Ethereal Meets EleganceBy: Brian Berusch
Now and again, a story coalesces to equal far greater than the sum of its parts. Here, we separately dispatched a writer and a photographer to Japan to capture the storied, ancient temples that spot the countryside-as well as documenting the architectural marvels of a historic hotel suite.
Upon return, parallels between both began surfacing. The notion of Japan’s modernity only highlighted the nature of stillness among the temple grounds. Similarly, a city’s will to catapult itself a decade into the future is rooted in an ode to the world’s most reputed architect-the same man who designed this hotel suite-nearly a century ago.
TOKYO MOVES AT THE SPEED of a decade yet to come. As it teems with bright lights, ubiquitous ramen shops and the tucked-away izakaya, there exists, somehow, a freshness and refinement to the bustle that pulses through its countless arteries. In a city where it is commonplace to see groups of dark-suited businessmen in the Ginza district at 11 p.m., slurping noodles and sipping Asahi under an ethereal haze of cigarette smoke-the buzz is palpable.
Conversely, just outside the illuminated city, Japan is spotted with awe-inspiring Buddhist temples that date back to the 7th century. Their history is not only well-documented, but auras left intact. How do they coexist, in the land of perpetual motion and groundbreaking technology, you ask? The answer is both simple and complex… much like Japan itself.
“Going to Japan is almost like seeing a world we’ve almost forgotten,” says globetrotting photographer Marco Garcia, who marvels at Japan’s modern and flashy nature. He notes, “it’s like the future is right in front of you.”
Yet, facing Kofuku-ji temple in Nara, built in the 7th century, it becomes impossible to not absorb how exquisitely it was built.
“There’s still an ancient feel to it. You feel like you can reach back in to time in some sense,” says Garcia, who adds that all types of people from throughout Japan still flood historic sites like the vast Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto (established in 798 A.D., rebuilt in 1633). While often not for religious reasons, it’s the link to their ancestors that brought them here-which borders on the sacred.
Back in the bustle of Tokyo, even as early as 1920, Frank Lloyd Wright helped usher in the dawn of Japan’s modernism. When he rebuilt an original 1890s structure-which overlooked (and still does) Hibiya Park and the Imperial Palace Gardens-into the Imperial Hotel, he pulled elements from around the globe, adding the exclamation point on this Western-style dwelling.
Oya volcanic stone relief, pierced terra cotta tiling and original Wright motif carpets, furniture and lamps today are found in the hotel’s single Frank Lloyd Wright Suite. Although still the temporary residence of elite business travelers, entertainers and foreign dignitaries, the Imperial shines in Wright’s 14th floor suite.
Much like stumbling through the front gate of the Tenryu-ji temple (the head of Zen Buddhism today), entering Wright’s suite can be likened to passing through a temple of modern architecture. From the Wright-designed bed-frame, to the recessed light covers (that Wright sketched on to bar coasters), this room is laden with the best of the deco-period.
Although modern technology prevails in the suite (think ultra-modern ionizing air purifiers, plasma televisions and single-touch lighting controls), it is all tastefully hidden behind design gems sketched by Wright himself. Perhaps most emblematic is a lamp tower (pictured behind the room attendant in this story’s first photo, and opposite page) that both emits and captures light in various boxes-much as it can be found throughout the streetscape of Tokyo.
However you choose to experience Japan-be it a serene walk through a bamboo forest that leads to an ancient temple, or, in a $4,000-per-night sanctuary amidst the bustle of Tokyo-may you find your own serenity in the balance and intrigue of old and new.