiling covered by a mechanical sliding roof, which guests are invited to open at sunset and sunrise. When viewed from lying on one of the horizontal futon beds, the evolving colours of the sky are perfectly framed – a spectrum that ranges from black and intense midnight blues to fiery oranges neon pink.
How to Book
Rates begin with a service charge of approximately $200 with a further accommodation charge of $30 per person (for a maximum of 10 guests).
Reservations can be made online at: http://www11.ocn.ne.jp/~jthikari/e/reservation/index.html
How to Get There
Located northwest of Tokyo, The House of Light is accessible only by bus or car. The journey from Tokyo takes approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Where to Eat
Reserve in advance to have a special delivery of “Makanai Gozen”, the regional cuisine that focuses on vegetables and edible wild plants, and which comes beautifully presented in lacquer bento boxes.
The area around the House of Light boasts stunning countryside. Walkers can hike along the Kiyotsu Gorge, one of Japan’s most beautiful canyons, or through the Bijin Bayashi beech tree forest.
Also nearby is the Echigo-Tsumari art field built by Hiroshi Hara to house contemporary artworks that interpret nature, climate and environment; the space is home to the Echigo-Tsumaru Art Triennale, one of the country's largest international art festivals.
When to Go
The hole in the ceiling cannot be opened when it is raining so avoid the rainy season that is June to mid-September. There is also heavy snowfall in January and February.
“When I first met Fram Kitagawa, he asked me to make a “meditation house" for the Echigo-Tsumari region. He gave me a book written by Junichiro Tanizaki "In Praise of Shadows." The condition he gave me was that the house must be raised over 2.7m above the ground because of snow covering in winter. After reading "In Praise of Shadows", I decided to create a house in the traditional architectural manner of this region. I wished to realize the " world of shadows we are losing," as Tanizaki wrote, as a space where one can experience living in light, by relating light inside to light outside.
Light outside is light in sky. I devised to have the roof slide so that one could look up at the sky through the opened ceiling. As Tanizaki describes that "In making for ourselves a place to live, we fitst spread a parasol to throw a shadow on the earth, and in the pale light of the shadow we put together a house.(...) If the roof of a Japanese house is a parasol, the roof of a Western house is no more than a cap," my designed house should have a roof as a parasol. A parasol to cover as well as a parasol to open. The sky light has different aspects at daytime and night.
Light inside is light in water. I furnished the bathroom with fiber optic so that one could look down at light in the water of the bath.
On the top of the house, one can look out to trees over the Shinano River, while on the first floor one can look into trees.
In the interior space, one can experience a soft transforming light. I attempted to create the "beauty of shadows" by using familiar Japanese idioms such as shojii (paper sliding door) and tokonoma (alcove).
The blue of sky, the gold of walls, the red of an alcove, the green of the bath and the black tone over the entire space will bring about subtle contrast.
This is an approach to Japanese culture of mine as a Western.
For me as an artist who has sought for the "perception of light", the House of Light was an attempt to contrast as well as to incorporate day and night, the Eastern and the Western, tradition and modern.”
- James Turrell