August 25, 2016

The Wa-no-Akari Exhibit

Escape summer's heat and experience an exhibit held at Tokyo's Hotel Gajoen in what has been described as a “department store of ornamentation.”

An ornate panel inside Hotel Gajoen where the Wa-no-Akari exhibit is held

Although I have been in Japan for most of my life, the summer’s sweltering heat and humidity are something I will never get use to. If you haven’t had the opportunity to experience these conditions yourself, just try to image the brutal heat of a desert combined with the dampness of a rainforest.

If this weren’t already enough, the problem is further compounded by the fact that Japan is a train culture which entails a good deal of walking. Sorry travelers, Japan does not offer air-conditioned cars here to cart you from door to door! Given this sultry summer climate, it is no surprise that people are always on the lookout for interesting air conditioned getaways.

No doubt, Tokyo has thousands of cafes hidden throughout it’s endless streets to help keep you cool. However, I highly suggest you check out some of its arts and culture exhibits instead on your quest to stay cool. Venues such as the Mori Art Museum always feature fascinating exhibitions yet a particular favorite summer attraction of mine is the Wa-no-Akari exhibit at Meguro Gajoen.

The first Wa-no-Akari exhibition was held in 2015. Thereafter in response to overwhelming popularity, it has become a annual event running from the beginning of July to the end of August. This year the exhibit is celebrating its third consecutive season.

Getting to Meguro’s Hotel Gajoen

Meguro Station is the closest station in Tokyo to Hotel Gajoen

Meguro Gajoen is located only a few minutes walk from the Meguro JR station; most people will be coming via the famous Yamanote line that loops around inner Tokyo. Head out the west exit and make your way left down a rather steep slope towards Meguro River. As the hill flattens out, you’ll come to a three-way fork in the road. You will find Meguro Gajoen situated among the trees in the back on the left.

Here’s a map in case you can’t find it for some reason…

Paying a Visit to Meguro’s Hotel Gajoen

Koi fish lantern at Meguro’s Hotel Gajoen in Tokyo

At its core, Meguro Gaojen is a high end ryokan or Japanese hotel. Equipped with 12 Japanese style tatami rooms and 11 more western hybrid rooms, it is the perfect place to stay for those looking to surround themselves with culture. Meguro Gajoen’s labyrinthine hallways lead to a variety of multi-purposes spaces; from weddings to banquets, the space is equipped to handle it all.

Meguro Gaojen was built in 1931 yet little of the original structure remains due to a government project to divert the flow of the Meguro River. Today, only the famous Hyakudan Kaidan or “one-hundred steps” and a few rooms within the old building remain. These are now treated as important cultural assets and have been protected by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government since 2009.

The interior of Meguro Gajoen is said to be modeled on artistic interpretations the interior of Ryugu-jyo. This legendary palace under-the-sea is a popular design motif used and is something prominently featured across my beloved Enoshima. The Gajoen building is said to been described by many as a “department store of ornamentation.” The official site describes the building as follows:

When the old Gajoen established in 1931, Tokyo was recovering from a devastating earthquake. Houses were cramped and barely equipped with electricity and running water, and the average person probably led a wretched life. In addition, home decorations available to the common people were limited. The old Gajoen might have been called a fairyland of sorts, which brought each of those people’s dreams and fancies together in one place.

The Hyakudan Kaidan are usually not open to the public without an appointment but every so often Meguro Gaojen will sponsor an event or host an installation like the Wa-no-Akari. Be sure to check out the interior too as it’s equally impressive!

What to Expect at the Wa-no-Akari Exhibit

An ink painting of a dragon at Hotel Gajoen’s Wa-no-Akari exhibit

At the Wa-no-Akari, exhibit each of the rooms branching off Meguro Gajoen’s famous Hyakudan Kaidan has a different theme. For example, last year the first floor featured the amazing ink paintings by Yuki Nishimoto as seen above. From what I can gather though, the installations all change annually but one constant is the floats on the second level.

Aomori Prefecture’s Nebuta appear at Hotel Gajoen’s Wa-no-Akari in Meguro

Known as Nebuta, these float are celebrated in one of northern Japan’s most famous festivals, the Aomori Nebuta Festival. Every year hotels and lodging sell out way in advance of the summer event. If you’re interested in checking it out, the Nebuta Festival runs from August 2 to 7. Be warned though, you’re going to have some trouble finding a place to stay!

The summer exhibit in Meguro Gajoen is great for those who cannot make the trip up to Aomori prefecture to participate in the popular festival. The actual Nebuta characters that you’ll find at Meguro Gajoen change every year. The year I went had a blue dragon, a red demon, and a warrior who appears to be locked in combat with the demon (pictured above).

Two yokai appear on a painting at Merugo’s Hotel Gajoen for the Wa-no-Akari exhibit

Lately I’ve been extremely busy and haven’t had a chance to make it back to the Wa-no-Akari exhibit since 2016. Because of this, I can’t comment on what’s currently on display. That said, I am sure the exhibit will only continue to get better as the years go by. If you’re into art or want to visit a historical building I cannot more highly recommend this place!