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Since 1991, San Francisco-native Jeanie Fuji has acted as the traditional Japanese okami (land lady or female inn keeper) of the Fujiya Ryokan (traditional wooden inn) in the Ginzan Onsen (hot springs) area.
That year, she married Fuji Atsushi, the son and heir of the 350-year-old inn and started her rigorous training under her mother-in-law in the art of serving customers, true Japanese style. This included preparing all meals, washing the dishes and cleaning all rooms. The goal was to make sure every need of every customer was anticipated and met following the age-old inn tradition of providing the right amount of service at the right time.
Fuji describes the types of things she had to learn. ï¿½Sliding a fusuma door open and shut, greeting guests, bringing them meals on small o-zen tables... everything has to be done a certain way, following the old traditions. And I had to learn how to talk with the guests using polite, formal Japanese. I often wanted to give up and go home to the United States. But now I love my work here,ï¿½ she says in a Japanese publication.
By the time she had a good decade of experience behind her, Fuji had gained a celebrity okami status that she modestly and reluctantly dismisses. By 2004, she and her husband hired Tokyo-based celebrity architect Kengo Kuma to raise the personal service of the inn to even higher level. Kuma overtook a complete remodelling of the inn that reopened in July 2006. Kuma is behind many well-known buildings, including the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey headquarters in Tokyo.
The capacity of the thoroughly wooden, three-story Fujiya Inn was reduced to only eight rooms with full capacity at 16 persons. Considering the location of the inn, right in the middle of a relatively remote rural area known for its hot springs and natural beauty, the level of luxury in the inn is astonishing.
Kuma has been able to combine traditional Japanese simplicity with international tastes and needs, yet avoided the dumbed-down, westernized version of Japanese style. In fact, Fuji has written an autobiography on this subject Nipponjin ni wa, Nihon ga Tarinai (Japanese people are not Japanese enough), in which she emphasizes that it is important for modern Japanese to recognize and re-claim the value of their own millennia-old customs and history.
At Fujiya Inn, you feel that you are part of an ancient, authentic and almost organic history that seems to be seeping through every seam and screen here. Many aspects contribute to this effect. One is Kumaï¿½s brilliant use of layers, screens as thin as veils, to both hide and reveal space. The omnipresent samushiko bamboo screens by craft master Hideo Nakata (no, heï¿½s not the horror-movie director) and his son required 1.2 million four-millimetre-wide strips of bamboo. Green stained-glass panes by Masato Shida and the prolific use of the handmade, richly textured Echizen Japanese paper add to the feeling of lightness and transparency.
The organic, natural quotient of the inn is also boosted by the baths and the hand-prepared, fresh food. The inn has five beautiful private hot springs baths including an open-air bath on the top floor. The food is based on a regular washoku (Japanese cuisine) menu and features many edible plants and other local ingredients. Fujiï¿½s favourites include the sansai, mountain vegetables, including kogomi (ostrich fern fiddleheads) and urui (plantain lily petioles.) The only exception to this local-only rule is Cafe Wisteria (English for fuji), open only in the summer months, and offering international coffees and cakes.
To get to the Fujiya Inn, take the 3.5-hour trip on the Yamagata Bullet Train (Shinkansen) from Tokyo and then get a bus to the hot springs. Or fly from Tokyo to the Yamagata airport and arrange for a pick up by the inn. By Tuija Seipell
Reflection of Mineral is a 480-square-foot (about 45 square meters) residence located in downtown Tokyo’s Nakano ward. Designed by architect Yasuhiro Yamashita Reflection of Mineral has received wide architecture and design media attention and numerous international awards.
Depending on viewpoint, the house looks like a bulky camper van about to take off. Or it seems to be the result of a giant’s frustrated attempt to fashion a house from a square box. Realizing that the site is too small and the wrong shape for his house, the giant just stuffed the house into the site by force. The whimsy of this beautiful residence is a big part of its charm. At the same time, the house is also an elegant expression of modern Japanese minimalism, and an example of brilliant use of a sparse site, a requirement in the tight space of downtown Tokyo.
Also beautiful is the way in which the interior appointments — the lines of the bathtub, the curves of the waste bins, the wavy length of the utilitarian shelves — respond to the lines of the building. This makes the interior seem larger and much less boxy than one would assume from the outside.
Yasuhiro Ymashita who was born in Kagoshima in 1960. He established Atelier Tekuto in Tokyo in 1991. - Tuija Seipell
Tokyo-based architect, Shin Ohori, and his firm General Design Co, have recently completed a beautiful private weekend residence in the mountains at Kawakami-mura, Minamisaku-gun, Nagano.
Ohori designed the recreational property, titled Mountain Research, for his friend, fashion designer Setsumasa Kobayashi, who also owns Tokyo’s Cow Books (also designed by Ohori.)
And that explains the odd name for the retreat. Setsumasa’s fashion line used to be called General Research but it is now known as .......Research, with the dots being a placeholder for the defining word of each season’s collection. The Spring 2009 collection was called Mountain Research, and its namesake mountain hideaway is the place where Setsumasa and team dream up most of the brand’s fashion ideas.
Life takes place mostly outdoors at the Mountain Research. The various functions — kitchen, storage, bath, wood shelter — are located in nearly separate, simple structures, all resting on a multi-level platform. The material of the structures is local pine, and the owner hopes that the buildings will eventually biodegrade into the mountain soil and return to nature’s endless cycle of re-creation.
The one stark exception to this woody serenity are the two permanent, bright yellow sleeping tents (made by North Face), located atop of the building. The entire retreat has a feel of a casual, classy and unpretentious camp that has all of the conveniences of modern life. A perfect environment for a creative brainstorm. - Tuija Seipell
The recently opened Masters Craft ceramic ware boutique in the basement shopping area of Palace Hotel Tokyo is pure proof of what we already know: nobody masters the art of minimalism as well as the Japanese.
Everything in this store, including how each individual item is displayed on the shelves and counters, manifests the skill of leaving all else out except what is needed for balance; of not being afraid of empty space, and of allowing every piece to tell its complete visual and tactile story.
The 45 square-meter (484 sq.ft.) store was designed by Akemi Katsuno & Takashi Yagi, founders of Kyoto-based Love the Life.
For inspiration, they visited the Masters Craft headquarters in Mizunami city, located in the Tono region of Gifu in central Japan, where ceramics production dates back 1300 years. The trees, mountains and silence of the neighboring area inspired the 14 tree-trunk- poles suspended from the ceiling. The visually prominent materials of the shop interior -- Castor Aralia tree and ceramic tiles – also speak the language of the region.
Palace Hotel Tokyo is located in the business centre of the city, and it faces the Imperial Palace and a lush park. It replaces the Hotel Teito and Palace Hotel that occupied the same site from 1947 and 1961, respectively. The 290-room Palace Hotel Tokyo opened in May this year and includes the second Evian Spa outside France. - Tuija Seipell
When we first saw the images of Villa SSK by Takeshi Hirobe Architects, we had mixed feelings. On one hand, the house is made of wood which usually helps us become interested, and it does afford the inhabitants many beautiful vistas.
On the other, the structure seemed somewhat out of place among its very plain-looking neighbours, and we could not shake the feeling that it was slightly Darth Vaderish, dropped from beyond the Outer Rim.
But the longer we looked, the more we liked this villa by Tokyo Bay. It reads like a thoroughfare between the mountain and the sea. The vistas are clear and beautiful from many angles, and each viewpoint is different. By combining rigid timber veneer walls and truss arches, the tunnel-like space is achieved without almost no right-angle walls, all of which adds to the feel of the unexpected.
The residence includes spacious living, dining and kitchen areas, a bathroom overlooking the ocean, and one guest room. It also boasts a special room that can be used to display the owner’s beloved car.
What we like most is the way the tiled central courtyard functions as an outdoor living room, where the owners’ dogs can play and where larger parties can be held. Water also flows into the courtyard to create a pond. The bathroom, with its round tub, has possibly the best view in the house.
When the residence is lit at night, the impression from both the inside and outside is that of lightness and tranquility. Great qualities for a home. - Tuija Seipell (Photos: Koichi Torimura)
Opening Ceremony has relocated its flagship store from Shibuya to Omotesando to the home of street fashion on Cat’s Alley. The new Tokyo flagship store sees OC founders Humberto Leon and Carol Lim realise yet another temple to their love of out-of-the-box fashion.
Alongside neighbours such as Ragtag, Burton and Paul Smith Jeans, the new store is 1200 square-metres (12,917 sq.ft.) over four themed floors (rather than Shibuya’s much larger eight-floor store).
The interior reflects the younger, edgier fashion crowd that swarms Harajuku’s streets each weekend and the stock has a strong Tokyo flavour with special collections by Yoko Ono, Dallas-born, Tokyo-based Kiko Mizuhara and OC favorite Chloe Sevigny. A pastel palette of lilacs, pinks and baby blues is offset by neon, wild cabinetry, Ben-Day dots and Pop Art inspired staircases.
Each floor showcases Opening Ceremony’s unmistakable fashion edit; high-fashion plus cult brands including Alexander Wang, Carven, Christopher Kane, Phillip Lim and Proenza Shouler mixed in with the Opening Ceremony clothing lines, fresh, up-and-comers and their perfume collaboration with Le Labo.
The zoological-themed floor features ostriches, llamas and striking wooden horse jewelry cabinets showing off limited edition pieces.
The store is unmistakably Tokyo-style and there is a reason why retailers are looking to Tokyo and the OC founders for inspiration. Leon and Lim’s have their fingers on the pulse of global fashion, they collaborate with the likes of Martin Margiela, Adidas and Rodarte whilst revitalising the Kenzo fashion house. And still manage to kit Beyonce out in custom Kenzo. - Emily Ross