Mementos of Japanese Culture: Enoura Observatory by Hiroshi Sugimoto
The Enoura Observatory incorporates Japanese garden elements and a variety of Japanese building typologies. These include a photo gallery – the heart of the complex – as well as several gates, a glass stage, a stone stage and a tea house.
Meigetsu Gate marks the entrance to the southern part of the garden area. The structure, whose individual elements are influenced by the culture of Zen Buddhism, dates from the Muromachi period (1336 – 1573). Although the gate was already damaged in many places, a large part of its original structure was preserved. The gate underwent its first reconstruction after the great Kantō earthquake in 1923. Ōgi Rodō, a Japanese architect and tea master for whose work Sugimoto has great respect, oversaw the restauration of the gate at the time.
Continuing towards the sea, visitors reach the stone stage. Its dimensions are based on a traditional Japanese Noh theatre stage. Most of the rock used to create the stage was quarried from the surrounding region. Large boulders, which were originally excavated for the construction of Edo Castle, mark the four corners of the stage.
The glass stage offers visitors wide views of the Pacific Ocean. The stage not only incorporates elements of the Greek amphitheatre but also kakezukuri, the Japanese carpentry technique that was used to construct its supporting frame. This traditional method of timber construction was made famous by the Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto. Instead of using wooden boards to cover the stage, Sugimoto opted for solid glass. Its surface reveals a play of colours that vary according to the incidence of light and the viewer’s perspective.
The footpath through the garden leads to the Uchōten (»Listen to the rain«) tea house. Built as an homage to the Taian tea house by architect Sen no Rikyū, the structure expresses the simplest form of the tea ceremony. Modest clay plaster walls enclose a room the size of two tatami mats. The only light in the pavilion is provided by two small window openings. To enter the building, guests must squat down and crawl through the traditional nijiriguchi, a low, crawl-through doorway. A glass stepping stone assists entry, and seems to glow when sunlight falls on it. During the equinoxes, the astronomical beginning of spring and autumn, the sun shines directly through the crawl door, creating a magical atmosphere inside with its light.
Meanwhile, the corrugated iron roof, salvaged from an old stone barn in the local district of Enoura, has an acoustic effect. When it rains, one can hear the sound of falling raindrops drumming on the roof. It is this sensual experience that gives the tea house its name.